This blog entry’s focus is the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park.
Pendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of Northeast LA and Highland Park
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.
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 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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
One of the oldest and most beloved institutions of Highland Park is Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, which 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 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.
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.
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).
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.
LATINIZATION & THE SUBSEQUENT RISE IN GANGS
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.
HIGHLAND PARK PRESERVATION AND THE PRESENT
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).
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.
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- Imperial County
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- the Pomona Valley
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- the San Gabriel Valley
- the Santa Monica Mountains
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- South Los Angeles’s Eastside
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- the Verdugos
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