ESTAREI PENSANDO NELA — NORTHEAST LOS ANGELES
Northeast Los Angeles is situated on a green, hilly topography bounded by the Los Angeles River, the Arroyo Seco and the San Rafael Hills. It’s neighbored by The Verdugos region to the north, the San Gabriel Valley to the east, the Eastside to the south, and Mideast Los Angeles (MELA) across the Los Angeles River to the west.
Many of the neighborhoods of the area began as small settlements that developed independently and were gradually annexed by LA. Highland Park became part of LA in 1895, Garvanza followed in 1899, Occidental in 1916 and Eagle Rock in 1923. It’s gone through many changes but has always maintained a unique vibe that distinguishes it among LA regions. It’s especially well-known for its many fine Craftsman homes. Currently, the population is roughly 63% Latino, 17% white, 16% Asian and 2% black.
THE ARROYO SECO SET AND THE EMERGENCE OF A NELA IDENTITY
An Arroyo Seco regional affiliation really began to take off in the 19th Century when the river and surrounding hills were home to a handful of later-annexed communities. However, it wasn’t until around the 1970s that the current/not quite synonymous Northeast Los Angeles identity began to emerge. Before then, gangs of Cypress Park, Garvanza, Glassell Park, Highland Park, Montecito Heights, Rose Hill, &c invariably represented “The Eastside” (I’m not aware of the regional affiliations of any historic Hermon or Eagle Rock-based gangs although in a 1971 episode of Adam-12 called “Gang War” a Latino gang called The Eagle Rocks beefs with one called The Verdugos). In the 1970s, the small Varrio NELA 13 formed around a group of about 30 members in Highland Park and were likely the first organization to popularize the now widely-favored NELA acronym.
SECESSION FROM THE EASTSIDE
Eager to disassociate their properties with “The Eastside,” which was by then synonymous with “the barrio” and Latino gang violence in the minds of many Angelenos, real estate developers, and others jumped on board with the furtherance of the distinct NELA identity in the 1980s and actively attempted to shed their associations with the Eastside they’d historically been part of. Nowadays, every single Eastside Los Angeles neighborhood (including Boyle Heights, El Sereno, and Lincoln Heights) has been re-branded by some as part of Northeast Los Angeles, leaving only unincorporated (and therefore not part of the City of Los Angeles) East Los Angeles part of the city’s Eastside. (Some 20 years later a new crop of developers and others would attempt to co-opt and commodify “The Eastside’s” edgy/gritty/authentic nature to market Central Los Angeles communities like Westlake, Los Feliz, East Hollywood, Silver Lake and Echo Park as a re-imagined Eastside for people at best unaware of and at worst simply uninterested in the real Eastside). What neighborhoods are part of The Eastside vs Northeast Los Angeles is, therefore, a matter of ongoing debate.
And now for the neighborhoods…
ARROYO VIEW ESTATES
Arroyo View Estates is an early 1960s suburban development located in the hills between Highland Park and Pasadena. The tract was developed by William Gorham in two phases and is almost exclusively comprised almost exclusively of mid-century ranch homes. It was once famously the neighborhood of choice for several professional athletes.
In 1917, part of Annandale was annexed by neighboring Pasadena. In 1992, what remained of Annandale joined Garvanza, Hermon, Sycamore Grove, and York Valley in forsaking their individual identities for increased clout they hoped would come from joining together with Highland Park in the Greater Highland Park Association.
Atwater Village began as a poppy field known as “Atwater Park,” named after Harriet Atwater Paramore. It was subdivided in 1912 and became Atwater Village. Most of the Spanish-style homes and bungalows were built beginning in the 1920s. One of the oldest restaurants in the county, the Tam O’Shanter Inn, opened in 1922 and was frequented by Walt Disney. The Los Feliz Drive-In opened in 1950 at the corner of Riverside and Los Feliz although it only lasted six years. Many of the early residents were employees of the nearby DWP station. Nowadays the diverse population is 51% Latino (mostly Mexican), 22% white and 20% Asian (mostly Filipino). To read more about Atwater Village, click here.
Cypress Park is the youngest, poorest and least diverse neighborhood with a populace that’s 82% Latino (mostly Mexican), 11% Asian (mostly Chinese) and 5% white. Two of my favorite local chains, King Taco and El Atacor, both started there. One of the local bars, Footsie’s, was featured in a TI video. To read more about Cypress Park, click here.
Eagle Rock is the oldest, wealthiest and most diverse neighborhood in NELA, with a population that’s 30% Latino (mostly Mexican), 30% white and 24% Asian (mostly Filipino). The name comes from a large boulder which, at certain times of the day, casts a shadow that looks like a flying bird. It’s long been a desirable neighborhood for artists, writers, musicians, and filmmakers. To read more about Eagle Rock, click here.
Garvanza is a tiny neighborhood considered by many to be part of the larger Highland Park neighborhood that was a major center of the California Arts & Crafts movement. It’s named after the garbanzo beans that purportedly flourished there after being planted by Don Julio Verdugo in 1833. In 2007, the neighborhood was made an Historical Preservation Overlay Zone. To read more about Garvanza, click here.
Glassell Park was established by attorney Andrew Glassell, who received part of Rancho San Rafael as a result of the Great Partition of 1871 lawsuit. Many of the streets, including Toland Way, Drew, Andrita and Marguarite Streets are named after his family members. It was annexed by Los Angeles in two phases, in 1912 and 1916. Today the population is 66% Latino (mostly Mexican), 17% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 14% white. To read more about it, click here.
Half-square-mile Hermon was established in 1903 as a colony by the Free Methodists, who purchased the valley area from Ralph Rogers, who’d previously struggled to sell his isolated property. The Methodists named it after the Biblical landmark in Syria (currently occupied by Israel). It was annexed by Los Angeles in 1912. Hermon streets including Ebey, Coleman, Terrill, and Redfield were named after clergy. Today it has a small commercial district but is primarily residential. To read more about it, click here.
Highland Park is a scenic neighborhood that’s a popular filming location (it’s been filmed in Reservoir Dogs, Cutter’s Way, La Bamba, Tuff Turf, Up in Smoke, Yes Man, Cyrus, Karate Kid III, and other films). In 1928, resident Edward M. Hiner established a music studio/rehearsal building that developed into the music department at Los Angeles State Normal School, and later UCLA. Today it’s 72% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 11% white (mostly German) and 11% Asian. To read more about Highland Park, click here.
Montecito Heights is situated in the Monterey Hills and was another significant center of the California Arts and Crafts movement. It’s also known for Heritage Square, a “living history museum” where old and significant buildings from around Los Angeles have been relocated for preservation. It’s also home to the Audubon Center and a population that’s 66% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 17% Asian (mostly Chinese), 12% white and 3% black. To read more about Montecito Heights, click here.
Monterey Hills is a small condominium development that has developed a neighborhood identity distinct from that of Montecito Heights. It’s part of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council (ASNC) and the LA Department of Transportation has installed signs at its borders. In 1971, The Monterey Hills Redevelopment Project proposed building over a thousand units on a previously undisturbed hillside. Twenty years later many of them suffered severe structural damage resulting in high profile court battles. The cultural highlight is the annual Monterey Hills Jazz Festival. To read more about it, click here.
Mt. Washington was founded in 1909 by developer Robert Marsh. On the summit of Mt. Washington, he built the Mt. Washington Hotel and the Mount Washington Railway offered passage up the steep hillside until 1919. It’s home to the Southwest Museum of the American Indian which was established by noted anthropologist, historian, and journalist Charles Fletcher Lummis and is the oldest museum in the city. It’s population today is 61% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran, 21% white (mostly German) and 13% Asian. To read more about Mount Washington, click here.
Sycamore Grove was annexed in 1895. The area early on began to attract bohemians and bandits, resulting in brothels and saloons springing up around Sycamore Grove. 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.
York Valley is named after its main thoroughfare, York Boulevard. It was originally known as Eureka Avenue before it was changed to New York Avenue. In the 1920s, in part to distance itself from its nickname “Poverty Flats,” it became simply York Boulevard (whether true in reality or not, in the popular conscience New York is more impoverished than York). In 1922, York Valley joined other neighborhoods in retiring its name in favor of identifying with Greater Highland Park but, as with many forsaken identities, in more recent years some have attempted to restore it.
If you’d like to see any Northeast Los Angeles communities covered in a future edition of California Fool’s Gold, please let me know which ones in the comment section. Thanks!
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