California Fool’s Gold — Exploring The Byzantine-Latino Quarter, Los Angele’s Old Greektown

California Fool's Gold
WE ARE EACH OF US ANGELS WITH ONE WING 
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of The Byzantine-Latino Quater
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of The Byzantine-Latino Quarter

Los Angeles‘s Byzantine-Latino Quarter is neighborhood and commercial corridor that straddles the larger neighborhoods of Harvard Heights and Pico-Union as well as the larger Midtown districts of Wilshire Center to the north and Mid-City to the south. The Quarter is centered along Pico Boulevard betweenSouth Hobart Boulevard to the west and South Alvarado Boulevard to the east.

EARLY HISTORY

The westernmost border of Los Angeles, as established by the Spanish in 1781, was along what’s now Hoover Boulevard. The land to the west, through the Spanish and subsequent Mexican period were public lands. The land remained a mixture of pastures and farmland for decades after California became part of the US in 1848.

PICO HEIGHTS

Craftsman bungalows
Craftsman bungalows

One of the first neighborhoods to develop west of Hoover was the 280 acre Pico Heights Tract. In 1887, at the height of a land boom, the Electric Railway Homestead Association divided the land between Pico and 9th Street, and west of Vermont into 1,210 lots. Most of the lots along Pico were purchased by J.R. Millard and it quickly developed into a fashionable suburb characterized by stately Craftsman homes and a wealthy, white, Protestant population. Many of the new inhabitants were Downtown business owners and the short distance between work and home was a short ride on the newly-established Pico Heights Electric Railway, which also opened in 1887.

The growing community, sometimes referred to as Pico Heights Village with a bit of dreamy embellishment, was annexed by the city of Los Angeles in 1896. Along with Arlington Heights and The University District, it became a Southwest Los Angeles neighborhood (a region that vanished as the city expanded).

As Pico Heights aged, more and more of the wealthy residents moved further west and their void was largely filled by working class whites. By 1919 it was home to about 100 Japanese-American families, who though often wealthier and more educated than their white counterparts, were subject to racist, sometimes violent hostility. The Los Angeles County Anti-Asiatic Society formed the Electric Home Protective Association, a discriminatory group largely comprised of Germans and Austrians (under increased scrutiny and suspicion after World War I) and Catholics who were united by anti-Japanese racism.

VICTORIA THEATER

Victoria Theater today (2012)
Victoria Theatre today (2012)

Around 1914, the 700-seat Victoria Theatre opened on Pico Boulevard. At some point around the 1960s it was gutted and converted into a dance hall. The theater appeared in the 1977 Rudy Ray Moore vehicle Petey Wheatstraw. In 1981, punk band Circle One and others played a concert there.

Multi-family building, 1924
A mixed-use, multiple unit residency built in 1924

The discriminatory second California Alien Land Law passed in 1920, specifically to target ongoingJapanese immigration. Property in Pico Heights nonetheless (or because of anti-Japanese discrimination) continued to decline in monetary values. Eastern Europeans, Mexicans, and Japanese increasingly inhabited newly-constructed multiple family residences.

Bishop Conaty, Our Lady of Loretto High School
Bishop Conaty, Our Lady of Loretto High School

In 1922, a Japanese Methodist congregation attempted to build a new church in the area and crashed against white hostility. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Catholic Girls’ High School opened in 1923 (later re-named Bishop Conaty, Our Lady of Loretto High School). One of the pleasing ironies is that Los Angeles was sold to WASPs as “The white spot of America” but is now quite possibly the most diverse city in the galaxy. Though I couldn’t find statistics just for the B-LQ, the population of Pico-Union was, as of the 2010 census, roughly 85% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 8% Asian (mostly Korean), 3% black, and only 3% white.

Sunnyside Presbyterian ChurchSunnyside Presbyterian Church

The diversity can not only be seen in the storefronts, signage and restaurants but the neighborhood’s churches as well. In 1930, a church opened that is now The Sunnyside Presbyterian Church, a Korean-American church (as are Korean Evangelical Nah Sung, Korean Southern Presbyterian, and The Korean Sae Han Presbyterian Church). Another church in the neighborhood caters to Samoans (the Samoan Community Christian Church). Spanish speakers are served by Rios de Agua Via,  Iglesia Pentecostes El Ultimo, and Ministerios de Restauracion.

St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church
St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church

The oldest, and one of the prettiest church in the neighborhood is St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, built in 1905, and also known as Iglesia Santo Tomás Apóstol. Most well-known, probably, isSaint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral.

GREEK TOWN

Along with Little Italy and largely Jewish Brooklyn Heights, or Little Mexico (Chavez Ravine); Greek Town is one of the now vanished ethnic enclaves of Los Angeles. In the early 20th century, Los Angeles’sGreek population was focused around what’s now the Fashion District (in Downtown) and Boyle Heights (in the Eastside). Around the mid-20th century, much of the Greek population was centered around the intersection of Pico and Normandie, an area still home to several Greek institutions.

C & K IMPORTING AND PAPA CRISTO’S

Papa Cristo's
Jesús Malverde, patron saint of drug smugglersPapa Cristo’s

Sam Chrys opened C & K Importing opened in 1948 with the focus on Greek imports. In 1968 (I believe) the business expanded into a restaurant by Sam’s son, Cristo, with Papa Cristo’s. I still haven’t eaten there although I’ve picked up falafel mix, baklava, and restina from the market. Papa Cristo’s Catering & Greek Taverna was established in 1990.

SAINT SOPHIA GREEK ORTHODOX CATHEDRAL

St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral
St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral

The other major remaining vestige of Greek Town is the aforementioned Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral. The church was built in 1952 by Charles P. Skouras (designed by Kalionzes, Klingerman & Walker), then head of the National Theaters chain. Charles and his brothers, Spyros Skouras and George Skouras were Greek-American Hollywood hopefuls who’d moved to Los Angeles from St. Louis, Missouri. Spyros eventually became president of 20th Century Fox. George became the head of United Artists. Earlier, in 1932, the Skouras brothers jointly took over the management of over 500 Fox-West Coasttheaters. Charles repaid God for his intervention by erecting a cathedral to him in Greek Town.

GANGS OF PICO HEIGHTS

Playboy MalosPlayboys Malos

Jesús Malverde, patron saint of drug smugglers
 Jesús Malverde (patron saint of drug smugglers) 

Hoover Clique

     West Side 18th Street Hoover St Locos

Likely the oldest gang in the neighborhood is the Westside Playboy Malos. The gang’s roots begin in the1950s, when Southern Califas Latin Playboys Car Club formed at a home near the intersection of Picoand Fedora. Their tags and tattoos often include representations of the Playboy Magazine logo and they’re sometimes referred to as conejos. The other main active gang in the neighborhood is the 18th Street Gang, who were established in Pico Heights around 1965. The local click, Hoover Locos, is one of the oldest.

PILGRIM TOWER

Pilgrim Tower for the Deaf & Elderly
Pilgrim Tower for the Deaf & Elderly

In 1968, the Pilgrim Tower for the Deaf & Elderly opened. I find it worth mentioning because I’m a fan of low-rise architecture and its one of the few buildings in the neighborhood that’s more than two stories tall.

PICO-UNION

Pico Heights was seen as having been in a decades-long decline by some and in 1970, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) of the city of Los Angeles decided to give the neighborhood a fresh start by changing its name to “Pico-Union.” The Pico-Union Neighborhood Council (PUNC) was formed the same year.

LITTLE CENTRAL AMERICA

Mural

In the 1970s, the US-inflamed Central American Crisis made life for tens of millions of Central Americans. As a result, thousands of Guatemalans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and Salvadorans fled the appalling violence in their homelands and resettled in Pico-Union and nearby Koreatown and Westlake. By 1996, Pico-Union was heavily Salvadoran and the area was often referred to as “Pequeño Centroamérica” or “Nuevo Cuscatlán.”

MASSIVE ATTACK’S “UNFINISHED SYMPATHY” VIDEO


In 1991, singer Shara Nelson walked from the intersection of South New Hampshire Avenue and Pico to the intersection of Pico and Dewey Avenue for the filming of Massive Attack‘s music video for “Unfinished Sympathy.”

BYZANTINE-LATINO QUARTER

Pico-Union was one of the areas hardest hit by 1992 LA Riots outside of South Los Angeles. Increasingly seen as a Central American barrio, in 1995 a coalition of local churches, schools, residents, and merchants from the western portion of the neighborhood met to address their concerns. The product of their efforts was the 1997 creation and designation of the Byzantine-Latino Quarter, a nod to both its Latino majority and Greek period.

Byzantine-Latino Quarter neon sign
Byzantine-Latino Quarter neon sign

The Byzantine-Latino Quarter Business Improvement District installed a large, “Byzantine-Latino Quarter” neon sign atop one of the neighborhood’s only other low-rise building (then a public storage facility) in 2001. There are faded banners along Pico and public art advertising its new name. A former Pacific Bellbuilding is now home to Jane B. Eisner Middle School and a Byzantine-Latino Quarter Community Center.

L.A. GREEK FEST

 

Since 1999, the Byzantine-Latino Quarter has hosted the annual L.A. Greek Fest in September, an event which attracts some 40,000 people.

BLQ EATS AND DRINKS

Dino's Chicken and Burgers
Dinos’ Chicken and BurgersGuatemalteca Market

Guatemalteca Market

There are several places to eat in the Byzantine-Latino Quarter: Acapulco TortilleriaCafe Las MargaritasCanaan Restaurant, El Colmao, Conchitas Restaurant, Dino’s Chicken and BurgersGraciela’s, El Grullense Restaurante, Guapo’s Market, Guatemalteca MarketHuicho’s Bakery,Mateo’s Ice Cream & Fruit Bars, El Nuevo Picasso, Pan Victoria, the aforementioned Papa Cristo’s, Paqueteria King Express, Pollos El Brasero, Restaurante El Mirador, Las 7 Regiones, Texis Restaurant And Entertainment, and El Valle Oaxaqueno. There are a couple of bars too; Mike’s Hideout Bar and Pulgarcito Sports Bar.

Inside Tiendas de Mariposa mini mall
Inside Tiendas de Mariposa mini mall

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*****

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 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 BoingLos 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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