California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Filipinotown

P-TOWN, STAY DOWN! — HISTORIC FILIPINOTOWN

This blog entry is about Historic Filipinotown.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s ink and oil paint map of Filipinotown, available on art prints and merchandise

Historic Filipinotown is a neighborhood in Mideast Los Angeles bounded by the 101 to the north, Beverly Boulevard to the south, Hoover Street to the west and Glendale Boulevard to the east. Its neighbors are Silver Lake and Echo Park to the north, Angeleno Heights to the northeast, Temple-Beaudry to the east, Westlake to the south, and Wilshire Center to the west.

Despite its official designation in 2002, the neighborhood is often described as being part of Rampart Village, Westlake, Echo Park, and/or Silver Lake. The designation of Historic Filipinotown strikes some as odd. To casual observers who only pass through the area in their cars, the neighborhood doesn’t look especially Filipino. The streets aren’t exactly lined with nipa huts. In addition, Filipinos are sometimes referred to as “the Invisible Minority” because most in America speak English as a first language and most don’t live in recognized ethnic enclaves. It may come as a surprise, then, that the area around Historic Fillipinotown is actually home to quite a few Pinoys.

They probably should’ve just called it “Filipinotown” and dropped the “Historic” except that there are even more, apparently, Koreans, Mexicans, and Salvadorans in the neighborhood. But then again, Koreatown is mostly Latino, Little Ethiopia is largely Jewish, Little Tokyo is heavily Korean, and Thai Town is primarily Armenian. The fact of the matter is that Filipinotown is a major cultural and culinary center for Filipinos but what’s done is done and the official name has lead to the nickname, “HiFi.”


FILIPINO-AMERICAN HISTORY

The first Filipinos in the Americas were part of the crew of Nuestra Señora de Buena Esperanza, which landed in Morro Bay in 1587. Filipinos first settled in the US starting in 1763, when they established Saint Malo in Louisiana. Prior to that, the Austronesian ancestors of modern Filipinos had spread across the Pacific Islands, some of which would later become part of the US. After the 1902 conclusion of the Philippine-American War, the first Filipinos came to California and Hawaii. In 1911, Pablo Manlapit formed the Filipino Higher Wages Association and the Filipino Unemployed Association in Hawaii. Many Filipino males continued to immigrate, working as farm laborers, as there were fewer restrictions against them than applied to other Asians since the Philippines was an American colony. In 1920, over 10,000 Japanese and Filipino plantation workers went on strike. In 1928, Filipino farmers were chased out of Yakima Valley, Oregon by a white mob. In 1934, the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act reduced Filipino immigration to 50 people per year while outlining the Philippines’ path to independence. However, after the Philippines become independent from the US in 1946, American citizenship was offered to all Filipinos living in the United States.

Although state-sanctioned racial discrimination is no longer practiced and Filipinos are often thought to have assimilated into mainstream society, there are still numerous instances of anti-Filipino racism. For example, in 1999 Joseph Ileto was murdered by white supremacist Buford Furrow. In 2007, Marie Stefanie Martinez was attacked by a group of thirteen black teenagers in New York City because “she looked Chinese.”

Anyway, no doubt in part because of the relative ease with which they move through mainstream American society, Filipinos are prominent in the arts and entertainment industries. There are a lot of American artists and entertainers with some Filipino ancestry and, off the top of my head, I can think of Chad Hugo, Christine Castro Hughes, Joey Santiago, Lou Diamond Phillips, Ernie Reyes Jr., Dante Basco, Emy Coligado, Joanna Bacalso, Jocelyn Enriquez, and Reggie Lee.


FILIPINOS IN LOS ANGELES

In the 1920s, Los Angeles’ Filipino population was centered in the residential hotels in Little Tokyo. In 1929, anti-Filipino riots began around California over inter-racial relationships between white women and Filipino men, in defiance of anti-miscegenation laws. Most Filipino immigrants settled around 1st and Main streets, just west of Little Tokyo, and the area came to be known as Little Manila. If anything, that’s “Historic” Filipinotown but anyway… after the passage of the Luce-Cellar Act of 1946, which increased the quota of Filipino immigrants to one hundred per year, more Filipinos arrived and the area became increasingly crowded. Most of the Pinoy population relocated to nearby Bunker Hill, a formerly posh neighborhood of Victorian homes which had by then been subdivided and deemed a slum by city officials.

After Bunker Hill’s demolition in the late ’50s, many Filipinos moved west to Temple-Beaudry and what’s now Historic Filipinotown. Most of the homes in the area date back to the 1920s and 1910s although, especially in the eastern edge, there are Victorians built in the 1890s. As with Bunker Hill, by the time the Filipinos arrived, many of the neighborhood’s previous inhabitants had moved elsewhere, following the expansion of Los Angeles and abandoning the early and by then unfashionable Victorian and Craftsman era neighborhoods.

With the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, enacted in 1968, national quotas for “Malays and Mongoloids” were finally lifted and Filipinos were actively sought out to help end a shortage of qualified nurses. As a result, Filipino immigration exploded and Filipinos were only surpassed by Chinese in numbers of Asian immigrants. One in four Filipino immigrants to the US settled in the Los Angeles era and there are now around 400,000 here. With the expanding numbers and with segregation ended, Filipinos began to fan out from their traditional enclaves and today there are pockets of large numbers in Filipinos both where Little Manilas traditionally existed and in newer enclaves in places like Arleta, Artesia, Buena Park, Carson, Cerritos, Covina, Diamond Bar, Eagle Rock, Glendale, North Hollywood, Norwalk, Panorama City, Paramount, Porter Ranch, Walnut, West Covina, and West Hollywood.


THE ESTABLISHMENT OF HISTORIC FILIPINOTOWN

Filipinos had long lobbied for the establishment of an official Little Manila but with the population so spread throughout the county, the question of where exactly remained until the establishment of Historic Filipinotown in 2002. Today, not only is the neighborhood a large Filipino bedroom community but as a cultural and commercial center, it rivals even the Eagle Rock Plaza. It’s home to several Pinoy organizations and establishments. The Historic Filipinotown Neighborhood Council works to preserve the cultural, political and economic development in P-Town.

The Filipino Christian Church, established in 1933, is the oldest Christian Church in the county.

There’s also the Filipino American Community of Los Angeles (FACLA), whose hall one can rent out for events.

The Filipino American Service Group, Inc. (FASGI), stands out with its traditional Filipino vibe.

There’s the Search to Involve Pilipino Americans (SIPA).

In addition to those, there’s the Rotary Club of Historic Filipinotown (HIFIRC), the Pilipino Workers Center (PWC), the Pilipino American Network and Advocacy (PANA), Filipinas World Travel, the Filipino American Library (FAL), Philipino American Comm-LA, and the Historic Filipinotown Chamber of Commerce (HIFICC).


One of the oldest sites in the neighborhood pre-dates the arrival of Filipinos to the area, the Bonnie Brae House. In 1906, the home of Richard and Ruth Asberry (216 N. Bonnie Brae Street) gained fame as the birthplace of the Pentecostal movement when a black, Catholic-raised preacher named William J. Seymour led a fast and after three days, one Edward S. Lee began speaking in tongues and was soon joined by others. Today the home is open as a museum (by appointment only).

The first Filipino WWII Veterans Memorial in the nation (designed by artist Cheri Gaulke and with a quote from Faustino “Peping” Baclig) is located at Lake Street Park at the former site of Our Lady of Loretto High School.

The crosswalks in Filipinotown have even been decorated with traditional Filipino basket weaving patterns.

There are even strip malls and apartments with names like Luzon Plaza and Manila Terrace!


CULTURAL EVENTS

There are two major annual events in the Historic Filipinotwn: the Annual Historic Filipinotown 5k Run/Walk/Festival in August and, after Thanksgiving, the lamp posts along Temple Street are decorated with parols that remain until the Three Kings Celebration when they are then are highlighted by the Christmas Parol Parade. Currently, there are also plans for monuments to Uncle Roy Morales, Philip Vera Cruz, and José Rizal.

I’m not sure what section to put it in, but P-Town is home to the Los Angeles Derby Dolls, too.


EATS & DRINKS

There are several Filipino restaurants in the neighborhood including:

Bahay Kubo Natin
Sisigan Republic (previously Pinnoy [sic] BBQ and Amihan)
Nanay Gloria’s
…and Little Ongpin

Not pictured but also offering Filipino cuisine are Aristocrat, Kapistahan Grill, My Mom’s Bake Shop, and Salakot Sizzle and Grill Restaurant).

I would have eaten at one of the Filipino joints except for the fact that Filipino food is pretty much up there with Mongolian or Inuit in terms of not being vegetarian friendly. Being a hot day, I did grab a calamondin juice from Temple Seafood Market, which was refreshing.

Non-Filipino neighborhood joints include Bernie’s Teriyaki, Lowenbrau Keller, TiGeorge’s, Bangkok Express, Brooklyn Bagel Bakery, Dante’s, Antojitos Chapines Amalia, Tacos El Aja’ Toros, Gigi Bakery & Cafe, Alberto Tamales, Lương Vịnh, Village Kitchen, and Ostionero Colima 2.

The most famous restaurant in Historic Filipinotown is the Original Tommy’s Hamburger, which was started (like so many burger stands) by a Greek American, in this case, one Tom Koulax. It opened on 15 May 1946 at the intersection of Rampart and Beverly boulevards, where it still stands.

There are also some bars, including Medusa Lounge, Fredo’s, 1642, and Chang Billy.


P-TOWN ART SCENE

There’s at least one art gallery in Historic Filipinotown, Trópico de Nopal Gallery.

There’s a mural in Beverly Union Park, Gintong Kasaysayan, Gintong Pamana, which depicts key moments and figures in the Pinoy civil rights struggle. The fact that Paula Crisostomo is Chilipina is frequently overlooked, as is the fact that the 1964 Grape Boycott was begun by Filipino farm-workers. There’s also a Cache mural, which typically depicts chickens, Zapatistas, and political slogans and iconography.


HISTORIC FILMIPINOTOWN

I don’t know of any actors/filmmakers or bands from Filipinotown but there is Gemini Video. Gemini Video is much more than a video store, though. While they do sell and rent a large selection of Hollywood and Filipino films on DVD and VHS… they also sell nurse scrubs, dish soap, bags and all kinds of seemingly (to me) random items.


OCCIDENTAL STUDIOS

At 201 N. Occidental stands the old Occidental Studios. They were built in 1913 by a then-famous actor from Ohio, Hobart Bosworth. It was at Occidental that Canadian actress (aka “America’s Sweetheart) Mary Pickford got her start in film. The studios were later owned by director Robert Aldrich.


HI-FI SOUNDS

The neighborhood is also home to both Pehrspace and L’Keg Gallery, both of which focus on up-and-coming bands with considerable talent and both of which are located in the Glen Village Shopping Center.

The nearby Filipino-owned Tribal Cafe also hosts live music events. The Panamerican Nightclub, despite its name, boasts that it’s “100% Latino” and, in keeping with that boast, mostly features bachata, bolero, cumbia, duranguense, merengue, punta, reggeaton, and salsa. So check out Historic Filipinotown, “bayang magiliw, perlas ng silanganan.” Palaam na po!



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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 KCRW‘s Which 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 AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubi, the StoryGraph, and Twitter.

13 thoughts on “California Fool’s Gold — Exploring Filipinotown

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