JUST LIKE MIDTOWN TRAFFIC — MIDTOWN
Midtown is a small but bustling area of Los Angeles surrounded by the larger regions of Hollywood to the north, the Westside to the west, South Los Angeles to the south and the Mideast side to the east. As the crossroads of Los Angeles’ population, the once whites-only region has long been one of its most ethnically and economically diverse areas, not only home to the largely Jewish Fairfax District and the ethnic enclaves of Koreatown and Little Bangladesh; it’s also Los Angeles’s only African-American enclave, Little Ethiopia.
The loosely-defined districts within Midtown include the areas of Mid-City, Mid-City West, Mid-Wilshire and Wilshire Center. Within them are numerous and distinct neighborhoods of varying sizes and character that collectively define Midtown’s diverse nature. Sometimes Midtown is referred to as Wilshire, after Henry Gaylord Wilshire, the father of Midtown.
DEVELOPMENT OF MIDTOWN
Wilshire, or “Gaylord” as he was known to most, was a developer/gold miner/farmer/socialist/publisher from Ohio. In the 1895, he carved Wilshire Boulevard across his barley field and made plans for development. At that time, Midtown was primarily agricultural although oil drilling had begun at the end of the 19th century. Wilshire remained unpaved west of Western until the 1920s, when developer AW Ross developed Wilshire Boulevard with a vision of a commercial corridor instead of district, targeted toward car operators rather than pedestrians — a concept that architectural critic Reyner Banham called “the linear downtown.”
After World War II, the lure of the suburbs slowly sucked out many of Midtown’s residents. Some of the older, wealthier neighborhoods subsequently became home to up-and-coming black and Jewish families in the middle part of the century. However, in the 1970s, Downtown Los Angeles‘s Bunker Hill neighborhood was redeveloped as the premier commercial district of LA and many Midtown businesses relocated or floundered as a result.
THE KOREAN INFLUX
The first Korean business, Olympic Market, had opened there in 1969. After draconian measures were undertaken by South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee in 1972, around 70,000 Koreans re-settled in Wilshire Center. The 1992 riots were a setback, especially for Korean-American Angelenos, with 40% of looted businesses being Korean-owned.
Nowadays Midtown has largely recovered although still a region of contrasts. The eastern portion is home to high-rise apartments and one of the most densely populated areas of the Southland. The western portion tends to be comprised of single family homes with fairly large yards. It’s one of the premier arts scenes as well, home to many galleries and several famed museums. There are great places to see movies like the CGV Cinemas and the Korean Cultural Center of Los Angeles. It also includes historic music venues including El Rey and the Wiltern. Though until recently beautiful and important structures were knocked down with regularity, today many of the architectural treasures are now protected. Now if only they could do something about the traffic!
now on to the neighborhoods…
Arlington Heights is a primarily residential neighborhood, mostly located within the larger Historic West Adams District whose residents are 57% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 25% black, 13%Asian (mostly Korean) and 5% white. Within its borders are several auto shops and bakeries as well as theWashington Irving Library and a pocket park. It’s also home to the well-known Jewel’s Catch One which opened in 1972 as the nation’s first gay black disco.
Beverly Grove is located in the northern corner of Midtown and is often lumped in with the Fairfax District that it borders. It’s home to the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and people often offer alternative monikers for it including Beverly Hills Adjacent, Beverly-Fairfax, and Fairfax-Melrose although all are as subjective (and incorrect) as the next. It’s Beverly Grove: learn it, live it, love it!
Brookside is a tiny residential enclave of just 400 homes, developed by the Rimpau Estate Company in 1920 as Windsor Crest (or Wilshire Crest, according to fewer sources). An economic slowdown in 1921 slowed down sales of the mostly-Colonial Revivals (and one Moorish and Scottish-influenced castle – The Chateau LeMoine) set on large lots and it became known as South Brookside (and later just Brookside) for the Arroyo de los Jardin de las Flores that runs through it. Since the 1930s, the privately-owned Brookledge Theater, located in the back of a home, has hosted magicians for entertainment. There’s also an annual potluck with a petting zoo and carnival games.
Carthay Circle was developed in 1922, J. Harvey McCarthy as Carthay Center. Its most famous landmark was the Carthay Circle Theatre, from which the trapezoidal neighborhood takes its misleading name. The theater was built in 1926 in the Spanish Baroque style, a 1500-seat-theater designed by A Dwight Gibbs. The last performance was of The Shoes of the Fisherman in 1968. It was later demolished. Nowadays Carthay Circle is part of an Historic Preservation Overlay Zone.
Carthay Square was developed in 1933 by Spyros George Ponty, alongside the larger, adjacent South Carthay. It’s primarily made up of two-and-three-family apartments with a couple of restaurants along the southern edge and the Little Ethiopia commercial district along it’s eastern one.
COUNTRY CLUB PARK
From 1899 to 1905, the area that now makes up Country Club Park was home to the 1 km2 Los Angeles Country Club. After it moved, Isaac Milbank‘s Country Club Park Real Estate Company subdivided the area for residential development. Although originally whites-only, after the racist restrictive housing codes were abolished, it attracted many upwardly-mobile blacks including celebrities like Hattie McDaniel, Mahalia Jackson, Lou Rawls, Lena Horne, Celes King of the Tuskeegee Airman and many others.
Faircrest Heights is a mostly residential neighborhood bounded by Pico Boulevard on the north, Fairfax Avenue on the east, Venice Boulevard on the south, and La Cienega Boulevard on the west. Most of the homes were built in the late 1930s and early ’40s. As of the 2010 census its population was 52% black, 26% white, and 20% Latino. In 2004, Los Angeles Magazine named it one of the “10 Best Neighborhoods You’ve Never Heard Of”. In 2013, Redfin listed it as the third most “up-and-comping” neighborhoods in the entire state.
One of its chief attractions is the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES) Recreation Center. Other attractions include Ciccero’s Pizza, Hoagies and Wings, Hollywood Pies, The Mint, and Penguin Fish & Chips.
Its series of nicknames, including Bagel District and Kosher Canyon, reflex the long-established Jewish character of the Fairfax District. Many Jews have since moved west and today the population is 85% white (Russian, Irish and Ukranian), 6% Latino (Mexican), 5% Asian. It’s also home to The Grove, The Original Farmers’ Market, CBS Television City and many Jewish organizations. The area immediately around Fairfax Avenue is known as Fairfax Village. To read more about Fairfax, click here.
Hancock Park is an upscale Midtown neighborhood developed in the 1920s by the Hancock family, who’d previously made a fortune from oil drilling. It was subdivided by George Allan Hancock who inherited the land (which included the La Brea tar pits) from his father, Major Henry Hancock. The population today is 71% white (mostly Irish and Russian), 13% Asian (mostly Korean and Filipino), 9% Latino and 4% black. It was at one time home to Nat King Cole, who went through hell to live in a white neighborhood. To read more about Hancock Park, click here.
Harvard Heights is another Midtown neighborhood largely protected by its being within an HPOZ (that also includes part of West Adams Heights and Westmoreland Heights). Its historical architectural significance is in large part due to the many California Craftsmans built primarily in the first decade of the 20th century. It’s also home to Southern California‘s oldest school, Loyola High. The population is roughly 66% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 16% black and 13% Asian.
Los Angeles is home to the largest population of Koreans and our Koreatown destroys the competition… and if that weren’t enough, the OC has Little Seoul. Like many ethnic enclaves in LA, Koreatown is largely a Korean commercial district, although there are many newly-arrived and mostly poor Koreans living in the neighborhood… joining a population that’s largely poor and mostly Latino. When Koreatown was officially designated in 1980, Koreatown was limited to Olympic Boulevard. However, as the Korean population and businesses have poured out in all directions, definitions have grown to include all of Wilshire Center and parts of neighboring districts, and not without controversy. To read more about Koreatown, click here.
Lafayette Square is a small, semi-gated neighborhood named after Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette consisting of eight blocks and centered around St Charles Place. Situated between Venice Boulevard and Washington Boulevard, its another of that part of Midtown’s wealthy, black majority neighborhoods. It was developed in 1913 by George L. Crenshaw. In 1952, famed architect Paul R. Williams built a home for his family there (pictured above).
A streetcar went up and down Larchmont Boulevard until the 1940s and it retains a nice, village-like feel. It’s still home to, and perhaps dominated by, the large Wilshire Country Club. Today the population of the neighborhood is 37% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatemalan), 30% Asian (mostly Korean) and 25% white.
Little Bangladesh is centered around a short stretch of 3rd Street between Wilton on the west and Vermonton the east. In the 1960s, many Bangladeshis came to the US on student visas and many chose to live in the northern portion of Wilshire Center for its cheap rents and its close proximity to LACC. After theBangladeshi Liberation War broke out in March of 1971, there was one more reason to relocate. That same year the Los Angeles Bangladesh Association was created. To read more about Little Bangladesh, click here.
Although city signs indicate that it’s official length is longer, Little Ethiopia is in reality a one block stretch along Fairfax between Olympic and Whitworth in the Carthay area. The smallest of the Southland’s many ethnic enclaves it’s also the only African-American one. It exists primarily as an Ethiopian commercial district as not many Ethiopians live in the area. To read more about Little Ethiopia, click here.
The romantically-named Longwood Highlands is a neighborhood in the Mid-Wilshire area. It’s a rather lush, green neighborhood, the streets of which are lined with mature magnolias, oaks and sycamores. A large number of the residences in the neighborhood are duplexes or, in fewer cases, quadraplexes. As I walked through the neighborhood, I was greeted by a diverse group of strangers, suggesting it might be more affordable than it’s posh appearance suggests. To read more, click here.
Although the term “Mid-City” is often used as a term for the larger midtown area, in its more specific use it refers to a neighborhood roughly bounded by Pico, Crenshaw, the 10 and Robertson. Historically largely black, it’s the home of the well-known Nate Holden Performing Arts Center (home of the Ebony Repertory Theater Company), the Ray Charles Post Office, and the inspiring St. Elmo’s Village, founded by two men from Missouri. Today the population is 45% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 38% black, 10% white and 4% Asian.
The Miracle Mile is a part of Mid-Wilshire that’s also considered to be both its own larger district as well as a smaller, better defined neighborhood. Designed as a commercial district to rival downtown Los Angeles, there are a preponderance of commercial spaces often dating back to the 1960s. Due to the presence of museums, commercial high rises and high-density residences, it remains a vital neighborhood with a population that’s approximately 34% white, 23% black, 20% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 20% Asian (mostly Korean).
Normally an “Olympic Park” refers to an accommodation built for the Olympic Games. In the case of LA’s Olympic Park, however, it’s a small Mid-Wilshire neighborhood bound by Pico to the south, Rimpau to the west, Olympic to the north and Crenshaw to the east. There is no entry on it in Wikipedia or the LA Times Mapping Project… oh well! It’s also home of the Queen Anne Recreation Center.
Emil Firth’s Oxford Square Tract was subdivided in 1907. Originally the large subdivision stretched from Pico Boulevard to Francis Avenue on Windsor Boulevard and Victoria Avenue and included Windsor Village. Ironically, Firth was Jewish but even so, Jews were restricted from living in Oxford Square by racist, restrictive deeds at its inception.
PARK LA BREA
Park La Brea is a unique Mid-Wilshire/Miracle Mile neighborhood comprised of more than 4,000 apartments built between 1944 and 1948, a time when development was dominated by single family homes. Due to their passing aesthetic similarity to Bronzeville, Chicago‘s Robert Taylor Homes and Queens’s Queensbridgehousing developments; Park La Brea was quickly nicknamed “The Projects.” However, the inspiration was the innovative architecture of Le Corbusier and the streets are laid out in a Masonic pattern as a reference to the masonic heritage of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
WEST ADAMS HEIGHTS
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, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. 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.