FROM THE LIONS’ DENS AND THE MOUNTAIN HAUNTS OF LEOPARDS –HERMON
In the autumn of 2012, I had a stint house-sitting in El Sereno. I spent much of my time exploring that neighborhood with a dog named Dooley. This past fall I again returned to the Eastside and Dooley I resumed our epic walks. This time around we explored Arroyo View Estates, City Terrace, East Los Angeles, El Sereno, Garvanza, Happy Valley, Highland Park, Hillside Village, Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Rose Hill, University Hills, and on one late afternoon, Hermon.
Hermon is a small neighborhood situated in a small valley between the neighborhood of Highland Park to the north and west, and the city of South Pasadena to the east. To the southeast is the neighborhood of Monterey Hills and to the southwest is the neighborhood of Montecito Heights. When the community of Hermon was just nine years old it was annexed by Los Angeles but more than a century later there are both Hermon residents and visitors who think of it as its own municipality, the “town of Hermon.”
The spirit of autonomy was supported even in the years after the community’s absorption into a growing metropolis. A brochure from 1916 described Hermon as occupying “an ideal location, within the City of Los Angeles, but well removed from city vices and allurements.” In 1922 it formally joined Highland Park but its sense of separateness never seems to have vanished entirely.
Hermon’s small size, distance from “city vices and allurements,” as well as its independent streak seem to have kept it obscure. In fact, it’s best known for being unknown. Take Kim Cooper and Richard Schave‘s podcast, You Can’t Eat the Sunshine, for which the theme-song-singing Ukaladay caterwauls of a “…long-lost neighborhood of Hermon between South Pas and Highland Park.” An LA Times article by Bob Pool referred to Hermon as “a corner of Los Angeles that time didn’t forget but just about everyone else did.” Hermon doesn’t even exist on Yelp or LA Times‘ Mapping LA project. AOL doesn’t have a Hermon Patch and there’s no NextDoor page for it. Still, Hermon isn’t exactly a lost civilization and its roughly 3,255 residents are hardly an uncontacted people.
As Dooley and I braved the streets of Hermon, we encountered no hostile natives (unless you count barking dogs). Quite the contrary, in fact — as Dooley and I walked down Bushnell Way, our first encounter with one of the natives involved a pretty, smiling Vietnamese woman clothed in the sort of exotic, stripy traditional garb one might get at H&M or Muji. When she said, “hello” (in English) it was with such disarming friendliness that for a split second I thought that she had either somehow been expecting us or that we were already acquainted.
It actually turned out to be our only interaction with anyone in Hermon and although it hardly felt like we’d entered some fabled land of the lost, the neighborhood does have a discernible air of… distinctness. For one there are more pick-up trucks per capita than one finds in most neighborhoods on this side of Angeles Forest — there were even a couple of monster trucks. Hermon also smells clean and cedary… something I associate more with national forests more than suburban corners of Los Angeles. There are quite a few stately deodars and sycamores and the barriers formed by the Repetto Hills and Arroyo Seco but they alone couldn’t account for the sensation that we’d traveled quite a bit further than we actually had.
The main physical barrier between the rest of Los Angeles and Hermon is the not-usually-very-imposing Arroyo Seco. Spanish for “dry stream,” the Arroyo Seco is a river with headwaters near Mount Wilson in Angeles Forest that passes between Altadena and La Cañada Flintridge before it becomes channelized, below Devil’s Gate Dam and near the north end of Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena. After that, it continues downward, sheathed in concrete until it reaches the confluence with the Los Angeles River at the neighborhood confluences of Cypress Park, Elysian Park, Elysian Valley, and Lincoln Heights. A rather short stretch of the river is paralleled by the Arroyo Seco Bike Path, which currently begins in South Pasadena and continues south through Hermon to Debs Park where it ends. Hopefully, that will someday be extended to entire the 40-kilometer length of the river (the bike path is currently only about three kilometers long).
The earliest known inhabitants of the area that’s now Los Angeles were the ancestors of the Chumash, who arrived here at least 13,000 years ago. About 10,000 years later the ancestors of the Tongva arrived from the Sonoran Desert, ultimately establishing the villages of Otsungna nearby to the south and Hahamongna to the north. The Tongva reign ended shortly after Catalonian 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, at first in Whittier Narrows. In 1776 the mission was moved to its present location in San Gabriel, eight kilometers to the east of what’s now Hermon. A few years later, in 1781, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles sobre el Río Porciúncula was founded the same distance away to the southwest.
The area that now comprises Hermon was located just beyond the northeast corner of the land designated Los Angeles, in lands belonging to the nearby Mission. Mexico declared independence from Spain in 1810 and Spanish rule ended when Mexico achieved independence in 1821 and the mission holdings were subsequently secularized. 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 was incorporated as a city.
By the turn of the 20th Century, the land that would become Hermon was proving to be a hard sell for its then-owner, Ralph Rogers, who’d successfully overseen developments in Eagle Rock, Garvanza, and Highland Park but was unable to find a buy of the isolated property that became even more isolated when the seasonal Arroyo Seco flooded.
FOUNDATION OF HERMON
The floodplain’s isolation was something of a selling point to Charles Bond Ebey, who’d moved to Los Angeles from Illinois in 1888 with the hope of improving his wife’s health. Ebey was a reverend in the stern Free Methodist sect who sought to found a colony of likeminded folks. Rogers gave Ebey fourteen acres of land to build a seminary and 100 lots to sell to other Free Methodists. The newly established community was named Hermon after Mount Hermon (Senir in the Amorite tongue), the highest peak in what’s now Syria.
Today, streets including Coleman Avenue, Ebey Avenue, Redfield Avenue, and Terrill Avenue still serve as reminders of the community’s early leaders (J. Emory Coleman, Ebey, John Wesley Redfield, and Joseph Goodwin Terrill, respectively) who though they undoubtedly preached humility, apparently weren’t above being honored through thoroughfares.
HERMON COMMUNITY CHURCH
The original Hermon Community Church congregation was organized in 1903. It wasn’t until 1910 that they got around to building their first church. The current Hermon Church building dates back to 1949.
THE SCHOOLS OF HERMON
Los Angeles Free Methodist Seminary opened in 1904. In 1911, curriculum was expanded with the addition of junior college courses. In 1934, the school became Los Angeles Pacific College, a four-year university. In 1965, the struggling school was absorbed by Azusa Pacific University and the campus was turned over to Pacific Christian High School, which evolved into Pacific Christian on the Hill, which closed in 2004. The campus is now leased to Los Angeles International Charter High School (LAICHS), which may or may not be connected to Bethesda Christian University. Trying to sort it out was taking too long and frankly not that interesting to me but I did notice a sign at the base of a hill that said something about it being the future site of Bethesda.
The other school in the neighborhood is Bushnell Way Elementary. It was originally known as The American School and judging from historic photos it apparently was housed in at least two school buildings. An attractive “new” building was constructed in 1935. If I have the story correctly, Rose Bushnell was the school’s first principal and folks wanted to name the school after her but there was a rule against naming schools after living people (and Rose Bushnell was a living principal). Instead of waiting for Bushnell to die, they instead named a street after her and then the school after the street.
HODEL RESIDENCE & TEA HOUSE
Hermon is full of charming homes including some of the modest kit homes that housed the community’s first inhabitants. One of the more interesting and least modest houses in Hermon is the Hodel Residence. It was designed by Russian architect Alexander Zelenko in 1921 for two Ukrainian immigrants, banker George Hodel and his wife, Esther Leov. The two were notably also big supporters of the arts and friends with famed Romantic composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. The couple’s son, George Hill Hodel, Jr., was given the tea house in the back and later went on to be the suspect in several murders — and of raping his daughter. In 2003, that Hodel’s son, a former LAPD homicide detective, published Black Dahlia Avenger; A Genius for Murder, alleging that his father was the murderer of Elizabeth Short. I think it was around 2006 that I had the opportunity to poke around the whimsical mansion although I can’t remember what the exact circumstances were. I seem to remember it then being in need of a bit of love at the time but at some point around the same time, it was designated a Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument.
MONTEREY TRAILER PARK
Just down the hill from the Hodel Residence is another residential development from the same era that’s been designated a Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument — the Monterey Trailer Park. The word “motel” (a portmanteau of “motor” and “hotel”) was coined in 1925. Around 1923, Elmer Drummond (who operated a service station nearby) opened the Monterey Auto Camp in Hermon, a sort of motel precursor made possible as people were just beginning to undertake long road trips. Most if not all of the original ten cabins are gone — replaced by mobile homes.
HERMON BECOMES HIGHLAND PARK
In 1923, the Highland Park Branch of the Security Trust & Savings, Bank of Los Angeles published a short book titled The Five Friendly Valleys: The Story of Greater Highland Park. Hermon, the smallest of the “five friendly valleys,” had forsaken its own identity (as had the communities of Annandale, Garvanza, Sycamore Grove, and York Valley) to band together as the Greater Highland Park Association (GHPA), hoping that in doing so the area would gain clout. Although as a result, most people came to think of all of those neighborhoods as Highland Park, decades later some would be revived as growing numbers of Angelenos began increasingly rejecting anonymity and embracing history and community.
HERMON CAR WALL
Hermon’s third Historic-Cultural monument is an interesting piece of folk art, the so-called Hermon Car Wall. Iowa-born Albert Emmanuel Sederquist moved to Los Angeles in 1926, taking up residence in the Cadillac Hotel. He worked for Carmichael Traffic Corporation, the Los Angeles Traffic Bureau, and apparently owned six cars. In 1932 he bought a piece of property he called “The Dugout” in Hermon which he used as a campground and to go a little John Muir now and then. With the aid of a nephew, he built a rather tall retaining wall out of car parts, bricks taken from the rubble a schoolhouse felled by the Long Beach Earthquake, and regular old concrete. The wall was completed in 1941 and Sederquist died in 1959. In recent years, gravity seems to have gotten the upper hand but it’s still an interesting site and not entirely dissimilar to Simon Rodia‘s much better known Watts Towers — built during the same period and the only other piece of folk art on the monument list. The address given, “the intersection of Pullman and Lodge,” is not especially helpful because both are only “paper streets” — streets, that is, that exist only on maps but that no one got around to actually making happen. Therefore, the easiest way to find the wall is to head up what appears to be a shared driveway stretching uphill and southwest from Terrill Avenue.
Hermon may’ve become part of Highland Park on paper in 1922 but in reality, it remained largely isolated (except from South Pasadena) until the Avenue 60 Bridge over the Arroyo Seco was constructed in 1926. The so-called Monterey Road Pass (also known as “The Great Wall of Hermon” or “The Cut” to some locals) was cut through the hills to the south in 1930 and is, in my mind, the most scenic way to enter the neighborhood. Hermon Avenue Bridge was constructed in 1939.
Around the same time, Hermon resident Claude Watson (a Free Methodist lawyer) ran for office on the Prohibition ticket. The Prohibition Party (PRO) is the oldest third party in the US and is still trying to make alcohol illegal. In the 2012 presidential election, the PRO presidential candidate even received 519 votes. In 1935, two years after Prohibition’s repeal, Watson ran as Vice President in support of D. Leigh Colvin and the two received 37,667 votes. He ran for president on the same party ticket in 1944 and ’48, receiving 103,489 votes in the latter, more successful election — only 24 million fewer votes than Truman. Although deed restrictions that kept the town dry for decades have been lifted for even more, there are still zero bars, nightclubs, taverns, or any other sorts of watering holes in Hermon so, in a sense, it’s still a dry town (although as far as I know you can buy alcohol at the market and possibly the 76 station).
LYONS GAS STATION
It’s not a recognized Historic-Cultural Monument but I happen to be a fan of old service stations. Lyons Gas Station was built in 1953. It’s currently home to A F Automotive Service.
Hermon’s business district, or downtown (if you can call it that), is dominated by Monterey Plaza — a shopping center constructed in the 1960s. Monterey Plaza is dominated by Hermon’s only market — Fresco Community Market — which like many markets of its size includes a bakery, kitchen, and deli in addition to a grocery section. The market is also a popular filming location and an ad starring a guy named Josh Duhamel and another with those Smothers Brothers-esque hipsters who hawk car insurance — as well as a dozen others — have been shot there.
In 1978, then-councilman Arthur “Art” Snyder renamed Hermon Avenue after his then-three-year-old daughter, Erin-Marisol. The freeway exit sign was changed to reflect the re-designation. Not everyone in Snyder’s constituency was apparently happy and Caltrans responded by restoring the name to the traffic sign, although they ignominiously misspelled it “Herman Avenue” Their mistake wouldn’t be corrected until 2002! Snyder passed away in 2012 and some immediately seized on the opportunity to demand that Via Marisol be re-named Hermon Avenue. I have no problem with that although I’d simply like to point out that Monterey Road was formerly Walnut Hill Road but no one seems to be clamoring for its nomenclatural restoration.
According to City Data, the population of Hermon is 61% Latino, 16% Asian, 15% white, 5% black, and 1% Native American.
GETTING THERE AND GETTING AROUND
The only public transit serving the neighborhood directly are Metro‘s 176 and 256 bus lines. Metro’s Gold Line light rail train also passes through the community but the nearest stop, Highland Park Station, is less than a kilometer away in Highland Park. Walkscore (one of the few online resources that recognizes Hermon’s existence) gives Hermon a walkscore of 50, a transit score of 44, and a bike score of 38 – all relatively low but probably more a reflection of the fact that most “errands” (especially if said “errands” involve, say, going to a bar) require leaving the neighborhood and not that the community itself isn’t easily walkable, bikeable, and close to public transit stops — because it is. Most of Hermon is pretty flat although some of the residential streets around Santa Fe Hill (originally known as Sugar Loaf Hill) in the north end are slightly hilly. Charles Flemming‘s book, Secret Stairs, includes a walk through Hermon and Highland Park (Walk #6) which the author rates 2.5 out of 5 on a scale of difficulty.
The tallest structures in Hermon, as near as I can tell, are the hills – which are usually ignored because acknowledging them would challenge the prevailing stereotypes of Los Angeles as a horizontal city. As far as human-made structures are concerned, none seem to rise above maybe six stories (incidentally the same number of stories as the first building to be labeled a skyscraper had), although a couple of complexes reach or approach that height. These include Monterey Road Apartments, Monterey View Apartments, Villa Marisol, and Luxury Park View Apartments.
HERMON DINING SCENE
There are only a handful of restaurants in Hermon: Aki Sushi & Roll, Monterey Donuts, Tasty Mama’s, and Thai Fantasy Restaurant. Anyone who knows me knows that at any hour I’m liable to go for Thai and I’m by no means an authenticity hound — but when most of a Thai place’s glowing reviews rave about orange chicken (a Chinese-American dish), I can’t help but get a little wary. Monterey Donuts is a highly-rated donut establishment in a city full of donuts but unfortunately, there are far fewer occasions when I would seek out sweets so I passed on it too, despite the rave reviews (none of which mention items you wouldn’t expect to find there — like orange chicken). I didn’t pop into Aki Sushi either, but as long as there are more vegetarian options than just tempura, I’m willing.
Tasty Mama’s is the latest tenant in a building that sees a lot of turnover — it was recently home to Zosa Cafe, The Pantry, and Cycleway Cafe. The building was constructed in 1915 and has a nice ambiance. I’ll try to check it out at another time, provided that it’s still there.
HERMON VILLAGE GREENS
Hermon is home to two parks (three if you count the city-owned median with deodars and the Nouveau font Hermon sign). Hermon Park is a decent-sized, unstaffed, dawn-to-dusk park with grills, a playground, picnic tables, and lit tennis courts. Nearby is Hermon Dog Park – an off-leash, dawn-to-dusk dog park supported by the Friends of Hermon Dog Park, a group that seems to be the most active organizer of local events and observances in the neighborhood, such as Howl-oween, in which human participants mark the ancient Celtic harvest festival by dressing their canine companions in strange garb and have a “peanut butter lick-off.” The dog park includes two fenced areas: one for big dogs and one for small, disabled, shy, or elderly dogs. It should be pointed out here that Dog Fancy listed the Hermon Dog Park as the 7th best in the USA and it also got high marks from fellow urban explorer, Itty Bitty Gadabout.
In addition to Friends of Hermon Dog Park, there is (or at least was) a Hermon Neighborhood Association, a Hermon Clean Team, the Hermon Local Issues Committee of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, and a Hermon, Los Angeles Facebook page. There’s also a HermonLA website from which I obtained all of this entry’s historic photos and is a really great community resource.
I’m not aware of any musicians or composers born in Hermon. I’m similarly unaware of any live music venues, music festivals, or independent music stores. If there are, please let me know in the comments and I’ll add them. I did see a pot-smoking teen wearing a Motörhead T-Shirt and I heard an ice cream truck playing“Turkey in the Straw” but that was about as far as my musical experiences in Hermon went.
There is also Art in the Park, home to the Lalo Guerrero School of Music — a non-profit organization that teaches music lessons to children (8 – 18 years old) in the Northeast Los Angeles area — presumably including those from Hermon. A plaque outside the building says that it was constructed by the WPA in 1939. Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero, for those that don’t know, was a labor activist and musician and the Father of Chicano Music.
There’ve been many television commercials filmed at various locations but I’m not aware of too many films or television series either set or shot in the neighborhood — just In Time (2011) and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012), both of which featured the scenic Monterey Road Pass. I’m also not aware of any actors or filmmakers from Hermon nor any independent movie stores, historic theaters, or film festivals in Hermon. Once again, if you are, please let me know in the comments.
OTHER SITES TO SEE & STUFF TO DO
As with much of Los Angeles, at night Hermon seems like a pretty sleepy place. Most of the sanctioned, public amusements are strictly daytime only. If there’s even a grain of truth to internet hysteria, Hermon Park does indeed seem to attract a few cholos and homeless after night falls. Anyway, if I’m missing any art festivals, movies in the park, or farmers’ markets, &c, please let me know.