California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Highland Park

California Fool's Gold
Highland Park Sign


This blog entry’s focus is the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park.


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Northeast LA Map of Highland Park Los Angeles
Pendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of Northeast LA and Highland Park
As mentioned already, HLP is in NELA. Its neighbors are Pasadena to the northeast, Hermon and South Pasadena to the east, Montecito Heights to the south, Cypress Park and Lincoln Heights to the southwest, Mt. Washington to the west, and Eagle Rock to the north.
Roberto Reies Flores’ Highland Park Tongva mural – The People of the Earth

EARLY ARROYO HISTORY The Chumash lived in the region over 10,000 years ago before moving further north as the Hahamog’na branch Tongva arrived from the south. For tens of thousands of years the landscape was predominantly rolling hills and grasslands with wild grapes, clematis, sycamore, California live oak, willows and black walnut trees growing along the Arroyo Seco, a seasonally dry creek fed by springs.


The many springs in the area allowed for the establishment of Sparkling Artesian Water (later Sparkletts) in 1925, Yosemite in 1926, Indian Head Water in 1928 and Deep Rock Water.
After the Spaniards conquered the Natives, they made it part of Rancho San Rafael. It was subsequently part of Mexico until the US won the Mexican-American War and took over. The founding of Pasadena in 1873 created the need for new transportation routes connecting it to Los Angeles. In 1876, the Sierra Madre Stage Coach began ferrying passengers through the area. Settlers began to arrive around what’s now Highland Park shortly after, establishing the communities of Sycamore Grove, Garvanza, York Valley, Annandale, Hermon and others.
Figueroa and York in the 1880s
Figueroa and (New) York Blvd intersection in the 1880s

EARLY HIGHLAND PARK In 1885, the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Railroad built the first wooden trestle bridge across the Arroyo Seco where Avenue 64 crosses the Arroyo Seco Parkway. The same year, developers Albert H. Judson and George W. Morgan bought a land which in 1886 they subdivided as the Highland Park Tract. That year, William Lees Judson and his three sons established the Colonial Glass Company and the Pasadena Street Railroad established a horse-drawn trolley line through the area.  Development followed, although by 1888, the land boom had gone bust. Nonetheless, Highland Park was largely spared and Sycamore Grove was annexed in 1895. Garvanza was annexed in 1899. Today, they, along with districts like York Valley are more often viewed as sub-districts of Highland Park rather than separate communities, although all have very distinct atmosphere.


the California Cycleway
The California Cycleway


The area early on began to attract bohemians and bandits, resulting in brothels and saloons springing up around Sycamore Grove. In 1900, a section of the bicycle tollway, the California Cycleway opened, designed to connect Pasadena to Los Angeles (although it never extended past Avenue 57). Highland Park’s cycle-loving spirit continues with the Bike Oven, the Eastside Bike Club, the Arroyo Seco bike bath and the ArroyoFest Freeway Walk and Bike Ride, which in 2003 closed the 110 freeway to cars for one night.

El Alisal Highland Park
El Alisal


In 1898, Charles Fletcher Lummis began constructing his home, El Alisal, in Highland Park. Lummis had in 1885 walked from Chillicothe, Ohio across the west, publishing his account in 1892 as A Tramp Across the Continent. Lummis was notorious for his love of parties and the “noises” he threw attracted such high profile figures as environmentalist John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt. In 1896, he founded the West Coast’s first historic preservation society, the California Landmarks Club. He was also fascinated with America’s indigenous people and in 1907 founded the Southwest Museum of the American Indian in adjacent Mt. Washington, Los Angeles’ first museum.

Ziegler Estate
Ziegler Estate

Built in 1904, the building was designed by Charles Hornbeck and Alfred P. Wilson with elements of bothQueen Anne and Craftsman style. In the 1950’s, Carl Dentzel, then director of the Southwest Museum, purchased it as a potential addition to the Southwest Museum Complex. (Nowadays it’s a daycare center.)

The Apotheosis of Music  Hiner House 

In 1919, Edward M. Hiner moved to Highland Park from Kansas City, Missouri.  Today the Hiner Home is inhabited by actor Troy Evans (principal George Wolchezk on Twin Peaks!) and steel artist Heather McClarty, who graciously let us into their beautiful home and shared stories and pictures.  In 1928 Hiner also built a music studio/rehearsal building behind the home which came to be known as Sousa’s Nook in reference to its occasional guest, John Philip Sousa. His music school eventually outgrow the modes building and Hiner went on to found the music department at Los Angeles State Normal School, and later UCLA.
Sycamore Grove Park
Sycamore Grove Park

Vintage Sycamore Grove Park


The day after Sycamore Grove became part of Highland Park, the sporting clubs in the area were razed and the land became a park. Sycamore Grove Park was dedicated in 1905. By 1910 it was a popular filming location. In 1922, Hiner began conducting bands at the Sousa-Hiner Bandshell. Each of the yearly State Picnics held there was dedicated to a state back east where Highland Park residents had immigrated from. The heyday of the park was in the 1920s and ’30s. They had Sycamore Grove Days and the annual celebration of the Wigwam Club. There was also a pond and stream fed by the Arroyo Seco that was covered in the 1930s as flood control.

Chicken Boy
Grafitti Wall
Graffiti Wall
Highland Park Timeline
Highland Park Timeline


Since the founding of the Colonial Glass Company, Highland Park has been known for its art scene. In 1906, the Painters’ Cub was established by locals artists and included members of the Garvanza Circle: Elmer Wachte, Fernand Lungren, Granville Redmond, Hanson Puthuff and Maynard Dixon. The Arroyo Guild of Craftsman was established in 1909. Today, its artistic reputation remains, in part due to  Avenue 50 Studio, Future Studio, Mor York Gallery, the Judson Studio, Kristi Engle Gallery, Monte Vista, Outpost for Contemporary Art, Rock Rose Art Gallery and THIS Gallery.

Behind Bars

Old Cars

L.A. Police Department Station No. 11, built in 1925, is LA’s oldest police station. The events that inspired the film Changeling in part took place at that station. In 1973, the SLA attempted and failed to blow it up with a bomb. Today it is also a museum, with a collection of older police cars, displays dedicated to Dragnet, theNorth Hollywood shootout and more.

One of the oldest and most beloved institutions of Highland Park is Galco’s Soda Pop Stopwhich carries over 450 kinds of bottled beverages, both common and exotic. Galco’s was established in The Olympic Area (now Koreatown) in 1897 and later moved to Little Italy (now Chinatown) before settling at its current location in 1897.

Highland Theatre
Highland Theatre

Highland Park Theater first opened in 1925 as a one screen theater with 1450 seats. It was designed the previous year by L.A. Smith. The theater boasted an orchestra pit, a stage for vaudeville acts and large ceiling frescoes. In 1963, it was the last operating Highland Park theater and resorted to showing Spanish-Language movies and porno. In 1974, Highland Park residents picketed the theatre and they stopped showing pornos and added children’s matinees.   It was unfortunately divided into a triplex in 1983. It was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1991. The sign, with more than 750 incandescent light bulbs, was restored and re-lit in the late 1990s through a collaboration of the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Neon Program and the Targeted Neighborhood Initiative Program.

Vintage Sunbeam Theatre Highland Park Sunbeam Theatre Highland Park
Sunbeam Theatre 

Even older and larger than the Highland Park Theater was the Sunbeam Theatre, a 1296 seat theater built in 1914. It was purchased by the owners of the the Highland Park Theater and closed to remove competition. After that it was re-purposed for a variety of businesses. In the late 1980s, part of it was utilized by the theater group Outback Theater. The space is still occasionally used for events. I went to a booty bass party there about five years ago. Nowadays the building is also home to one of the last remaining typewriter stores, the U.S. Office Machine Company.

Franklin Theater Highland Park
Franklin Theatre


The 895 seat Franklin Theatre opened in 1936. The building opened in 1922 as an auto shop. By 1929, it was a Chevy dealership. In 1934, it was converted to a market. After that, it operated as a theater at least until 1951. In the early 1990s, its parapet and towers were removed. In 1994, it became protected and was included in the Highland Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone.



Even though Highland Park boasted considerable charm, the development of Midtown in the 1920s and ’30s siphoned away residents. Even in 2006, Highland Park was home of more than ten percent of the recognized historic-cultural monuments in the entire city. A large Jewish community remained for a time. The Highland Park Hebrew School Association began there in 1923 and built the Spanish Colonial Revival Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Echo Park in 1930. Today it is the second oldest synagogue in Los Angeles still operating (after the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Midtown’s Wilshire Center neighborhood).

Arros Seco Parkway 1940s
Arroyo Seco Parkway 1940s
Arroyo Seco Parkway 1942
Arroyo Seco Parkway 1942

The Arroyo Seco Historic Parkway (State Route 110) opened on December 30, 1940; its original six-mile section was the first freeway in the west. In the 1950s, many of Highland Park’s vacant Victorians and Craftsman homes began to be demolished to make way for gas stations, laundromats, stucco boxes and parking lots and a group of local activists established Heritage Square, a park in Montecito Heights designed to save old homes. By the 1960s, the development of the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys increased the pace of the exodus from Highland Park.


By the middle of the 1960s, the population was largely Latino. By the mid 1970s, it was overwhelmingly so, although it never homogenized to the degree that most of the Eastside did. It was during the late 1960s and early ’70s that Latino street gangs began to flourish, in part emboldened by the rise in Brown Pride fostered by the Chicano movement as well as a depletion in positive male role models resulting from Latinos disproportionate numbers sent to fight in Vietnam. The Avenues, who began as a protectionist social club in the 1940s evolved into a street gang whose main criminal activity was dealing heroin. Highland Park and NELA began in the early 1970s. I’m not completely sure, but I think Dogtown started around the same time.


Some of the population always had a healthy respect for the neighborhood’s historic importance and in 1984, large tracts of the district were set aside for historic preservation under Los Angeles’ pioneering Historic Preservation Overlay Zone ordinance (the same year that Forever 21 was founded in Highland Park). Today, Highland Park’s ethnic and racial make-up is roughly 72% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 11% Asian, and 11% white (mostly Germanic).

La Tierra de la Tierra
La Tierra de la Culebra
ACLA began in Highland Park, For the last 17 years, they’ve worked to transform orphaned, urban land into community-directed art parks. Their first was La Tierra de la Culebra art park in Highland Park. They also host local bands the first Saturday of every month in events known as Midnight Picnics. In July,Xicano Records and Film puts on the annual Farce of July. There’s also the Highland Park Rec Center, the titularHighland Park and Garvanza Park. An undeveloped area adjacent to the 110 and underneath the Santa Fe Arroyo Seco Railroad Bridge (now used by the Gold Line) is colloquially known as NELA Park for the local gang who claims it.

Highland Park has a fairly vibrant underground music scene. Highland Park is mentioned in the Monolators‘ “Eagle Fighting Zebra.” The bands Bodies of Water, Fol Chen, Seasons, Random Patterns, Crooked Cowboy & the Freshwater Indians, Manhattan Murder Mystery, Mellowdrone and Go Set Go all represent Highland Park’s rock music scene. The Highland Park punk scene produced A.D. Do, FCDN Tormentor, and Hawaii’s Hardcore.

Abbey San Encino
Abbey San Encino
Though born in Germany, Jackson Browne grew up in Highland Park in the Abbey San Encino, a home built by his grandfather. Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stones Throw Records is currently located in HLP.Wombleton Records is the newest record store in the neighborhood.
Wombelton Records
Wombleton Records
Although it hasn’t happened for the last two years, maybe in the future they’ll revive the Highland Park Music Festival.
Mr. T's Bowl
Mr. T’s Bowl
Bands from surrounding communities (and occasionally other countries) often come to Highland Park to play at the American Legion Hall and Mr. T’s Bowl. The building in which Mr. T’s is located originally opened in 1929 as a garage. In the 1940s it was a bowling alley, having likely been converted in 1935. In 1966, it was purchased by Joseph “Mr. T” Teresa, a son of an Italian immigrant who owned a nearby liquor store. Mr. T set up a buffet area and hired big bands to entertain the bowlers. In the 1980s, the lanes closed. In the early 1990s, promoter Jac Zingers started Fuzzyland, which made its home at Mr. T’s. On Thanksgiving Day in 1994, Zinder was killed in a car crash in Silver Lake and Fuzzyland ended. By then, the music and dancing had spilled over into other nights, including karaoke. Mr. T once told me I had a lovely voice after tackling a Smokey Robinson & the Miracles song. He died at 87 on 22 June 22, 2003 but Mr. T’s remains Highland Park’s preeminent live venue.
Besides Mr. T’s, there are several spaces for night owls, including Highland Park Billiards. If you just fancy a bar, however, there’s also Dusty’s, Hermosillo, Marty’s, Johnny’s, Little Cave and The York.
Several films have been shot in part or in their entirety in Highland Park, including La Bamba, Better Off Dead, Biker Boyz, Caddy Shack, The Cell, Closer, Cutter’s Way, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, H.O.T.S., Karate Kid 2, Yes, Man, Grease, Reservoir Dogs, Slums of Beverly Hills, Tom Boy, Tuff Turf, Up in Smoke and parts of the TV series 10-8: Officers on Duty, NCIS, MacGyver and Roseanne.
Craftstman Jack In the Box Highland Park
Craftsman Jack in the Box
Chico's Cafe
Chico’s Café
For a neighborhood of its size and character, it may be somewhat surprising how relatively few non-chain options there are. However, it is cool how the Jack in the Box looks so Highland Park. They should do that with all chains and neighborhoods. The non-chain joints include Antigua Bread, Antojitos Guerrero, Café de Leche, Las Cazuelas, El Chapin, Chico’s, Cinnamon Vegetarian, Classic Burgers, El Arco Iris, El Pescador, Fiesta Fast Food, Folliero Pizza & Italian Food, Good Girl Dinette, Huarache Azteca Restaurante, Italiano’s Pizza, Mariscos Estilos D.F., Mariscos Sinaloa, My Taco, OK Chinese, Penny’s Burgers, El Pique, Salvador Divino, Taco El Michoacano, Tacos La Estrella, Troy Drive-In, Via Mar Seafood and Villa Sombrero.
If you’re still not convinced, Highland Park also offers Motorcycle Night in October, the Route 66 BBQ Fundraiser, Mr. T’s Bowl Mardi Gras, Ebell Club Silver Tea, NELA Art Nights and has a community garden, Milagro Allegro.

Thank you to my traveling companions Autumn Rooney and Maryam Hosseinzadeh on this blogventure. Your knowledge and company were invaluable!

To vote for any communities you’d like to see covered in California Fool’s Gold, name them in the comments. If you’d like a bit of inspiration, there are primers for:

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 KCRWWhich Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.
Art prints of Brightwell’s maps are available from Saatchi Art and 1650 Gallery. Other merchandise is available on Tee Public.
Click here to offer financial support and thank you!

14 thoughts on “California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Highland Park

  1. The Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council and the City of Los Angeles call the finger of territory south of Avenue 50 and Avenue 49 a separate neighborhood known as Sycamore Grove.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s