BEEN UP TO CITY TERRACE TO SEE WHAT’S A-HAPPENING
Last year I had a stint house-sitting in El Sereno and spent the better part of my stay exploring with a dog named Dooley that I was also charged with the care of. She and I mostly explored the greater El Sereno area, including Hillside Village and University Hills. This time I set about exploring more of the Los Angeles’s Eastside — and Dooley and I managed to unturn stones in the Eastside neighborhoods of Arroyo View Estates, East Los Angeles, El Sereno, Garvanza, Happy Valley, Hermon, Highland Park, Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Rose Hill, and on one warm morning, City Terrace.
City Terrace is an Eastside neighborhood located within unincorporated East Los Angeles. Definitions of its borders vary but nearby are Monterey Park to the east; University Hills, El Sereno, and Hillside Village to the north; Boyle Heights to the west; and the rest of East Los Angeles to the south. The neighborhood is also situated in the Repetto Hills that stretch from the Arroyo Seco, Elysian Hills and San Rafael Hills in the northwest down to Whittier Narrows and the Rio Hondo in the east and form one of the borders of theSan Gabriel Valley. Because of its hilly topography and long-dominant ethnicity, one of its nicknames is “The Mexican Alps.”
Like most of East Los Angeles, City Terrace is a mostly residential neighborhood. However, it’s located four kilometers north of and across the 60 Freeway from busy Whittier Boulevard — the main commercial center of East Los Angeles and therefore feels rather separate. The main commercial strip of City Terrace is City Terrace Drive. The other main streets: Gage, Hazard and Eastern Avenues, are all well-traveled but are lined primarily with homes. The decidedly relaxed nature of the neighborhood was at one point underscored by the echoes of a toddler methodically whacking a plastic bat on a balcony which echoed throughout the hills and seemed to provide the only sound within earshot. In fact, the most chaotic moment in the course of my exploration was a mini traffic jam created when a brood of chickens decided to do their scratching in the middle of Hazard.
EARLY HISTORY OF THE AREA
At least as early as 13,000 years ago people were living in Southern California. The ancestors of the Tongva arrived from the Sonoran Desert much later — only about 3,500 years ago. After that they were the dominant people in the area for thousands of years. The hills in which City Terrace now lies then separated their villages of Yaangna to the west and Otsungna to the east. The Tongva reign ended shortly afterSpaniard Gaspar de Portolà‘s overland expedition passed through the area in 1769, setting the stage for Spanish conquest. In 1771, the conquerors constructed Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, first in Whittier Narrows. In 1776 the mission was moved to its present location in San Gabriel, nine kilometers northeast of what’s now City Terrace. A few years later, in 1781, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles was founded about 6 kilometers to the west.
The area that became City Terrace was located on Mission lands just east the four Spanish leagues given to the pueblo but Spanish rule ended in 1821, when Mexico gained independence and subsequently secularized the church’s holdings. Mexico’s rule would prove even shorter than Spain‘s and ended in 1848 when California was conquered by the US. In 1850, California entered the union and Los Angeles incorporated as a city and neighboring Boyle Heights was one of the city’s first suburbs. The area just east, on the other hand, would be dominated by oil extraction and agriculture for another half a century or so.
MODERN HISTORY OF EAST LOS ANGELES
Before 1917, “East Los Angeles” referred to the bustling suburb that became known as Lincoln Heights after a unanimous vote to change its name following the opening of its Abraham Lincoln High School. The “East Los Angeles” designation quickly vanished from maps and ultimately, I suppose, the public consciousness. In 1921, Belvedere Gardens became the first suburb in what’s today known as East Los Angeles. As more suburbs popped up — including Eastmont, Maravilla Park, Observation Heights,Occidental Heights, Palma Heights, Wellington Heights, and City Terrace — they were increasingly lumped together under the collective “East Los Angeles” which came to stick to the new area by the 1930s.
City Terrace was developed in the 1920s by Oakland native Walter H. Leimert, born to German parents in 1877. In 1902, when still a young man, he founded the Walter H. Leimert Company which in turn developed several transit-oriented developments in Oakland including Lakeshore Highlands and Oakmore Highlands. Leimert and his family relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1920s and he continued developing, first creating Bellhurst Park in Glendale. By then Los Angeles had expanded north into the San Fernando Valley, west to Santa Monica Bay, and south to San Pedro Bay. The newly-arrived Angeleno bet that Los Angeles would naturally next expand eastward and his next development, City Terrace, was thus planted less than a mile east of the city (which had expanded, it should be noted, slightly eastward with the annexation of Bairdstown and part of the Arroyo Seco Addition).
In 1923 Leimert placed an advertorial piece titled “Los Angeles Pendulum Swings East” in the Los Angeles Times which the Leimert Company claimed that the only reason Los Angeles hadn’t already expanded east was because of inadequate bridges over the Los Angeles River. In 1925, invitations to see City Terrace were sent out which promised only “moderate building restrictions” but “strict race restrictions” — then, quite embarrassingly, entirely par for the course. Several streets: Fowler Street, Miller Avenue, Fishburn Avenue, Rogers Street, and Van Pelt Avenue, were named after investors Edward M. Fowler, John B. Miller, John E. Fishburn, R.I. Rogers, and Walter G. Van Pelt.
Leimert ultimately proved wrong about the city swinging east and more than a century later, the eastern border between Los Angeles’s Boyle Heights neighborhood and unincorporated East Los Angeles hasn’t budged an inch. Perhaps there was more to Los Angeles’s direction of growth than rickety bridges — namely the appeal of beachfront property and shipping ports. Leimert’s next development, Leimert Park, seemed to concede to this reality and was placed in what was then Southwest Los Angeles.
Although it remained unincorporated county land, there was significant residential construction in City Terrace. Along Woolwine Drive in particular, there are some beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival homes that were constructed in the 1930s — and this is a style I’m not normally especially fond of. Although nowadays City Terrace is almost exclusively Latino (96% — with roughly 1% Asian-American, 1% black, and 1% white minorities), this wasn’t always the case.
In the beginning, most of the new suburb’s homeowners were Jews — often ones who owned businesses or had roots in nearby Brooklyn Heights — a then fifty-year-old suburb which was home to the largest Jewish community west of the Mississippi River. Brooklyn Heights and the larger Boyle Heights communities were also then home to large numbers of Russians (both Jewish and Molokan), Mexicans, Irish, and Japanese.
JAPANESE IN CITY TERRACE
Many Japanese came to California to fill the void in the labor force created by the 1882 passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. After the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, many Japanese moved fromNorthern California to Southern California. In 1924 the Asian Exclusion Act broadened racial discrimination from the Chinese to all Asians. By then Japanese were already established in the area and Yamaizumi Miso Shoyu Seizo-sho was locally manufacturing chop suey sauce, koji (Aspergillus oryzae), and pickles at a facility on Fishburn Street. However, after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the US government forcibly relocated over 110,000 Japanese to concentration camps. After 1946, when the last of the camps was closed, a smaller number of Japanese-Americans returned to the Eastside — in many cases into homes previously owned by the neighborhood’s till-then-dominant Jews.
JEWS IN CITY TERRACE
The Jewish character of the neighborhood was dominant and between the neighborhoods of Boyle Heights, Brooklyn Heights, and City Terrace there were thirty synagogues. By 1940 City Terrace was almost exclusively Jewish. City Terrace was also home to City Terrace Folk Shul Minyan, a chapter of the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order (JPFO-IWO), the Emma Lazarus Jewish Women’s Club of City Terrace, and a Jewish Cultural Center in City Terrace — demolished in the 1960s to accommodate the widening of the 10 Freeway. After the end of World War II in 1945, many of Los Angeles’s Jews began migrating to areas newly available to them: chiefly Midtown, the Westside, and the San Fernando Valley.
MEXICANS IN CITY TERRACE
There have been Mexicans living in Los Angeles since the birth of Mexico, when Los Angeles was a pueblo within it. In the 1910s, their numbers in Los Angeles increased dramatically as many refugees fled the bloodshed of the Mexican Revolution. Among the first Mexican barrios established were Sonoratown, Dogtown, the Flats of Boyle Heights, Alpine in Victor Heights, Happy Valley aboveLincoln Heights, and Belvedere Gardens and Maravilla Park in East Los Angeles (or East Los came to often be shortened, especially by Latinos).
Between 1929 and 1939, in racist response to the Great Depression, the US government expelled millions of Americans of Mexican ancestry to Mexico as part of the so-called “Mexican Repatriation“ (which I place in quotes because many of those deported were born in the US and had never even seen Mexico). The government had a change of heart after the internment of Japanese-Americans created a void in agricultural labor and Mexican-Americans were actively courted to return to the US.
By the 1950s, City Terrace was mostly home to upwardly mobile Chicanos such as Don Tosti, who a few years after buying a home in the neighborhood composed “Pachuco Boogie,” the first million-selling single in the US released by a Latino artist (recorded by Don Ramon Sr. y su Orquesta). It was also where future mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (né Antonio Ramón Villar, Jr.), was raised in City Terrace after moving there from Boyle Heights. In a symbolic reflection of the the demographic shift, in 1961 The Menorah Center (built in the 1920s) was transferred to a Catholic institution, The Salesians of Don Bosco — today the Salesian Boys and Girls Club of Los Angeles.Rev. Dr. Vernon McCombs and Ms. Katherine Higgins founded the Plaza Community Center in 1905 in order to offer leadership training, education and welfare assistance to those in need. In 1932, the non-profit opened a school explicitly focused on educating and training Mexican-Americans. The organization relocated to City Terrace in the mid-1950s and still operates as Plaza Community Services.
Residents of the all of the communities of East Los Angeles banded together as the East Los Angeles Residents Association and first attempted to incorporate as a city in 1960. Similar efforts followed and failed in 1963, 1971, and 2012. Then as now, attempts have failed that an incorporated East Los Angeles wouldn’t be financially viable. The worry then as now is that the collection of mom-and-pop stores and residences couldn’t possibly generate enough revenue to exist as a municipality.
LOS ANGELES COUNTY CIVIC COMPLEX
The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is the largest sheriff department in the county, and the nation’s fourth largest local law enforcement agency (after the police departments of New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles). The first substation was opened in unincorporated Florence, on South Los Angeles’s Eastside. The second was opened in City Terrace. Both opened in 1924. The Florence station outgrew its location and moved nearby before closing in 1993.
The City Terrace facility, however, grew into a massive complex shared by a prison, the County Fire Department headquarters, Los Angeles County Emergency Operation Center (as seen in 1997’sVolcano), Internal Services, and a place known as “Laser Village.” The sheriff’s headquarters moved to City Terrace in 1993, relocating from the Hall of Justice in Downtown‘s Civic Center.
In 1963 the Sheriff’s Department opened two new jails — Men’s Central Jail in Downtown Los Angeles and the Sybil Brand Institute, a jail for female inmates, in City Terrace. Although designed to hold 900 inmates, at its peak it housed 2,800.
It was closed in 1997 (inmates were transferred to the then-new Twin Towers facilities) and it has since then been used primarily as a filming location for films and television series including America’s Most Wanted,Arrest & Trial, Blow (2001), CSI, Desperate Housewives, The Eastsidaz (2005), Gangland, K-11 (2012), Legally Blonde (2001), A Love Denied (2011), Reno 911!: Miami (2007), and The X-Files.
Today the area is buffered by hillsides along Eastern Avenue landscaped with large pine trees which area a pleasant smell if not necessarily the most inviting air. I’m not sure if there’s anything open to the public in the complex. I didn’t venture up there to investigate.
Although the Mexican-American civil rights struggle began at least as early as the 1920s (the League of United Latin American Citizens formed in 1929), it wasn’t until the 1960s that the Chicano Movement (or El Movimiento) got underway, with Los Angeles’s Eastside occupying center stage. It was in 1966 that high school students formed the Young Citizens for Community Action (which quickly evolved into the Brown Berets), in part to protest the Vietnam War and police brutality. The East Los Angeles Walkouts (orChicano Blowouts) –a series of protests of educational inequalities — took place in 1968.RAZA UNIDA PARTY
The Partido Nacional de La Raza Unida — or Raza Unida Party (RUP) formed in Texas early in 1970. The Chicano political party successfully ran candidates in Texas elections before expanding into other states. The City Terrace chapter was especially active in California and one of the chapter’s organizers, Raul Ruiz, ran as a candidate for the 48th Assembly District in 1971. Ruiz was also one of the editors of a local Chicano newspaper established a few years earlier (1967) in City Terrace, La Raza.
CITY TERRACE ARTS
City Terrace is saturated with art. There’s a great deal of religious art depicting Biblical characters. In some ways, although their representations often look more Nordic than Semitic, these thousands of paintings and figurines maintaining the neighborhood’s old Jewish character.
There are also these leafy vine murals that cover numerous walls, garage doors, alleyways throughout the area. It’s my understanding that they are designed to discourage placas and tags, which become difficult to decipher amongst the painted branches and foliage.
There are paintings on the exterior walls of markets, depicting cleaning products and junk food sold inside. There’s also graffiti and — if your definition of art extends far enough — tags and placas all over the place. The most celebrated art in the area are the murals painted by well known Chicano arts collectives like Los Four and Self Help as well as some local artists and organizations.
In 1969, City Terrace resident David Rivas Botello co-founded Goez Art Studio with Jose-Luis Gonzalez and Juan Gonzalez. Botello went on to co-found Los Dos Streetscapers with Wayne Alaniz Healy in 1975. With the addition of Charles Solares, Fabian Debora, George Yepes, Paul Botello, Ricardo Duffy, Rich Raya, and Rudy Calderon they renamed themselves East Los Streetscapers. Goez Studios’ Jose Luis Gonzalez created the ceramic mural, Ofrenda Maya 1, in 1978 at City Terrace Branch Library.
Muralist Willie Herrón III was born in 1951 in a church in City Terrace to parents who lived in Pico-Rivera but largely raised by grandparents and later his mother in various neighborhoods of East Los Angeles. In 1972, Herrón formed an artists collective called Asco with fellow artists Gronk (ne Glugio Nicandro), Harry Gamboa, Jr., and Patssi Valdez, all of whom attended Garfield Senior High School together. Herrón painted a mural, Quetzalcoatl-Plumed Serpent, on the back of Mercado Hidalgo. Nearby, in the alley behind City Terrace Drive connecting Miller Avenue and Carmelita Avenue he painted The Wall that Crack’d Open on the wall of a business owned by his uncle. His La Doliente de Hidalgo was added to another of Mercado Hidalgo’s walls in 1976.
George Yepes was born in 1955 and raised in City Terrace. In 1992 he founded Academia de Arte Yepes, the first free mural academy for young painters in Los Angeles. From 1979 till 1985 he was a member of East Los Streetscapers. One of his most widely-seen pieces was the cover art for Los Lobos‘ 1988 album, La Pistola y El Corazón. Yepes’s 1994 mural, Los Niños del Este Los Angeles, graces one of the walls of City Terrace Elementary.
Yepes’s mural, El Tepeyac de Los Angeles, was completed in 1995 and adorns the front of St. Lucy’s Catholic Church.
Coyolxauhqui Plaza features an exact replica of the Coyolxauqui stone, sculpted circa 1472 and 1479, during the reign of Axayacatl. Coyolxauhqui Plaza is the moon goddess in the Mexica religion whose name in Nahuatl translates to something like “ornate bells.” I couldn’t find any information about when this replica was installed or who created it, but suffice to say it was almost certainly after the stone’s rediscovery in Mexico City in 1978.
GANGS OF CITY TERRACE
The location of Willie Herrón’s mural, the Wall That Crack’d Open, was chosen because it was near the site where the artist’s then 15-year-old brother was nearly stabbed to death in an assault by members of Big Hazard — a Boyle Heights gang whose territory includes the north-of-the-10 section of East Los Angeles. Herrón’s previous mural, Quetzalcoatl-Plumed Serpent, had been dedicated to Geraghty Loma, one of the City Terrace’s gangs, and the artist invited gang members to contribute their placas into its design.
Latino street gangs have on the Eastside at least as early as the 1930s, the era of the zoot-suited pachucos. The Vietnam era saw the dawn of the stoner era, and groups (some pre-dating the era) like the City Terrace Rifa, Geraghty Loma, Hicks Street, Lott Stoners and their many clikas were organized primarily around partying, listening to hard rock, and getting stoned (albeit not just on weed but pills and PCP). By the 1980s, many stoner groups either morphed into or were absorbed by the cholo gangs that came to characterize that more violent era. However, despite the mainstream media’s sensationalization and implication that nearly every Eastsider was in a gang, by the estimates of some community leaders, fewer than 10% of boys were ever associated with gangs even back then.
BACKYARD PARTY SCENE
Perhaps far more popular than the gang scene but much less-documented was the Backyard Party Scene, which flourished throughout the Eastside in the late 1970s and ’80s. (Click here to read a an account by Gerard Meraz, a former DJ with Highland Park‘s Wild Boyz crew). Often finding themselves shunned by the Anglo-dominated Hollywood punk scene (and their venues), Eastside Punk groups often played in the backyards of Eastside homes (and the nearby venue, Vex). One of the local bands, Los Illegals, featured muralist Willie Herrón as well as Jesus “Xiuy” Velo, Bill Reyes, and brothers Manuel and Tony Valdez.
In the late ’80s, Party Crews and daytime Ditch Parties offered alternatives to gangs as well as school and sobriety. In the end, in the early 1990s, violence and media sensationalism both crept into that scene and it seems to have moved out of the spotlight. However, there’s still a Backyard Scene. Here‘s an article from the LA Weekly.
CITY TERRACE TODAY
It’s interesting to me that of all the combined barrios of East Los Angeles, City Terrace seems to maintain a distinct semiautonomy. Being part of Los Angeles County, there are of course none of the blue LA DOT neighborhood signs that one sees around the city. On the street signs, above the names of the streets it simply says “East Los Angeles.” The LA Times‘ Mapping LA project doesn’t show its borders.
Nonetheless, on local news it seems that traffic congestion or crimes committed there are almost always identified as taking place not just in East Los Angeles, but in City Terrace specifically. If similar incidents take place anywhere else in East Los Angeles, I’ve never seen the neighborhood more specifically identified. The census doesn’t seem to differentiate the neighborhood from the rest of East Los Angeles either but the demographics seemed, from my limited experience, to be similar to those of East Los Angeles as a whole: 97% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 2% Anglo (mostly Italian), 1% Native American, 1% Asian, and less than 1% black.
Although not counted by the census, being in the Eastside, City Terrace is not surprisingly home to a lot of seemingly miserable, angry dogs so walking with one through the neighborhood can result in some raised hackles on both sides of the fence. The people of City Terrace that I interacted with were more friendly on the whole than their canine companions and I was stopped by both a giddy little girl in a stroller and a blunt-smoking veterano, both of whom just wanted to give Dooley a rub. Parts of the neighborhood’s hilly terrain are quite steep and Walkscore‘s map shows City Terrace to be the least walkable part of East Los Angeles but nearly everything that would interest a casual explorer or visitor is located near easily walkable of bikeable City Terrace Drive, which is also served by public transit.
GETTING THERE/STAYING THERE
There are several public transit options for would-be tourists to City Terrace. LA DOT‘s DASH El Sereno/City Terrace and Boyle Heights lines both serve the area. Metro‘s 70, 71, 256, and 665 bus lines traverse the area as well. The Gold Line has stops located a moderate distance south of the neighborhood. The Silver Line/El Monte Busway and Metrolink‘s San Bernardino Line stop nearer to the neighborhood, just across the 10 Freeway at Cal State LA Station. Locally, the City Terrace/ELAC line of East Los Angeles’s El Sol service also serves the area.
The only lodging in the area seems to be the Vista Motel, which has the fact that it’s the only lodging in the neighborhood working in its favor. However, according to its website, its main selling point seems to be that it’s located twenty minutes from Long Beach and 35 from LAX.
CITY TERRACE PARKS
One of City Terrace’s main attractions, albeit probably more for residents than visitors, is City Terrace Park. A fairly small park was first developed there by WPA crews back in 1933. In 1957, soil removed during the construction of Los Angeles’s Civic Center was transported there, used to fill a ravine, and triple the park’s size. There’s a basketball court, a community room, a computer center, a gymnasium, a playground, a swimming pool, tennis courts and a field. The west wall of the gym is decorated by a mural painted by Paul Bortello (of East Los Streetscapers) and neighborhood kids in 2000 called Inner Resources.
CITY TERRACE EATS
Probably an even greater draw to East Los Angeles than the murals are the restaurants, which feature some of the best Mexican food in the city. City Terrace, even being a small neighborhood, is home to surprisingly few of East Los Angeles’s celebrated eateries but there is Alvarez Bakery, El Guarachito (not to be confused with El Huarachito in Lincoln Heights), Juanito’s Tamales, Negrete’s Ice Cream, and Raspados Zacatecas. If you find yourself in Fairmount Terrace, there’s a cafeteria there listed on Foursquare. If you’re up in the county complex there’s a Lunch Stop — familiar to anyone whose dined in a government facility in the area — and much better than you’d rightfully expect.
Apparently most people in City Terrace must dine elsewhere, hit up loncheras, or dine in. If you’re up for doing your own cooking there are far more neighborhood markets (some little more than liquor or convenience stores) than restaurants including Amigos Market, Diane’s Market, East LA Market #3, Eva’s Liquor Store, Family Market, Fauzia Market, Floral Market, Garcia’s Meat Market, Guadalupana Carniceria, King’s Market Liquor, Linda Market, Little Super Market, Mercado Hidalgo, and Sportsman Liquor Store. Much of the neighborhood’s litter seems to emanate from these establishments in the form of small chip bags. However, whereas most of my Eastside neighborhood explorations were dominated by evidence of consumption of various flavors of Cheetos, in City Terrace, Tapatío-flavored Doritos andRuffles seemed to predominate. Tapatío, for those unfamiliar, is an American hot sauce manufactured in nearby Vernon that many incorrectly assume to be Mexican.
City Terrace’s most famous culinary export is probably Dolores Canning. Dolores Canning’s origins stretch back to 1954, when Basilio Muñoz formed the company as a distributor of cow and pig products. They introduced the Dolores Chili Brick in 1973. They also produced chili sauce, pickled pork products and menudo. I assumed that the company logo was a depiction of Dolores del Río, a glamorous Mexican matinee idol from the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema, but in fact it depicts Dolores Muñoz, the late Basilio’s wife who passed away in 2008 and whose menudo recipe the company’s canned version is based upon.
CITY TERRACE CELLULOID
Aside from the aforementioned films shot in part or in whole at Sybil Brand, I couldn’t find any films either set or filmed in City Terrace. It was, however, the birthplace of Good Morning America‘s long-serving film critic Joel Siegel, who wrote about his childhood and the concurrent demographic shifts of City Terrace in his book, Lessons for Dylan: On Life, Love, the Movies, and Me.
Where St. Lucy’s has stood since 1970, formerly stood the City Terrace Cinema, also known as the Terrace Theatre. Although I couldn’t find a construction date or architect, the old movie theater existed at least as early as the late 1940s and seated 811 patrons. It also included a glass-enclosed balcony for mothers with crying children.
OTHER STUFF TO DOA reader has brought to my attention a private museum located in City Terrace (on City Terrace Drive) called The Institute for the Scientific Study of Human and Non-Human Phenomena. I’m intrigued and will try to check it out!
If you’d like to read more about City Terrace, look for Beyond Alliances: The Jewish Role in Reshaping the Racial Landscape of Southern California edited by George J. Sanchez, City Terrace Field Manual by Sesshu Foster, Mexican American Mojo: Popular Music, Dance, and Urban Culture in Los Angeles, 1935-1968 by Anthony Macías, East Los Angeles: History of a Barrio by Ricardo Romo, and The history of La Raza newspaper and magazine, and its role in the Chicano community from 1967 to 1977by Francisco Manuel Andrade.
As always, I welcome corrections, additions for consideration, personal accounts, pictures you’d like to share (I’ll link to you or your website), &c. Just let me know in the comments!