California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Eagle Rock

California Fool's Gold
Eagle Rock from above

This entry of the Los Angeles neighborhood piece is about Eagle Rock.

Eagle Rock is a neighborhood situated in Northeast Los Angeles. It is neighbored by the Glendale neighborhoods of Citrus Grove, Glenoaks Canyon, Scholl Canyon, Somerset, and Woodbury; the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Annandale, Glassell Park, Mount Washington, and York Valley (usually characterized as part of Highland Park); and the Pasadena neighborhoods of Annandale, Cheviotdale Heights, and Poppy Peak.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of Eagle Rock, available in art prints and on a wide variety of merchandise

Its name is derived from the Eagle Rock, a giant boulder that vaguely resembles an eagle’s head which some erroneously assume gives the neighborhood its name. However, Eagle Rockers and others who’ve seen the eagle-like shadow cast on its face at the right time of day know instantly that that is what gives the neighborhood its name, not the rock’s vaguely avian shape.

Eagle Rock in 1900

The Tongva were the aboriginal inhabitants of the area and lived there for millennia till they were displaced by Spaniards in the 1700s. In 1870, after passing from Spanish hands to the Mexicans and ultimately the USRancho San Rafael was divided into 31 parcels. The one given to Benjamin Dreyfus became Eagle Rock.

The Women’s 20th Century Club

In 1903, the Women’s 20th Century Club was founded in a rather large Craftsman home to contribute to the betterment of what was then mainly a farm town.

Eagle Rock City Hall

Eagle Rock became an independent city and was incorporated in 1911. The Eagle Rock City Hall serves as a reminder of the era before its annexation by its larger, thirsty neighbor on 18 May 1923.

Occidental College

A highly-regarded liberal arts college, the Myron Hunt-designed Occidental College campus, was opened in 1914. That same year, a library was built in the Mission Revival-style built with a chunk of Andrew Carnegie‘s money. Since the 1920s, Eagle Rock has attracted artists, filmmakers, and writers. So artsy is Eagle Rock that even many of the waste bins are adorned with art commemorating Eagle Rock’s history and culture.

The aforementioned Carnegie library is now home to the Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock, which is responsible for much of the community’s arts programing. The center puts on several notable events and offers cheap or free art classes. The next big event is the 8th Annual Art Auction, on Sunday, 25 April.

The biggest event the Arts Center puts on is the Eagle Rock Music Festival. On 2 October, the 12th such festival will take place. Last year about 60,000 people showed up to see a lineup of largely Northeast Los Angeles bands play at various businesses and buildings along Colorado Boulevard, including several Eagle Rock acts like The Ignorant, The Mormons, and The AM/FM Band, as well as works of video art.

Colombo’s Italian Steakhouse & Jazz Club
Eagle Rock Italian Bakery & Deli
Casa Bianca Pizza Pie

Prior to the 1930s, Los Angeles’ sizable Italian population had been centered in Little Italy, located north of downtown. After the 1930s, Italians largely began to fan out to nearby neighborhoods like Echo ParkEl Sereno, Elysian Valley, and Eagle Rock. Eagle Rock maintained a strongly Italian character for years and there are still several vestiges from that era, including Colombo’s (which opened in 1954 and features live jazz) and the Eagle Rock Italian Bakery (opened around 1961). There are several alternatives to bland chain pizza with several local pizzerias and Italian restaurants including BrownstoneCapri, and Corner — but none is more well-known than Casa Bianca, which opened in 1955.

Larry Shinoda – Trompers of Eagle Rock

In the 1940s, Eagle Rock was known for its hot rod culture. Wide, gently curving Colorado Boulevard — the main thoroughfare — was part of the famed “Main Street of America,” Route 66, and undoubtedly an ideal strip for hot rodding. The Trompers of Eagle Rock began in 1945 and is still active today, as are the Eagle Rockin’ Rodders.

Eagle Rock is home to many beautiful buildings, mostly done in the Craftsman, Georgian, and Spanish Colonial Revival styles. There are also some Art Deco buildings and several fine examples of Streamline Moderne. The houses along the shady tree-lined streets are mostly (if not entirely) without fences but I get the feeling that if there were, they’d be white picket.

Panang Restaurant
Pete’s Blue Chef

In Eagle Rock, people proudly hoist American flags year-round, not just on the Fourth of July or after we invade some tiny, developing nation. There are a lot of motels (which tend to fill up around the time of the Rose Bowl game) and most of the other businesses, regardless of their changing inhabitants, maintain the look of the drive-thrus and malt shops that they were built for. For example, a Bob’s Big Boy is now Panang Thai. An old burger joint is now The OinksterPiller’s department store became the Renaissance Arts Academy.

Stained Glass Antiques
Tritch Hardware

Eagle Rock is still home to many mom-and-pop businesses like Stained Glass Supplies, which offers classes and lovely stained glass objects, and Tritch Hardware, which many Eagle Rockers regard as the heart and soul of the neighborhood. Of course, in all Norman Rockwell-esque towns lies the proverbial severed ear and in the 1970s and ’80s, some of Eagle Rock’s small-town sheen of tranquility was tarnished when it became a hunting ground for the serial killers like the Hillside Strangler and the Night Stalker. However, despite the occasional protestations of some nostalgic Eagle Rockers, the neighborhood is still pretty safe, quiet, and charming.

Seafood City and Pinoy Blockbuster

Today, the population of Eagle rock is roughly 40% non-white Latino, 30% non-Latino white, and 24% Asian. The majority of the latter are Filipino and the majority of Latinos are of Mexican descent. In addition to Pinoy favorites like Barrio FiestaPhilippine VillageRadio Manila, the Filipino American Library, and Golden Ribbon Bake Shoppe, there’s the Eagle Rock Plaza. It’s gone through several name changes but has unofficially, since the ’90s, been known to many as “the Filipino Mall.” In between a Macy’s (on life support) and a busy Target, there’s a GoldilocksJollibeeBenchChow King, GameStop, PNB Remittance Center, HB Beauty Shop, and Seafood City (largely responsible for the mall’s fishy odor) which cater to a mostly Filipino clientele. It also serves, like all healthy malls, as a hangout, although there are as many parents napping in recliners and reading the paper as there are your traditional, young mallrats.

To many Pinoys, the Filipino Mall is Los Angeles’s true Little Manila, a cultural and commercial center for Filipinos more relevant than Historic Filipinotown, Carson, Cerritos, Panorama City, West Covina or even the parking lot of Point-Point Joint in East Hollywood. Although Amoeba has small Filipino music and movie selections, even with its massive size it doesn’t come close to the selection of the mall’s Pinoy Blockbuster kiosk. Avril Lavigne‘s music video for the uber-annoying (and maddeningly catchy) “Complicated” was mostly shot in the Filipino Mall although the parties involved seem to have gone to great lengths to ensure that the mall’s mostly Filipino and Latino shoppers were replaced with an exclusively white cast.

Eagle Rock is a popular destination for Southern California foodies on account of the aforementioned spots and in addition many more quality joints (including a lot of diners, coffee bars, Mexican and Thai places) like Fatty’sDave’s Chillin’-N-Grillin’Fred’s Taco TruckCoffee Table Lounge, Sicha SiamAuntie Em’sPat and Loraine’s Coffee ShopSenor FishPot ThaiJerry’s Mexican GrillMediterranean TriangleOK Chinese FoodTaco SpotBlue HenPete’s Blue ChipClassic ThaiCafé BeaujolaisLe Petit BeaujolaisCacao MexicatessenErnie Jr’s Taco HouseThai Spirit, and Swork CoffeeBeyond the eateries, there are a number of nightlife attractions like All Star LanesEagle Rock Undergroundand The Black Boar (formerly The Chalet and before that, the much-missed Toppers.)

Eagle Rock’s hip reputation amongst the music set goes back a ways. In the 1970s, Australian singer Daddy Cool recorded “Eagle Rock” based only on its reputation (he’s never been). In addition, Gorillaz are supposed to play a secret show on, I think, the 16th before playing Coachella on the 18th. It became a popular location for former Mideast Los Angeles musicians a few years back (or so I’m told).

Not Not Fun Records

Eagle Rock is also the home of Not Not Fun Records and the highly regarded Eagle Rock High School Jazz Band. The neighborhood is also home to In the Red Records [Thanks Eric Branscum for that tidbit]. Eagle Rock was mentioned in Little Village‘s song “The Action.”

A lot of film stars have moved to Eagle Rock over the years but as far as I’ve found, only actress Virginia Weidler was born there. The neighborhood has been used as a filming location in several films and television series. Cindy’s has been used as a filming location approximately a billion times.

Eagle Rock portrayed Tasty Meadows in The Incredible Shrinking Woman. The neighborhood also appeared in Beverly Hills 90210, The Day of the Locust, Hunt for Red October, The OC, Record City, Reservoir Dogs, Star Trek III, Teen Wolf, Top Gun, and The Unwed Father. In Days of ThunderTom Cruise‘s character Cole Trickle states that he’s from Eagle Rock.

If art is your thing, Eagle Rock is home to Apartment 2Cactus GalleryJose Vera Fine Arts & AntiquesThe Land of Odd GalleryMullin Studio & Art GalleryToros Pottery.

Special thanks to Maryam HosseinzadehRenee Dominique, and Steve Shimbles for their invaluable assistance in my efforts to explore Eagle Rock. As always, any additions or corrections are welcome. If you’d like to see me explore any other communities in Southern California for California Fool’s Gold, please let me know which in the comments.

Support Eric Brightwell on Patreon

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson Collegeand the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubithe StoryGraphand Twitter.

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