In February, Catalina Villegas reported for Spectrum News that the vendors at the North Hollywood Swap Meet were given notice that they had until 31 March to vacate the building in which some of them had worked for more than 25 years. Instead of taking the news quietly, a group of vendors, aided by The People’s Struggle: San Fernando Valley, protested at various locations. After protesting outside of owner Caren Song Kim’s home, the parties reached an agreement. On 4 April, a new operator stepped in and signed a long-term lease with the landlord and the vendors at North Hollywood Swap Meet will keep their jobs for now The outcome was not the typical one. When Redcar Properties bought the Chinatown Swap Meet a few years ago, the tenants were all evicted. Some moved to Dynasty Center. Then Redcard bought that property. What happens next remains to be seen.
Although rarely celebrated as such, swap meets are an integral part of Los Angeles’s unique cultural tapestry and important sites within the communities in which they operate. I didn’t even know what they were when I first moved here in 1999. To me, having grown up in Missouri, a swap meet was pretty much the same thing as a flea market — a one-off or occasionally recurring event at which second-hand goods were sold — essentially a giant yard sale. In Los Angeles, and other cities in the West, swap meets are much more. Swap meets out here take place throughout the week. Most vendors at them hawk new, not used, items. Many are indoors, inside the often hollowed-out husks of old department stores or other cavernous structures. The ones that are outdoors, though, usually feature live music, food, and drink. At some, you’ll find barbershops, acupuncturists, and fortune-tellers. Thus they less resemble yard sales than they do Latin American mercadillos, or Korean 벼룩시장 (literally “flea market”), or, I imagine, Middle Eastern bazaars. In a city like Los Angeles where there are frustratingly few public spaces, swap meets aren’t just hubs of economic activity — they’re valuable quasi-public spaces where people congregate, socialize, and intermingle. Most are bustling and noisy. Many feel chaotic and improvised. The ones approaching death are eerily quiet and liminal.
The origins of the swap meet can be traced back at least to the 1930s when people would come together to swap things such as baseball cards. In Southern California, it seems that many existed for hot rodders and other automobile enthusiasts to swap car parts. Many, then and now, took advantage of the car-centric region’s vast, barren parking lots that surround shopping malls and drive-in cinemas. As manufacturing jobs moved overseas, many swap meets moved indoors into vacated factories and warehouses. Swap meets grew increasingly Latino in the 1970s, taking on the flavor of the tianguis found in Mexico and Central America. The focus shifted away from secondhand merchandise. In the 1980s, swap meets were increasingly dominated by East Asian vendors with connections to import-export businesses. Koreans were especially prominent. Not surprisingly, things did not always go smoothly for the newly arrived immigrants from one of the world’s least diverse countries who dove headfirst into what is by many measures the world’s most diverse city.
When violence erupted across the city in 1992, Koreans bore the brunt of it. Although the acquittal of LAPD officers caught on camera savagely beating black motorist Rodney King was the last straw, the similar outcome following the shooting death of a black child, Latasha Harlins, by a Korean shopkeeper was an unhealed wound into which salt kept being poured. A few months later, Ice Cube released Death Certificate, including the song, “Black Korea,” which warned “chop suey ass’ shopkeepers that if disrespected, “we’ll burn your store right down to a crisp.” But swap meets were also sites of positive cultural exchanges between blacks and Asians. Uncle Jamm’s Army and Dr. Dre used to DJ at Alpine Village, which hosts a popular swap meet. It was at the Roadium swap meet in Torrance that record vendor Steve Yano introduced Dr. Dre to Eazy-E. And it was Wan Joon Kim‘s Cycadelic Records in the Compton Swap Meet that brought the early recordings of NWA into the hands of gangsta rap-loving record-buyers.
Swap meets, too, are lifelines for immigrants and refugees from Cambodia, China, El Salvador, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, and elsewhere. Many of their vendors and shoppers alike have little money or grasp of English. Most prefer to deal in cash and counterfeit merchandise is common. Like most things on the margins, they are far more interesting than their boring, standardized mainstream counterparts. And, like most things in the margins, rather than being celebrated by city leaders, they are more often singled out with hostility. In Los Angeles, operating a swap meet requires a permit from the Board of Police Commissioners. The city of Gardena banned the establishment of new swap meets outright. The most swap meets can hope for is indifference, it seems. They are never honored as legacy businesses, no matter how long they’ve been around. They’re certainly never afforded any sort of cultural or historical protections. And when the owner decides, on a whim, to double the rent or serve their loyal tenants with eviction notices, so be it. To those who never set foot in them, they’re just blight, after all.
The closure of a swap meet rarely is covered in the local media, which has more important news to report — namely sleb T, sigalerts, weather, restaurant openings, and sports. There are exceptions, though. Josie Huang and Frank Shyong, for example, have written movingly about the tribulations of harried swap meet vendors. Maybe the loss of a swap meet doesn’t deserve to be mourned anymore than the defunct department store they replaced or the former alfalfa field on which that department store was built. And yet, I suspect, if they all go, our city will be less interesting in their absence. And so I’ve tried to map all of them, past and present. If it’s not obvious, this is a work in progress so give me your additions in the comments. And because the differences between swap meets and flea markets so closely related, if included some of the latter as well.
ALAMEDA SWAP MEET (4501 South Alameda Street, Central-Alameda)
The Alameda Swap Meet occupies buildings that were built in the 1920s and ’40s and that were home, from the 1940s until the mid-1980s, to International Harvester Company. The Alameda Swap Meet opened on 1 June 1986. Mike Davis wrote that it was “right out of Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s ‘magic realism’.” In 1991, Jonathan Gold wrote about the swap meet in a Los Angeles Times article titled “Plaza de la Masa.” The general manager, in 1991, was Korean American K.C. Kim but most of the merchants are either Mexican or Salvadoran. It was looted during the unrest in 1992. A 24-year-old security guard was killed there in 1993 in a shootout with gang members. In 1994, it was owned by Charles Yang. In the 2000s, the swap meet began hosting boxing. In 2004, the city filed an injunction against the 38th Street gang for extorting vendors and in the decade that followed, the Harpys moved in. On weekends, Alameda Swap Meet features DJs and live music.
The Alameda Swap Meet is served by Metro‘s A and 105, 611, and 705 lines as well as LADOT‘s DASH Pueblo del Rio and Southeast lines.
ALPINE VILLAGE SWAP MEET (833 West Torrance Boulevard, West Carson)
Alpine Village is a shopping center built by German immigrants Josef Bischof and Hans Rotter in 1968. The shopping center is meant to resemble a traditional Bavarian village. Bischof left the development and went on to create the similar but mixed-use Old World Village in Huntington Beach. in 1980, the Alpine Village Swap Meet made its home in the shopping center’s huge parking lot. Hans and his wife, Teri, were let go as general managers after they demolished part of the parking lot and the batting cages without a permit. As shopping habits have changed, the shopping center has struggled. The restaurant and bar closed in 2020. The swap meet, however, remains popular and is usually much busier than the shopping center (which is absolutely worth visiting, too).
The Alpine Village Swap Meet is served by Amtrak‘s Thruway Connecting Service; Torrance Transit‘s 1 and 4X lines; and Metro‘s 205 and 550 lines.
ANTELOPE VALLEY SWAP MEET (5550 Pearblossom Highway, Palmdale)
The Antelope Valley Swap Meet was established on 3 May 1976 as the Four Points Swap Meet. It’s owned today by Joyce and Robert Bruce. The outdoor market is located in Palmdale‘s Four Points . It hosts nearly 500 vendors as well as bands, special events, pony rides, and a farmers market.
The Antelope Valley Swap Meet is served by Antelope Valley Transit Authority‘s 52 Line.
BAZAAR SWAP MEET (6475 Van Nuys Boulevard, Van Nuys)
The Bazaar Swap Meet was founded in 1992 at the former location of Bloom’s Juvenile Bootery which closed in the 1960s.
The Bazaar Swap Meet is served by Metro’s 233 Line.
BONITO’S SWAP MEET (620 South Alvarado Street, Westlake)
Bonito’s Swap Meet (or “Bonito Swap Meet,” according to the awning) is a very small, cramped swap meet located just east of MacArthur Park in a predominantly Mexican, Guatemalan, and Salvadoran neighborhood. The swap meet seemingly bleeds out of its cramped †confines onto the sidewalk, one of the few in Los Angeles where sidewalk vending is legal. The swap meet was established in 1996.
Bonito’s Swap Meet is accessible via Metro’s B, D, 2, 18, 603, and 613 lines; and LADOT’s E Line.
CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY ANTIQUE FLEA MARKET (1000 East Victoria Street, Dominguez Hills)
California State University Antique Flea Market was founded c. 1997.
California State University Antique Flea Market is served by Long Beach Transit‘s 1, 2, 6, and 13 lines; and Metro‘s 51 and 53 lines.
DEL AMO PLAZA (2787 East Del Amo Boulevard, Rancho Dominguez)
The Del Amo Plaza indoor swap meet was established in 1990 in a building that had originally housed Globe Ticket Company.
Del Amo Plaza is served by Long Beach Transit‘s 1, 4, 191, and 192 lines; and Metro‘s A Line.
DYNASTY CENTER (800 North Broadway, Chinatown)
Dynasty Center was established in 1991 and is connected to Saigon Plaza behind it. The two swap meets bleed into one another and onto the sidewalks. Dynasty Center is actually a collection of six buildings dating from 1885 to 1958 (including two former SROs) that have been heavily altered and merged into one space. I’m reminded of Kowloon Walled City. Most of the vendors are Hoa Chinese or Vietnamese and it’s managed by Song Jackson. After buying Dynasty Center, Redcar immediately doubled the rent and served the vendors with eviction notices but there is an online petition to keep it open.
Dynasty Center is served by the Metro L Line, 28, 45, 76, 80, 81, 83, 90, 91, 94, and 96 lines; LADOT DASH B Chinatown/Financial District and Lincoln Heights/Chinatown lines.
EL FARO PLAZA (4433 South Alameda Street, Central-Alameda)
El Faro Plaza is located in a building that was constructed in 1924 for the Morris Furniture Company. In 1926, two workers fell from the roof and the Illustrated Daily News reported that they were unlikely to survive. In 1935, it was the site of a violent riot between striking union members who were attacked, at the urging of the plant superintendent, by scabs. El Faro Plaza opened there in 1979. In 1992, after having concluded that it had been operating for years in violation of building and safety codes, ordered it to close. Owner Jerry Schwarzblatt abided but re-opened it shortly afterward. It hosts about 150 vendors.
El Faro Plaza is served by Metro’s 105, 611, and 705 lines; and LADOT’s Pueblo del Rio line.
EL MERCADO DE LOS ÁNGELES (3425 1st Street, Boyle Heights)
El Mercado de Los Angeles (referred to colloquially as “El Mercadito”) is a combination cultural center, farmers market, food court, live music venue, and swap meet. The Mission Revival-style structure was built in 1968 by brothers Benjamin and Arturo P. Chayra. Originally the vendors reflected the historic diversity of the neighborhood, including Japanese, Jewish, Italian, and Mexican businesses. In 1986, retired janitor Pedro Rosado took over operations. In 1971, he’d opened a stall there selling books. In 1977, he became El Mercadito’s manager. It was he who invited Jose Luis Gonzalez (GOEZ Art Studios) to decorate the building with murals. Although the swap meet is an attraction, the centerpiece of El Mercado de Los Angeles is the top floor, with its restaurants and live music.
El Mercado de Los Angeles is served by LADOT’s DASH Boyle Heights, El Sol’s Union Pacific/Salazar Park Line, and Metro’s 30, 254, 665, and L lines.
HARBOR COLLEGE SWAP MEET (1111 Figueroa Place, Wilmington)
Harbor College Swap Meet is served by Metro‘s 205 and 232 lines.
INGLEWOOD MARKETPLACE (139 South Market Place, Inglewood)
Inglewood Marketplace was founded in 1982 and is owned by Chun Young Cho.
Inglewood Marketplace is served by Metro‘s 115, 212, and 215 lines.
KING RICHARD’S ANTIQUE VINTAGE CENTER (12301 Whittier Boulevard, Whittier)
King Richard’s Antique Vintage Center is a massive antique market that occupies a former citrus packing warehouse that closed in 1951. The antique vendors arrived in 1979.
King Richard’s Antique Vintage Center is served by Montebello Bus Lines‘ 50 Line.
LA FIESTA SWAP MEET MALL (12727B Sherman Way, Valley Glen)
La Fiesta Swap Meet Mall is served by Metro‘s 162 and 167 lines.
LONG BEACH ANTIQUE MARKET (4901 East Conant Street, Long Beach)
The Long Beach Antique Market was founded in 1982 and is held in the parking lot of Veterans Memorial Stadium. It hosts about 800 vendors.
The Long Beach Antique Market is served by Long Beach Transit‘s 111 and 112 lines.
LOS ANGELES CITY COLLEGE SWAP MEET (4133 Marathon Street, Virgil Village)
LACC Swap was founded around 1991 and takes place in a parking lot at Los Angeles City College. It was managed by Newport Diversified until 2021 when was taken over by events producer Philip Dan.
LACC Swap is served by Metro‘s 204 Line.
LOS FELIZ FLEA (3939 Tracy Street, Los Feliz)
Los Feliz Flea was founded by Philip Dane in 2020. It takes place on the campus of John Marshall High School and hosts about 170 vendors.
Los Feliz Flea is served by Metro‘s 182 Line.
NORTH HOLLYWOOD SWAP MEET (7355 Lankershim Boulevard, Sun Valley)
North Hollywood Swap Meet was founded in 1994.
North Hollywood Swap Meet is served by Metro‘s 152, 162, and 224 lines.
NOTHING BUT B.L.K. FLEA MARKET (4050 Marlton Avenue, Baldwin Hills)
Nothing But B.L.K. Flea is a swap meet that features black-owned businesses and vendors. It was founded by Kris Hilbler-Smith and Jay Funtila in 2019 as Melanin Market. It takes place in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.
Nothing But B.L.K. Flea is served by Metro‘s 15 Line and LADOT‘s Crenshaw Line.
PARAMOUNT SWAP MEET (7900 All America City Way, Paramount)
In 1948, Joseph Bianchi built a two-screen drive-in cinema on his property, the Roadium Drive-In (later renamed the Paramount Drive-In). The Paramount Swap Meet began in 1955, initially catering primarily to dairy farmers. Joseph died in 1992 and Glenn Bianchi took over. In 2009, Glenn’s son, Beau Bianchi was made a general partner. It hosts live entertainers every Sunday.
The Paramount Swap Meet is served by Long Beach Transit‘s 23 Line and Metro‘s 265 Line.
PCC FLEA MARKET (570 East Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena)
The Pasadena City College Flea Market was founded in 1977.
The PCC Flea Market is served by Foothill Transit‘s 187 Line; Metro‘s 180, 287, and 686 lines; and Pasadena Transit‘s 10 and 60 lines.
POMONA SWAP MEET & CLASSIC CAR SHOW (1101 West McKinley Avenue, Pomona)
The Pomona Swap Meet & Classic Car Show is the West Coast‘s largest automotive swap meet and classic car show. It’s held at the Fairplex. It was founded on 3 August 1975 by George W. Cross III.
The Pomona Swap Meet & Classic Car Show is served by Foothill Transit‘s 197 Line.
ROADIUM OPEN AIR MARKET (2500 West Redondo Beach Boulevard, Torrance)
Gale Gasteigen opened The Roadium Drive-In on 19 May 1950. The Roadium Open Air Market opened in 1952. It hosts roughly 500 vendors and still screens films as part of its “Friday Night Flicks at the Drive-In” series.
The Roadium Open Air Market is served by GTrans‘s 3 Line and Torrance Transit‘s 5 Line.
ROSE BOWL FLEA MARKET (1001 Rose Bowl Drive, Pasadena)
Bill Thunell and R.G. Canning launched the Rose Bowl Flea Market in 1968. Today it hosts about 2,500 vendors.
The Rose Bowl Flea Market is served by Pasadena Transit‘s 51 and 52 lines.
SAIGON PLAZA (828 North Broadway, Chinatown)
Saigon Plaza was established in 1989, when construction of the Chinatown building was completed. Most of the vendors are Vietnamese and Cambodian (including overseas Chinese from both). Its owner is Frank Mak.
Saigon Plaza is served by Metro‘s 45 Line and LADOT‘s Lincoln Heights/Chinatown Line.
SAN FERNANDO SWAP MEET (585 Glenoaks Boulevard, San Fernando)
The San Fernando Swap Meet was established in 1979 and has about 1,000 vendors. It’s owned by William Hannon.
The San Fernando Swap Meet is served by Metro‘s 92 Line.
THE SANTA CLARITA SWAP MEET (22500 Soledad Canyon Road, Santa Clarita)
William and Mary Bonelli purchased a ranch in 1937 where they held rodeos, and later, races. The racetrack began as a quarter-mile dirt track. It was eventually paved, expanded, and became the Saugus Speedway. Midget cars and hot rods were replaced by stock cars. The races, however, ended in 1995. The racetrack began hosting swap meets back in 1963.
The Santa Clarita Swap Meet is served by Metrolink‘s Antelope Valley Line
SANTA FE SPRINGS SWAP MEET (13963 Alondra Boulevard, Santa Fe Springs)
The La Mirada Drive-In cinema opened on 5 November 1953 with a screening of Wings of the Hawk and Golden Blade. The roughly 1,100 parking spots sat empty during the daytime until 1965, when the La Mirada Swap Meet opened there. The screen went dark — except for special events — in 1990. The swap meet changed its name to the Santa Fe Springs Drive-In Theatre and Swap Meet (later shortened to the Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet). There are numerous food options as well as a bar. The swap meet also hosts live performances throughout the week. It’s still owned by the members of the Bonelli family.
Santa Fe Springs Swap Meet is served by Metro‘s 460 Line.
SANTEE ALLEY (210 East Olympic Boulevard, The Fashion District)
Santee Alley is an alley that hosts more than 150 vendors. It emerged as a popular wholesale district in the 1970s, especially following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which resulted in many Iranians opening businesses in the Fashion and Jewelry districts.
Santee Alley is served by LADOT‘s E Line.
7 DAYS SWAPMEET (5547 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood Studio District)
7 Days Swapmeet was founded in 1989 and is owned by Ki Wan Kim. Just how much of a swap meet it is is up for debate. Although home to a Young’s Market, Jaeil Presbyterian Korean Church, and the swap meet; it doesn’t seem to have many vendors anymore and in 2021, Brandon Chang was charged with illegally operating a casino there.
7 Days Swapmeet is served by Metro‘s 4 Line.
SILVERLAKE FLEA (1911 Sunset Boulevard, Echo Park)
Silverlake Flea was founded by Fiora Boes at her gallery, Ghettogloss, around 2007. For years it took place on the campus of Micheltorena Elementary. After LAUSD raised the rent, Flores relocated to Echo Park in 2019 to the parking lot at Taix.
Silverlake Flea is served by Metro‘s 4 and 603 lines.
SLAUSON SUPER MALL (1600 West Slauson Avenue, Canterbury Knolls)
Michael Yoon immigrated from Korea to the US in 1973 and opened the Slauson Swap Meet in 1986. Its location was, from the 1950s until 1984, home to Lightcraft of California. In the 1980s and ’90s, it as notorious, in part because some vendors catered to drug dealers and gangbangers, selling gang-branded clothing, crack pipes, scales, tiny plastic bags, &c. It’s also famous for its funeral wear — customized T-shirts memorializing those who have recently died In 2006, I saw a memorial T-shirt for then-recently deceased 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley. In 1992’s “The Day The Niggaz Took Over,” Dr. Dre bragged of having ganked a VCR from a vendor there. It also made an appearance in the video for Tupac‘s 1996 hit, “To Live & Die in L.A.” It was rebranded, around 1999, the Slauson Super Mall, but in my experience most people continue to refer to it by its former name.
The Slauson Super Mall is served by Metro‘s 108 and 207 lines, and LADOT‘s Chesterfield Square DASH line.
SWAP MEET MARKETPLACE (9800 Mills Avenue, South Whittier)
Swap Meet Marketplace talks place on the campus of California High School.
Swap Meet Marketplace is served by Sunshine Shuttle Route B.
TORRANCE ANTIQUE STREET FAIRE (1317 Sartori Avenue, Torrance)
Torrance Antique Street Faire was created by Julie Randall and Miguel Salazar. It debuted in October 1998. It hosts roughly 200 vendors.
Torrance Antique Street Faire is served by Torrance Transit‘s 5 Line.
VALLEY INDOOR SWAP MEET – PANORAMA CITY (14650 Parthenia Street, Panorama City)
Valley Indoor Swap Meet – Panorama City opened in the former location of an Orbach’s, built in 1964. Orbach’s went out of business in 1987 and the Valley Indoor Swap Meet opened there. It hosts about 300 vendors.
Valley Indoor Swap Meet – Panorama City is served by LADOT‘s Panorama City/Van Nuys DASH line.
VALLEY INDOOR SWAP MEET – POMONA (1600 East Holt Boulevard)
Valley Indoor Swap Meet – Pomona opened as the Indian Hill Swap Meet in the former location of a Sears, Roebuck & Co. that moved out of the Indian Hill Village mall in 1985. There are food options and live music on weekends.
Valley Indoor Swap Meet – Pomona is served by Omnitrans’s 61 Line and Foothill Transit’s 480 Line.
VINELAND SWAP MEET (443 Vineland Avenue, City of Industry)
The Vineland Drive-In cinema opened on 15 April 1955 with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It became a four-screen theater in 1981. The cinema still screens first-run films. Of course, drive-in cinemas don’t screen films during the day, when it’s too bright to see the screen, and the vast 1,700 space parking lot sat empty until 1984 or ’85, when someone at Pacific Theaters had the bright idea of establishing the Vineland Swap Meet. It hosts food carts, food trucks, plus DJs, and dancing on the weekends.
The Vineland Swap Meet is served by the Avocado Heights/Bassett/West Valinda Shuttle, and Foothill Transit’s 194 and 282 lines.
“Business Booms as Bargain Hunters Search for Novelties in Bazaar Settings” by Nancy Rivera Brooks (Los Angeles Times, 1987)
“Chinatown’s swap meets once opened a door to the American dream. Now, their future is uncertain” by Frank Shyong (Los Angeles Times, 2017)
“Amid coronavirus, LA swap meets struggle to draw crowds” by Alejandra Reyes-Velarde (Los Angeles Times, 2020)
“As an uncertain future looms, Los Angeles’ swap meet vendors live in the moment” by Frank Shyong (Los Angeles Times, 2020)
“Visible But Unseen: The Material Cultures of Los Angeles’s Indoor Swap Meets” by Alec R. Stewart (2021)
“Tensions Rise Among the Street Vendors Outside LACC Swap Meet and the Open-Air Market’s New Owner by Janette Villafana (L.A. Taco, 2021)
“The L.A. Taco Guide to the Best Swap Meets and Flea Markets for Holiday Shopping” by Erick Huerta (L.A. Taco, 2021)