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 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 asi 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 is clearly the best, if not yet widely recognized. Think about it though, doesnt “Mideast Side” provide a nice compliment to Mid-City West, an area located on the other side of Midtown? Doesn’t it strike a nice geo-linguistic chord between Midtown and the Eastside without making an colonial claims to either? Doesn’t it capture, without using the term “Middle East,” the contentiousness of the area’s identity?
If you’re on board, there is now a Mideast Side Facebook group, Mideast Side art prints (available from Echo Park’s 1650 Gallery), 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 THE MIDEAST
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)
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.
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.
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.
So there you have it, the Mideast Side! To vote for Mideast Side or other Los Angeles neighborhoods to be the subject of blog entries, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, or listicles and jobs must pay offer reasonable pay. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.