California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Elysian Valley (aka Frogtown)

California Fool's Gold

In this entry of the Los Angeles neighborhood blog, we will cover Elysian Valley. To vote for a neighborhood, go here. To vote for a Los Angeles County community go here. To vote for Orange County communities, go here.

Elysian Valley Neighborhood sign

Elysian Valley is a small working class neighborhood in LA’s Mideast Side, bordered by Fletcher to the north, the 5 freeway to the west and south, and the LA river to the east and south. It’s surrounded by Elysian Park, Silver Lake, and Elysian Heights and, across the river, Atwater Village, Glassell Park and Cypress Park.


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of the Mideast Side Map of Elysian Valley - Frogtown

Pendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Maps of the Mideast Side and Elysian Valley

Elysium, in the Greek religion, was the part of the Underworld reserved for heroes. It includes the Elysian Plains and the Elysian Fields. Elysian Valley, however, is mostly populated by Latinos and Asians, both heroic and not. The demographic of the neighborhood is roughly 61% Latino, 26% Asian and 10% white.

Elysian Valley

The neighborhood is fairly green and lush. Although many homes sit on dirt yards, the streets are lined with trees and the LA River that borders it is almost like a jungle. At any time of the day, there are people fishing its waters, although orange foam makes me wonder if that’s such a good idea. There are abundant carp, ducks, cormorants, herons and the occasional crawdaddy.

LA River in Elysian Valley

The neighborhood is a mix of residential and industrial. There are no commercial spaces in the neighborhood’s interior aside from one market, the Lovely Service Market. On the northern border there are a few places along Fletcher including Altamirano Records and Mazda Miata Specialist. When the 5 was constructed in the 1950s, many residents of Elysian Valley were displaced and the commercial corridor that helped the neighborhood thrive in the 1930s withered and died. There is a sliver of the old main drag along Riverside, which is home to Won’s Market, Paramount Pest Control, Rick’s Drive-In, Warren Animal Hospital and Coco’s.

Lovely Service Market

The Dorris Place Elementary School has appeared in several movies, television shows, and commercials including High School High, an Aflac Insurance ad, an episode of Cold Case, the 2003 version of Freaky Friday and the short film, First Days. “‘Neath the hills of Elysian, stands an honored place…”

Dorris Place Elementary

The community was first known as Gopher Flats around 1900, when it was established for railroad workers. It was later known as Little River Valley. It got its nickname of Frogtown in the 1930s. Back before the river was flood controlled, there were thousand of Western Toads (not frogs) that invaded the neighborhood, with the last wave occuring in the 1970s. In the same decade, the name Frogtown ended up becoming associated with the local gang, Frogtown, who then numbered 3,000 members. The graffiti suggests they’re much diminished now, with most of the heavy tagging done by Echo Park gangs.

Frogtown mural
Nice Frogtown mural with an FTR placa

[UPDATE: When I originally published this blog, this observation made several Frogtown members angry enough to comment in all-caps. Those angry comments were deleted by a blog format change, not me. Furthermore, when I spent the better part of the day in Frogtown on 26 March, 2013, there were many Frogtown tags in evidence and no Echo Park ones. Tags are still ugly.]

Elysian Park mural 

Currently the neighborhood has, despite its proximity to downtown and the 5, an almost post-apocalyptic character. Crumbling industrial buildings are surrounded by razor wire with shredded plastic garbage caught on the spike and lush flora sprouts up amongst the decaying garbage and industrial ruins.

Elysian Valley Industrial Buildings

Heavily tagged, abandoned cars sit on sleepy streets with their doors left open. In fact, it seems like Frogtown’s one of the most heavily tagged neighborhoods in the city, although there are officially sanctioned murals too. Each August, the small arts scene puts on The Frogtown Artwalk. Celebrity artist Shepard Fairey, has an art studio in a building near Worthen and Ripple.

Painted Elysian Valley buildings

At night, it’s very dark, with very few street lights. With few through streets, it’s almost all dead ends, and I’ve known people to get stuck up over there by knuckleheads with nothing better to do. The buildings above were painted in 1978 by Juvenile Hall inmates.

Elysian Valley Marsh Park

There are a couple of parks. Marsh Park features the large rattlesnake sculpture. Oso Park features a sculpture of a bear, and not the sort seen uphill in Elysian Park.

*****

Eric Brightwell is a writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities; however, job offers must pay more than slave wages and involve neither listicles nor television personalities. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, theArchitecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, and 1650 Gallery. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. Brightwell has been featured as subject in theLos Angeles TimesHuffington Post, and Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker onKCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

4 thoughts on “California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Elysian Valley (aka Frogtown)

  1. The heart of Frogtown was cut out by the completion of the Golden State Freeway in 1956. I lived in the neighborhood since birth, 1945, and the loss of Riverside Drive with it’s many small businesses was a devastating blow to community life. We lost the house I first lived in on Eads Street and moved into my grandmother’s house at 2415 Cabot Street. She soon remarried and moved to Inglewood with her husband and our family of 5 (Mom, Dad, younger brother, youngest sister) squeezed into the 2 bedroom, 1 bath cottage. Bunk beds and a sofa bed made it work. I knew the house and street well, having spent many happy hours visiting Grandma when younger. Her neighbor, a retired Hollywood dancer named June Lee, had a TV and let me watch the cowboy shows on Saturday mornings. June Lee was the one who introduced Grandma to her 3rd husband, a widower of Ms. Lee’s friend, an actress. For us kids he went from Mr. Reid to Uncle Harry to Grandpa Reid over one summer…I graduated from Dorris Place, Washington Irving, and John Marshall. After LACC I left Los Angeles with my bride, the classic girl next door (who had just arrived from Baja) never to return. We were married in 1964 at St. Ann’s Catholic Church, the only RC church in the neighborhood.

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    1. That’s such a great recollection. It’s really too bad that freeways — nominally designed to connect places — so often ended up displacing and separating them. I’m a big fan of interstate travel between states but in my opinion they have no place within a city and I hope that I live to see them all removed.

      Did you ever see any of the fabled frog (or American toad) invasions of the neighborhood?

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      1. OMG yes! These things grow from the fertilized egg to a small toad in 6 to 8 weeks, and it seems we had an invasion about every quarter…first we kids would play with the tadpoles down in the river, then not long after the tadpoles would slowly lose their tails and look like miniature toadlets. These things would climb up the concrete riverbank and go into the neighborhood by the thousands. They were all over the streets, walks, yards, everywhere. You could hear the “pops” as you drive down the streets over them. It was horrible for the girls and we guys loved it.
        One of my family’s biggest feuds began over a cousin smacking toadlets with the end of my Dad’s garden hose…Dad got hot, yelled at the kid to stop damaging the brass threads, and Dad’s sister took offense at Dad yelling at her son, gathered him up and left. We did not see them very often after that…
        I thought toad invasions were a normal part of life for years…Some would climb down into our heater basement, or under the house in the dry sand and get mummified. These were great to take to school and throw at girls you had a crush on. Fortunately I outgrew that by the time I met my future bride in 1963.
        Dad’s frequent family trips to Tijuana (he loved the place, strange for a misplaced Iowan..) always had to include a purchase of little firecrackers. The connection of the explosives to the toads is better left to the imagination.

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