As regular (and probably irregular) readers of Eric’s Blog know, a big part of my focus is writing about the culture, character and history of the many diverse communities of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Although so far there have been around 800 votes from readers, I thought it would be fun (and hopefully entertaining) to focus on the regions and provide a brief summary of them with the hope of encouraging informed voting for the neighborhoods within. In this entry I’d like to focus on what I refer to as Mideast Los Angeles (MELA) or the Mideast Side.
The Mideast Side is a name that I made up. Like most of my clever ideas, I was probably beaten to it by someone else because it’s natural to want a label for one’s region and the Mideast Side doesn’t have one besides being part of the larger Central Los Angeles area. The Los Angeles Times covers the Mideast as part of Central Los Angles — which it is — but the other regions of Central Los Angeles (Downtown, Hollywood, and Midtown) having their own recognized identities, the Mideast’s has long been (in the words of Phil Collins, a “land of confusion.”)
Meanwhile, Hollywood secessionists want to claim parts of the Mideast for their town, all the local gangs represent the Westside (since it’s on the Los Angeles River’s west bank, not east), the cops consider most of it to be in the Northeast Division, downtowners and developers claim parts of it as Central City West.
When Los Angeles was founded in 1781, The area that’s now the Mideast Side was the original westside, with Hoover Street corresponding closely to the pueblo’s western border. As they began to be developed, neighborhoods Los Feliz and Ivanhoe (Silver Lake) were considered to be in Northwest Los Angeles whereas those around Pico Heights (Pico-Union) were considered Southwest Los Angeles.
When the city began expanding north, south, and west, its center of gravity relocated and all of those regions became commonly thought of as Central Los Angeles. Within Central Los Angeles, Downtown, Hollywood, and Midtown arose as widely recognized multi-neighborhood districts whereas the neighborhoods of the old westside existed in some sort of identity limbo. When neighborhoods like Los Feliz and Silver Lake began to be seen as fashionable in the 1990s, many developers began referring to them as The Eastside, hoping to commodify some of that region’s “grit,” “funkiness,” and above all, “authenticity.” Since there already is a region with a two-century-old claim on the Eastside, eastsiders were understandably outraged. Although today some people — whether callously or cluelessly — still refer to the Old Westside as the Eastside, some of us have proposed new names that we can get behind which are less colonial in nature. Here they are:
NORTH CENTRAL – Some have suggested calling the region “North Central,” meant to be a counterpart to South Central. However, South Central’s name is derived not from its geographic location within the city but from the neighborhood which formed along South Central Avenue. That long street become North Central Avenue, for the record, in Glendale — which is not located outside of Los Angeles.THE NEAR EASTSIDE – I sort of like the sound of “The Near Eastside” but it’s as geographically relativist and problematic as European concept of The Near East. It’s only nearer if the user is from the Westside, Hollywood or Midtown, really. If one is in the actual Eastside, the “Near Eastside” is really the “Near Westside”… which actually has more precedent. After all, the neighborhood of Westlake was named as such to compliment Lincoln Heights, which used to be known as Eastlake.
THE WEST BANK – “The West Bank,” of course, will forever be associated with Israel and the Palestinian territory. Imagine the results you’d get if you were trying to do an internet search for a decent mechanic or restaurant in the West Bank. Your Central Los Angeles results wouldn’t even make the top 10,000.
The Mideast Side, or even better, Mideast Los Angeles is clearly the best, if not yet widely recognized. Think about it though, doesn’t both provide a nice compliment to Mid-City West, an area located on the other side of Midtown? Don’t they strike a nice geo-linguistic chord between Midtown and the Eastside without making colonial claims to either? Doesn’t it capture, without using the term “Middle East,” the contentiousness of the area’s identity? Isnt MELA a nice counterpart to NELA for those who are into the whole brevity thing?
If you’re on board, there is now a Mideast Los Angeles Facebook group and a Mideast Side Foursquare page. [Update: I even had a cartographic art show called “Taste of the Mideast Side.“] In other words, it’s a concept whose time has come.
THE NEIGHBORHOODS OF MELA
So now that we’re in agreement, let’s move forward. The Mideast Side is a region of varied neighborhoods, with working-class populations dominating the southern end and Richie riches in the northern hills. It has significant populations of Armenians, Chinese, Filipinos, Guatemalans, Koreans, Mexicans, and Salvadorans. And now a little about the individual neighborhoods.
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography’s 2nd and 3rd editions of the Mideast Side maps (2nd edition sold)
One of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Angeleno Heights has a number of absolutely beautiful Craftsman and Victorian homes. It used to have four grocery stores but three have been converted to residences. To read more about Angeleno Heights, click here.
The Byzantine-Latino Quarter is a small district within Pico-Union. Historically it was nicknamed Greek Town due to a concentration of Greek residents and businesses. Although few Greeks live in the area today, St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral still draws Greek churchgoers. As were the Greeks, many of the neighborhood’s newer immigrants fled chaos and violence at home and nowadays the area is home to large numbers of Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and Hondurans. To read more about the Byzantine-Latino Quarter, click here.
Echo Park is a neighborhood located north of downtown Los Angeles in the hills along the western shore of the Los Angeles River. Echo Park has long associations with several arts, most notably literature and film. It’s one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and is full of many old (by Angeleno standards) Craftsman, Spanish, and Victorian homes built between the 1880s and 1930s. To read more about Echo Park, click here.
Elysian Heights, along with park of Echo Park and Silver Lake, used to be part of the historic Edendale neighborhood. It was nicknamed Red Hill for the large numbers of commies that lived there. It was also home to Room 8 the Cat, the most famous cat in the country during his storied lifetime. Oh yeah, the Baxter Stairs, one of the longest sets of public stairs in Los Angeles (surpassed only by a set in University Hills), can also be found there.
Elysian Park is one of Los Angeles’s oldest and largest parks and within its area are included a few homes. It used to be the location of more — specifically Chavez Ravine — but that was torn down and replaced with Dodger Stadium. Today it’s also the home of Los Angeles’s Police Academy. During the day it’s popular with joggers, lowriders, footballers, BBQers, piñata-smashers, confetti egg-breakers, etc. At night it’s popular with cruisers, dudes on the DL, and other nocturnal sorts.
Elysian Valley is a tiny neighborhood sandwiched between the Los Angeles River and the 5 Freeway. The community was first known as Gopher Flats around 1900, when it was established for railroad workers. It got its nickname of Frogtown around the 1920s. Back before the river was flood controlled, there were thousands of Western Toads (not frogs, apparently) that invaded the neighborhood when the waters would flood. To read more about Elysian Valley, click here.
Franklin Hills is a small, mostly residential neighborhood that was once a big part of the American film industry — and part of Los Feliz. It was home to both Vitagraph Studios (later Warner Brothers) and the one time homes of Roy and Walt Disney, whose first two studios were located nearby. Its most recognized feature is the Shakespeare Bridge, built over the covered Sacatela Creek. Also below the bridge is the only campus designed by John Lautner, the Midtown School. To read more about Franklin Hills, click here.
Griffith Park is one of Los Angele’s largest (more than five times the size of New York‘s Central Park) parks. It’s home to Griffith Observatory, the Greek Theatre, Bronson Canyon, Wilson Golf Course and the LA Zoo.
Although the official name “Historic Filipinotown” suggests that the Pinoy presence in the neighborhood is historical only, it is in fact home to a very large concentration of Filipinos as well as many Filipino institutions including the Filipino Christian Church, the Pilipino Workers Center, the Filipino American Community of Los Angeles, the Filipino American Service Group, the Search to Involve Philipino Americans, the Philipino American Network and Advocacy, Filipinas World Travel, the Filipino American Library, Philipino American Comm-LA, a Filipino WWII Veterans Memorial, Bahay Kubo Natin, Kabayan Pinoy, Little Ongpin, Nanay Gloris and Bahay Kubo. To read more about P-Town, click here.
When tour guides and websites write about Los Feliz they tend to throw around words like “young,” “funky,” “hip” and “trendy.” In reality, it’s a largely Armenian neighborhood with a median age of 36. It’s not the first time the popular media image of a Los Angeles neighborhood has had practically nothing to do with reality. It’s also home to the first location of Walt Disney Studios and the current home of Glenn Danzig. To read more about Los Feliz, click here.
Pico-Union is the youngest and least diverse neighborhood in the Mideast Side, with small minorities of Asian, whites, and blacks, and a median age of 27. It used to be heavily Jewish but today nearly everyone in the neighborhood is Mexican or Salvadoran although substantial numbers of Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans also call the neighborhood home.
Although two-thirds of Silver Lake residents are either Asian or Latino, boosters and haters alike (to whom Asians and Latinos are apparently invisible) invariably characterize its residents as uniformly obnoxious, crate service-costumed, white, trustafarian hipsterjugend. In the hills and around the reservoir are some great examples of modernist architecture. Also, don’t make an ass of yourself and spell it as one word. To read more about Silver Lake, click here.
Solano Canyon is a tiny neighborhood nestled in the southern part of Elysian Park and bordering Chinatown to the south. The heart of the neighborhood is San Conrado Catholic Mission. It’s a tight-knit community with its own community garden that’s almost completely residential and a bit like an urban Rivendell except when Dodger games are on and traffic pours into its streets like the armies of Mordor.
Sunset Heights is a mostly-forgotten tract name once used to sell parts of Echo Park. My brother lives there which is why I’m listing it as a neighborhood. It is home to the bar The Short Stop, where hoards of authenticity-seeking bridge and tunnel slummers bafflingly queue up on weekends just to pack a nice but unremarkable dive. Same for Little Joy Jr. It’s also home to the Tom of Finland Foundation and the beautiful Saint Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
I’m not sure why Temple-Beaudry warrants designation as a separate neighborhood but I’m glad it is. I’m pretty sure it’s synonymous with Colton Hill, on which is located. The tiny neighborhood boasts Show Cave, Dinner House M [now gone], the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre, the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, Vista Hermosa Park and some freakishly hideous architecture.
Victor Heights is named after Victor Beaudry and was historically home to many Croatians and Italians. It’s home to the Subliminal Projects Gallery and Party Bus Los Angeles, this hillside neighborhood is situated on a steep hill that overlooks Elysian Park. Separated from Chinatown‘s Alpine Hill by the 101 freeway, many of the residents are Chinese-American and the street signs are written in English and Chinese (sometimes by hand). It’s also terrorized by peacocks. To read more about it, click here.
Westlake derives its name from the lake in what is now MacArthur Park. Westlake’s eastside counterpart was Eastlake Park in Lincoln Heights, which was re-named Lincoln Park back in 1917. Once mostly home to a wealthy white population, after the destruction of Bunker Hill and Chavez Ravine, many Mexicans moved to the area and the Anglos moved west. It’s now increasingly home to Guatemalans, Oaxacans and Salvadorans which is why it, along with Pico-Union, have sometimes been collectively and colloquially referred to as Little Central America.