California Fool’s Gold — A Midtown Primer


Midtown detail of Los Angeles County MapA detail of Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of LA County showing Midtown’s location

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.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of MidtownPendersleigh & Sons‘ Official Map of Midtown

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.


Wilshire Boulevard Postcard

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.”


Midtown Ghost town 1970s

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 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.

Wilshire Center with Hollywood in the background

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

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.


Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

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!


Chateau LeMoine, Brookside

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 Theatre

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

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.


The Mint in Faircrest Heights

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. 


The Fairfax District

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 GroveThe 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.


Nat King Cole's home seized by the FBI

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 homes

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

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.


Bengal Liquor in Little Bangladesh

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.


Little Ethiopia

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.


Longwood Highlands

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.

St. Elmo VillageSt. Elmo’s Village (image source: Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles)

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.


Miracle Mile, Los Angeles

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).


Building in Olympic Park, Los Angeles

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.


Oxford Square in Midtown Los Angeles

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 Mile at Night

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.


Ebell Club of Los Angeles
Park Mile is the eastern counterpart to neighboring Miracle Mile to the west. It refers to a stretch of Mid-Wilshire area and between Rimpau and Crenshaw to the east. There’s also no entry for it in Wikipedia or theLA Times‘ Mapping Project. However, it’s a culturally significant neighborhood that’s home to the Ebell of Los Angeles, Helios Productions, La High Memorial Park and No. 1 Video as well as numerous auto shops and burger joints.PICO DEL MAR
Outside the Comedy Club
Pico del Mar is another obscure corner of Midtown, in this case bounded by La Brea to the east, Venice to the south, Cochran to the west and Pico to the north. It’s home to the long popular black stand-up comedy venue, The Comedy Union. It’s also home to several “soul food” establishments, including Chef Marilyn Soul Food Express and a location of Roscoe’s House of Chicken. Although the original location is gone, it’s home to one of the two locations of Oki Dog – famed in the Los Angeles punk scene.
Saturn Street School
Pico Park is a tiny Mid-Wilshire neighborhood made up mostly of homes although (as with most of Midtown) home to a number of auto shops and Mexican restaurants. Maybe there was a park there once… but not now. In fact, however, there is a park named Pico Park but it’s in Pico Rivera. It is home to Saturn Street School, which sounds pretty amazing.
Picfair Theater after the riots
 “Picfair” refers to the corner of Pico and Fairfax. It was formerly the site of the Art Deco Picfair Theater, owned and operated in the 1940s by Joseph Moritz. It later became part of a four theater booking known as the Academy of Proven Hits, which played reissues that were in most cases Oscar winners. The theater was managed by James H. Nicholson prior to his forming American Releasing Corporation, which later became American International Pictures. Sadly, it was destroyed during the LA Riots of ’92.
Mezian Motors in Redondo-Sycamore
Redondo-Sycamore is a Mid-Wilshire neighborhood named after two parallel streets within its boundaries. It also, like many mostly residential Midtown neighborhoods, has lots of auto body shops.
Selig Clothing Store - St. Andrews Place
Although the name suggests a Scottish-American enclave, there are few, if any, Scottish-Americans in St. Andrews Square. The population of 3,579 people is, in fact, 40% Asian (mostly Korean and Filipino), 31% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatemaltan) and 22% white (mostly German). It is traversed and presumably named after St Andrews Place, which bisects it.
South Carthay
 South Carthay is the main part of the southerly Carthay development begun in 1933. In the 1980s, South Carthay was designated for preservation in Los Angeles’ Historic Preservation Overlay Zone program. It’s number to several Jewish organizations as well as a Coptic Church.
Ann Eggleston - president of Sycamore Square Association
Sycamore Square is yet another Midtown neighborhood neglected by Wikipedia or LA Times Mapping LAentry. In its case its south of Hancock Park, west of Brookside and east of Miracle Mile. Despite its low profile it’s officially represented by Sycamore Square Association, whose efforts led to official designation earlier this year.
Holmes-Shannon House in Victoria Park
Victoria Park is a semi-gated Mid-City neighborhood West of Crenshaw, south of Pico, north of Venice and East of West. Its center is a loop formed by Victoria Park Drive and Victoria Park Place. Established in 1908, the Victoria Park neighborhood is one of only two neighborhoods in the entire city of Los Angeles where the homes are arranged on a circular street. Many of the homes serve as fine architectural examples of the American Arts and Crafts Movement. Along its outer edge there are several auto shops and a handful of restaurants. Although it’s semi-gated and the pedestrian entrances have dumb, permanently locked chain-link gates, they’re easily-hopped allowing Angelenos a chance to check out the neighborhood the predates the fences by about 90 years.
Vineyard Tragedy of 1913
The boundaries of Vineyard are tough to pin down but it seems to be North of Venice, west of west, south of Pico and San Vicente and east of La Brea. Ballona Creek rises in its low hills and goes on to flow nine miles to the Pacific. Historically it was important as a transportation hub of the Pacific Electric trolley car lines. In 1913, the Vineyard Junction tragedy involved a trolley collision that killed fourteen and injured over 200.
We-Wil is nicknamed after the intersection of Western and Wishire. It’s home to CGV Cinemas, a new movie theater that primarily screens Hollywood blockbusters and Korean films. It’s also home to the LA Institute of Architecture & Design and several restaurants — mostly Korean.
Wellington Square
Wellington Square is hemmed in by the 10 to the south, Crenshaw to the east, Washington to the north and West to the west. It is presumably named after Wellington Road which bisects it. It’s almost entirely residential with a car wash and gas station (separate). Wellington is the capital of New Zealand. It’s a proposed HPOZ and hosts a farmers’ market.

West Adams Heights
West Adams Heights is a small neighborhood in the Historic West Adams District, mostly surrounded by Harvard Heights. By the 1950s, most of the white population had left and many affluent blacks moved their and it became known, colloquially, as “Sugar Hill,” after the posh Harlem neighborhood in New York City.

Western Heights
Western Heights is north of the 10, east of Crenshaw, south of Washington and west of Arlington Ave. Despite the suggestion of its name, it’s rather flat and on the same level as most of Midtown. In addition to the residents it is also home to several upholstery and carpet stores as well as Korean and Mexican restaurants. It’s home to homes built in the Queen Anne, Craftsman, Tudor Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival, designed by architects such as Myron Hunt and Paul Williams. For that its a proposed HPOZ. 

Wilshire Center
Wilshire Center has historically been the largest neighborhood in Midtown. Contained within it are the smaller neighborhoods of Little Bangladesh and Koreatown. However, as Koreatown has effectively (and now officially) grown, Koreatown has come to dominate Wilshire Center rather than the other way around. However, it is still marked by neon signs and the population is mostly Latino, 54% — mostly Mexican but with large numbers of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and Oaxacans. If Wilshire Center has a heart, it’s Wilshire Boulevard, Reflecting the ethnicity of most of its inhabitants to the north, it’s the site of The Consulate General of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Bolivia and South Korea. The rest of the population is 32% Asian (mostly Korean), 7% white and 4% black.

The GAM Arts Center
Wilshire Highlands is bounded by San Vicente to the north, La Brea to the east, Pico to the south and Redondo to the west. It is home to a well-known 24 hour joint, Lucy’s Drive In. It’s also home to Rogue Machine Theatre, Dr. Tea’s Tea Garden & Herbal Emporium and The GAM Arts Center. The latter is a large silver-with-red-trim rehearsal hall and studio space for film and video production.

Wilshire Park
Wilshire Park is a Mid-Wilshire neighborhood adjacent to Koreatown that that often gets lumped in with it (including by the LA Times). This is despite the fact that the neighborhood is made up mostly of single-family homes and few businesses, in contrast to high density and very commercial K-Town. In the silent era Wilshire Park was home to several famous actresses. One of homes was the Douglas home in the TV series, My Three Sons. To read more about Wilshire Park, click here.

Drilling island
Wilshire Vista is a mostly residential neighborhood developed after 1922. Nearly all of its businesses are located along Pico Boulevard, as is a disguised oil well (pictured). To read more about Wilshire Vista, click here.

Wilshire Vista Heights
Wilshire Vista Heights is home to a couple of Caribbean joints — Wi Jammin Carribean and Island Fresh. With three words in its name, Wilshire Vista Heights is tied with Park la Brea, Pico del Mar and St Andrews Square for “most words in the name of a Midtown neighborhood.”
Windsor Square Postcard
Windsor Square is a Mid-Wilshire neighborhood developed around 1910 by a financier named George A.J. Howard and meant to have an English vibe. Several enormously expensive homes were designed by Paul Williams and A.C. Martin, among others. The mayor’s residence is a home there, originally built for Oil baron John Paul Getty. The population is 42% Asian (mostly Korean and Filipino), 38% White (mostly German), 15% Latino and 4% black.



Windsor Village in Midtown Los Angeles
Windsor Village‘s boundaries are Wilshire Boulevard to the north, Olympic Boulevard to the south, Lucerne Boulevard to the west, and Crenshaw Boulevard to the east. Many of the homes are from the 1920s and it’s a newly designated historic zone. Naturally, they now have a website.

If you’d like to see any Midtown communities explored for a future edition of California Fool’s Gold, let me know which ones in the comments. Thanks!

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 KCRWWhich 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 AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.

Art Prints

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