California Fool’s Gold — An Eastside Primer


The Eastside

People are weird about Los Angeles Eastside/Westside thing. The same wannabes from Midtown, HollywoodSilver Lake and Echo Park that throw up “W” hand signs and exaggeratedly say, “West-side” when they’re ironically enjoying rap music are the same jerks that claim, despite the fact that they live in Central Los Angeles, that they live on The Eastside. If you call them on it, they usually claim that the real Eastside (the communities east of the Los Angeles River) are all East Los Angeles — which is incorrect but more likely a sign that they’ve never been to the region that they claim — and not some willful act of subterfuge.


To be fair to these noobs, ill-informed Westsiders, transplants, and weirdos who insist on dividing the entire city or county into just two regions (I count 20) — there is more than one Eastside… sort of. The other Eastside is sometimes referred to as the Black Eastside (even though it’s currently mostly Latino) and has a long claim to the Eastside name. To many black Angelenos and South Los Angeles residents,  the traditional division between the Eastside and Westside is the 110 freeway (and before that freeway’s existence, Main Street).  However, when “The Eastside” is used in this respect, it’s implied (and usually understood) that one is talking about the Eastside of South Los Angeles.

Outside of South LA, the communities east of the Los Angeles River have historically been considered The Eastside — communities like Atwater Village, Boyle Heights, Brooklyn Heights, City Terrace, Cypress Park, El Sereno, Garvanza, Glassell Park, Happy Valley, Highland Park, Hillside Village, Montecito Heights, Mount Washington, Rose Hill, Tropico,  and yes, East Los Angeles (which, of course, isn’t actually part of the City of Los Angeles). I’m not sure why, but Eagle Rock seems to be alone in Los Angeles neighborhoods ever considered to be part of the Eastside — but I could be wrong. Maybe its because even long after its annexation by Los Angeles it still feels like its own municipality (perhaps because it still has its own city hall).

An Arroyo Seco regional affiliation distinct from that of the Eastside first began to emerge in the 19th Century when the river and surrounding hills were home to a handful of later-annexed-by-Los-Angeles communities. It was only around the 1970s, however, that a separate Northeast Los Angeles (NELA) identity began to emerge that was referred to thus. It seems that eager to disassociate themselves with the negative associations of “the Eastside” (gangs, barrios, working class Latinos, &c), homeowners, real estate developers, and others jumped on board the NELA bandwagon in the 1980s and it NELA became a widely accepted and popular identity. In fact, I’ve found examples of people claiming every single Los Angeles neighborhood traditionally considered to be part of the Eastside to be part of NELA at some point or other — leaving me wondering what they think that the Eastside is!


Jump ahead twenty years and a new crop of developers began to market the very things the previous generation had shunned (albeit with a different vocabulary) as selling points of a new Eastside — albeit an Eastside now located on the west side of the river. As with the real Eastside, these neighborhoods were working class (authentic), gritty (less likely to receive city services), and primarily Latino… but also heavily (and historically) gay and more primed for gentrification than the real Eastside. Also, they didn’t have a widely-recognized designation. Angeleno Heights, Echo Park, Elysian Heights, Elysian Park, Elysian Valley, Franklin Hills, Griffith Park, Historic Filipinotown, Los Feliz, Pico-Union, Silver Lake Solano Canyon, Victor Heights, and Westlake are located in Central Los Angeles along with Hollywood and Midtown but aren’t really part of either. People will keep having East Side Mondays in Westlake, Taste of the Eastside in Hollywood, and call themselves Mr. Eastside Cool because they own venues in Silver Lake and Echo Park unless people inside and outside embrace an identifier. I favor the Mideast Side. If NELA can create an identity, so can the Mideast!

This is not the Eastside

Justifiably annoyed that “the Eastside” was being pulled away first by NELA and then Central Los Angeles, many real Eastsiders continued to embrace The Eastside with a sense of pride. In the 2000s, some fought back by slapping up stickers around the west bank stating “THIS IS NOT THE EAST SIDE!.” In my capacity as an explorer of Los Angeles neighborhoods I was asked, along with DJ Waldie, to speak on the issue on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? (listen here). Someone from the station told us that we were to represent the Eastside. Waldie, a lifelong resident of Southeast Los Angeles who has famously written about Lakewoodand me, a longtime resident of the Mideast Side, both informed them that we weren’t Eastsiders… which seemed to confuse the Westsiders on the other end.

Anyway, now that we’re all clear…


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of The Eastside
Pendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of The Eastside

The Eastside is neighbored by Northeast LA to the north, the San Gabriel Valley to the east, SELACO to the south, South LA to the southwest and Downtown LA to the west. The population is overwhelmingly Latino, approximately 91% (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran) with a small but significant and long-established minority of Asian-Americans (mostly Chinese and Vietnamese) who make up 5% of the population.

Bridge to the Eastside

Large parts of the Eastside are hilly and traversed by winding, narrow streets. Industrial shops and residences often sit side-by-side. There’s still significant backyard agriculture and roosters roam the streets. Non-whites (and “less-white” whites like Italians and Jews) used to be restricted from living in most of Los Angeles and the area was traditionally very diverse. Once racist housing codes were abolished and minorities could move out of the Eastside it became overwhelmingly Latino. For over fifty years the region has been the heart of Latino-Los Angeles and films like Mi Familia and Stand and Deliver have been filmed and set there.

And now for the specific neighborhoods:



Arroyo Seco map
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography’s map of Arroyo Seco

I honestly know nothing about the history of any part of Boyle Heights being called “Arroyo Seco.” I know of the river with that name but that doesn’t pass through Boyle Heights. I swear it used to appear on Yahoo! Maps (I’m aware that most people aren’t aware that such a thing exists). It also exists as a thing on City Data which has population data relating to the area. It was listed as an Eastside community on Wikipedia‘s Eastside page until May 2011 edit. It’s also not on the Los Angeles County Assessor‘s page. What’s more, it overlaps part of the Brooklyn Tract around Prospect Park. Nonetheless, when I made a poll for Los Angeles neighborhoods, I got quite a few votes for Arroyo Seco so just in case they all knew somethingdidn’t (and weren’t referring to the entire Northeast Los Angeles region as a neighborhood), I went ahead a map following the few sources that listed this possibly non-existent neighborhood.


Detail of 1930 Automobile Club showing Belvedere (image source: KCET)

Belvedere was born in 1921 as Belvedere Gardens, an 154 acre development created by Janss Investment Company and a suburb located in what’s now East Los Angeles. It was located at the end of a streetcar line and soon was shortened on most maps simply to Belvedere. It still appeared on maps as such. 


Boyle Heights Mariachi Square
Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights

In the first half of the 20th century, Boyle Heights was an ethnically diverse gateway to LA for recent immigrants mainly from East Asia (mainly Japan), Eastern Europe (mainly Armenia and Russia) and Latin America (mostly Mexico). In the northwest, there’s the neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights which was mainly Jewish and its Breed Street Shul is the oldest synagogue on the west coast. The neighborhood of Arroyo Seco (not to be confused with the region of Northeast LA) in the Flats was home to one of the nation’s most notorious slums until the 1940s. To read more about Boyle Heights, click here.


Brooklyn Heights
Detail of a1908 topographic map showing Brooklyn Heights and Boyle Heights (image source: KCET)

A group of investors headed by AH Judson created the Brooklyn Land and Building Company in 1876. They purchased 105 acres and subdivided the Brooklyn Tract in the hills above Boyle Heights which became the suburb of Brooklyn Heights in 1877. It officially became part of Boyle Heights in 1899 when a motion was passed that re-designated it and neighboring (and completely forgotten) Euclid Heights part of the larger neighborhood. The main street in the neighborhood remained known as Brooklyn Avenue until 1993, when it was renamed Cesar Chavez Avenue. Although I know of no efforts to restore the designation of the neighborhood’s name, it’s well-documented importance in the history of Jews in Los Angeles has helped keep it from ever completely fading from the public consciousness.


Woolwine Drive in City Terrace
Spanish Colonial Revival homes on Woolwine Drive

City Terrace‘s land was bought by five men: Edward M. Fowler, John B. Miller, John E. Fishburn, R.I. Rogers, and Walter G. Van Pelt who lent their names to Fowler Street, Miller Avenue, Fishburn Avenue, Rogers Street, and Van Pelt Avenue. It was developed by Walter H. Leimert (the same guy who developed Leimert Park), who mistakenly thought that after modern bridges were built over the Los Angeles River that the city would expand eastward. Although most of the signs in the neighborhood are labeled “East Los Angeles,” it maintains its own identity and a rich artistic history. To read more about City Terrace, click here.


East LA
Whittier Boulevard in East Los Angeles

East Los Angeles is the world-famous heart of Mexican-America, what Harlem is to black Americans or Monterey Park is (or should be) to Chinese-Americans. Like Boyle Heights, it was also traditionally home to a large number of Jews as well as Chinese, Japanese, Mexicans and Serbians. It includes the smaller districts of City Terrace, Belvedere, MaravillaWhittier (the shopping district, not the city), Eastmont and Wellington Heights and, in addition to being the setting of many Latino films, is a hotbed of all aspects of Mexican-American culture and the Chicano expression. To read more about East Los Angeles, click here.


Eastmont, East Los Angeles
Eastmont — including the Eastmont Community Center (right)

Eastmont is a neighborhood in East Los Angeles that, like City Terrace, has maintained a somewhat more widely-recognized degree of autonomy than other East Los communities despite having long ago vanished from most maps. It sticks out like an appendage from the rest of East Los and is neighbored by Montebello, Monterey Park, and the City of Commerce and most of the homes were built after World War II. Its name and identity are still preserved in the Eastmont Community Center (established in 1967), Eastmont Intermediate School, Eastmont Paint & Decorating, Eastmont Senior Nutrition, Eastmont Methodist Church, and Eastmont Christian Church.


El Sereno Los Angeles
El Sereno from atop Ascot Hill

El Sereno sits is the easternmost district in the city of Los Angeles. The area was founded in 1905 as Bairdstown. Historically it included the smaller neighborhoods of Hillside Village and University Hills around Cal State Los Angeles although they’re recognized by others as being their own neighborhoods now. El Sereno was a filming location for Street Kings, The Mars Volta‘s music video for “Goliath” and other films.  To read more about El Sereno, click here.


Happy Valley sign
Abraham Lincoln High School and a DOT sign designating Happy Valley

Happy Valley is an old barrio, located in a small valley between Lincoln Heights and Montecito Heights. The main corridors are Lincoln Park Avenue in the south (the southern border is at Broadway) and Sierra Street in the north (on which Happy Valley Apartments are situated). The area traditionally claimed by Happy Valley Rifa – a long-present gang in the neighborhood – is hemmed in by Lincoln Park to the west, Broadway to the south, Mission and Huntington to the east, and Mercury to the north. It’s an almost entirely residential neighborhood with the exception of one church, two schools, an auto shop, and a liquor store. To read more about it, click here.


Hillside Village
A Hillside Village neighborhood sign

Hillside Village is a neighborhood historically associated with El Sereno built on and near the former site of the New Ascot Raceway at the foot of Ascot Hills Park. It’s mostly residential although there are businesses and the large Ming Ya Buddhist Temple along the southern and eastern edges. It’s also home to great eateries like King Torta, Cha Cha Chili, and the long-established Johhnie’s. To read more about it, click here.


Lincoln Heights
El Parque de Mexico and off camera to the right, Lincoln Park

Lincoln Heights is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, dating back to the 1830s and for several decades a wealthy Victorian neighborhood. With the arrival and development of of industry along the river, however, most of the wealthy residents moved first away. One of the first big groups to fill the void was Italian-Americans, who largely abandoned Little Italy after it became Chinatown. Over time, like the rest of LA, it grew more homogeneous and Latino. Its park, Lincoln Park, is where that one band took its name from. To read more about Lincoln Heights, click here.


Marvilla Handball Court
Maravilla Handball Court, long run by Michi and Tommy Nishiyama (image source: LA TImes)

Maravilla Park, more commonly known simply as Maravilla today, was first platted in 1911 although significant development didn’t take place until the 1920s. Initially, like much of the Eastside, the early population of Maravilla was diverse, comprised largely of  German, Irish, Japanese, and Mexican Americans. By the end of World War II it was overwhelmingly Mexican. In 1945, the Maravilla Housing Project was constructed — rebuilt in 1974 as Nueva Maravilla. The neighborhood identity is still preserved by the Maravilla Historical Society.


Rose Hill, Los Angeles
An image of Rose Hill Courts and Rose Hill Park

Despite the fact that there is already a Rose Hills CDP (Census Designated Place) in the Puente Hills and despite the fact that the area is home to the non-pluralized Rose Hill Park, Rose Hill Recreation Center, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Rose Hill, and Rose Hill Courts; on September 11, 2013 a group of Rose Hill residents gained semi-official recognition with city council’s approval to install some Department of Transportation signs in the area. I’m not sure why Rose Hill had to become Rose Hills but it’s not alone in its flexible approach to spelling — see also: Angeleno Heights/Angelino Heights, Silver Lake/Silverlake, and Los Felis/Los Feliz or in its attempt to appropriate a pre-existing neighborhood name (see Manchester Square, Rowland Heights, and South Park) but no offense, I’m going to keep referring to it as Rose Hill (singular). To read more about Rose Hill, click here.


Cal State LA Campus - University Hills
Cal State Los Angeles, the dominant feature of University Hills

As with Hillside Village, University Hills is usually thought of as being part of El Sereno. Most of the homes in the area were built in the 1920s but the dominant feature is the Cal State LA campus. Thanks to the Luckman Arts Complex, it’s a bit of a hub of high culture on the Eastside (a region generally more celebrated for folk and street culture). To read more about University Hills, click here.


I haven’t been able to find much about Wellington Heights except that the same Janss behind Belvedere Gardens had an interest in it. It seems that it existed at least as early as 1905, which makes me think that it may’ve first started in Boyle Heights rather than East Los Angeles. It occasionally shows up maps — including Bing‘s and Foursquare‘s but who knows what their sources are? Besides, Foursquare lists Silver Lake as being in East Los Angeles.


The Whittier Shopping District, also sometimes simply referred to asWhittier,” should not be confused with the city of the same name fourteen kilometers to the east. I don’t know how often people refer to the Whittier Shopping District in everyday speech but it does show up on some maps and seems likely to have been created to draw attention to the fact that there is commerce in East Los Angeles. The worry that there isn’t enough tax revenue generated in the community is often given as the reason against its incorporation as a city. It’s a bustling area and hosts the Latino Walk of Fame.


So there you have it — a brief introduction to the Eastside. To vote for any Eastside neighborhoods or any 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 more than slave wages as he would rather write for pleasure than for peanuts. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing 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 FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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