Cloudy skies over the bottomless Echo Park Lake
This blog entry is about the Los Angeles neighborhood of Echo Park. Please vote for more neighborhoods by clicking here. Also, please vote for more Los Angeles County communities by clicking here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.
INTRO TO EP
Echo Park is a neighborhood located north of downtown Los Angeles in the hills along the western shore of the LA River. Echo Park has long associations with several arts, most notably literature and film. It's one of the city's oldest neighborhoods and is full of many old (by Angeleno standards) Craftsman, Spanish, and Victorian homes built between the 1880s and 1930s.
THE LOCATION OF ECHO PARK AND ITS NEIGHBORS
Though there are signs indicating the borders of Echo Park, according to the Echo Park Historical Society there are no official boundaries for the neighborhood. Certain adjacent neighborhoods (including Angeleno Heights, Berkley Hill, Colton Hills, Elysian Heights, Elysian Park, Historic Filipinotown, Sunset Heights and Temple-Beaudry) are often considered to be akin to Autonomous Okrugs within The Republic of Echo Park. However, my need for strict and predominantly exclusive categorization requires me to respect their independence struggles despite their long, historic associations with Echo Park. So if you want to hear about them, vote for 'em.
If we accept the semi-autonomous nature of the aforementioned, contested neighborhoods (which we shall) and go by the city-installed signs, then the borders of Echo Park are, roughly speaking, Benton Way, Berkley, Glendale Blvd and the 2 on the northwest, the 101 on the southwest, Echo Park and Morton on the east and maybe Baxter on the north... I'm not really sure where Elysian Heights' southern border is. The neighborhood is bordered by Berkley Hills and Silver Lake to the west, Elysian Heights to the north, Elysian Park, Sunset Heights and Angeleno Heights to the East, and Westlake, Historic Filipinotown and Colton Hills to the south.
IS ECHO PARK THE EASTSIDE?
In a word, no. But, since Angelenos love to argue about what is and what isn't the Eastside I will here consider the arguments, which tend to fall along racial, ethnic and/or linguistic lines. Many newer inhabitants and especially Anglos thinking of characterize anything east of Hollywood and Midtown as Eastside. On the other hand, the Eastside/Westside dividing line for many South L.A. residents and especially black Angelenos is South Main Street. Most Latinos and long-time residents consider the Eastside to begin east of the LA River.
Historically speaking, Echo Park hasn't been considered Eastside until quite recently, beginning when B&T types, encouraged by LA Weekly and other media depictions of it as a hipster mecca, began venturing into the area in pursuit of grit, credibility and the dream of being photographed by Cobra Snake without actually sacrificing their safety by truly breaking from the pack. Before the so-called hipsters and even before Echo Park became mostly Latino (in the 1940s), the area was considered by Angelenos as "The West End." I guess the final word would have to go to the aboriginals, the Tongva. They might've considered it the Northside. In the end, it's like "Po-TAY-to" vs "Po-TAH-to"... both supposedly equally legitimate (even though one is clearly wrong).
That is why I propose the adoption of the term, "Mideast Side" to refer to neighborhoods like Angeleno Heights, Elysian Heights, Historic Filipinotown, Frogtown, Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Sunset Heights, Virgil village &c. Like SELACO, it has yet to catch on, but unlike that concept, Mideast Side provides a nice compliment to the universally accepted Mid-City West.
A BRIEF BUT FASCINATING HISTORY OF ECHO PARK
After the Spanish took the land now making up Echo Park off the Tongva's hands, it passed to the Mexicans and ultimately the US. A community was founded in the area by Thomas Kelly, a shrewd carriage maker who wisely moved from that trade into the real estate game, selling pieces off pieces of his Montana Tract. The community established in present day Echo Park/Silver Lake centered on Glendale Blvd (then Allesandro) was originally known as Edendale. However, as early as the 1890s, the LA Times was referring to the area around the lake as Echo Park, with accounts of the names origins both varying and seemingly apocryphal.
The first cable line connecting nearby downtown was laid down in 1886. Three years later, a horse drawn line was laid down along Echo Park Avenue. In 1896, a boathouse was erected at the Echo Park Lake (although the current boathouse was built in 1932). I have looked but have been unsuccessful in determining when the paddle boat was invented, but it is (and was) the ideal way of enjoying the lake whilst developing rock hard thighs.
Echo Park Boat House
The neighborhood, despite its hills, was insanely subjected to the grid layout common in the rest of the city, resulting in steep public stairways and some really steep streets that my Ultimate Driving Machine™ has been unable to climb in light drizzle. Although this is said by some to be a reminder of a neighborhood designed before the automobile came to the dominate the landscape, it's pretty hard to imagine even a mule pulling a cart up some of those hilly streets, like Baxter, the staircase of which (at more than 230 steps) is the tallest in the city. Honestly, I tend to think that a lot of what people claim about historic Echo Park is a pack of lies.
The Echo Park Clubhouse
The Echo Park Clubhouse (1004 Echo Park Avenue) was built in 1908 and was the second developed in the city. Today it's the oldest remaining one in town. If its wall could talk, they would tell of recreation.
A year later, Francis Boggs and William Selig set up the first west coast motion picture company in Edendale in 1909. Edendale was the center of the West Coast film industry until the rise of Hollywood and many comedies and westerns starring the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Our Gang, Ben Turpin, Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, Charley Chase, Chester Conklin, Three Stooges and Tom Mix were filmed in the neighborhood.
As the neighborhood exploded, so did tensions, usually centered around controversy in the park. By the 1910s, residents were clamoring for the replacement of the antiquated boathouse, complaining about peanut shells that littered the park and more than one resident expressed outrage at the sight of couples spooning (still a common sight today). By the late teens, city leaders banned Keystone Studios from shooting Keystone Kops films in the park because they bumbling cinematic police force were trampling too many flowers.
In the '20s, Echo Park continued to grow and the last watermelon patches in the neighborhood were torn out. Around Alvarado and Bonnie Brae, a small group of black Angelenos established an enclave, probably because Bonnie Brae was (and is still home to) an A.M.E. church. Remnants of the small, historical black area still exist around there to this day. Another new arrival to Echo Park in the 1920s was Pete the Pelican, who in a case of long-standing local media fixation on triviality, was quite the sensation in the era of megaphone crooning -- or as it was called back then, "megaphone crooning."
Eclipsing both the fame of the bird and the A.M.E. congregation was evangelist Aimee Semple McPerson, the US's first religious media star who had a 5,500 seat church, the Angelus Temple, constructed in 1923 after years of broadcasting her sermons on the radio to millions of listeners in the era before Old Time Radio really had anything good on.
Jensen's Recreation Center
Providing a nice counterpoint to the new mega-church was the opening, the following year, of Jensen's Recreation Center -- an enormous Romanesque structure topped by a sign with 1,300 colored bulbs frequented at the time by boxers, drug dealers and prostitutes.
La Reina de Los Angeles - now most often known as The Lady of the Lake
In 1934, artist Ada Mae Sharpless designed an art deco statue, La Reina de Los Angeles. Around the time, growth of the neighborhood began to slow. After decades of growth, by the dawn of the 1940s, many of the Anglo residents were moving away in droves. Most of the new residents were less-wealthy Latinos (although there have been significant numbers of Latinos in the neighborhood since its inception), Chinese and Filipinos. Ever since, it's proven very difficult for people, regardless of linguistic background, to not reflexively refer to the neighborhood as "Echo Parque."
When the 101 was constructed between 1944 and 1950, the Filipino enclave was separated from the rest of Echo Park and became known as Little Manila (today Historic Filipinotown). Another period of growth followed after the demolition of nearby Chavez Ravine (commonly known as "Little Mexico") in 1949, to make way for the construction of Dodger stadium, which led to large numbers moving to housing along Sunset. Six years later, the Pacific Electric Red Car that served the neighborhood ceased operation. In the '50s, hot rod clubs and gangs began to spring up in the neighborhood.
In the '60s and '70s, sports organizations like the Echo Park Ducks and the Metropolitan Street Hockey League sprang up, offering an alternative to the growing gang problem. Ultimately, however, it was the gangs that most people associated Echo Park with until the mid-'90s, when crime there (and city-wide) began to decrease and small numbers of Anglos began to cautiously move to the neighborhood.
Working class Latino families in Echo Park - or a new hipster look?
Today, although people (perhaps none more than guilt-plagued Anglos) scream and moan about gentrification and hipsters, the neighborhood's median household income is decidedly low compared to most of the city and about two thirds of the residents are Latino -- mostly of Mexican and Salvadoran background. Roughly a fifth of the neighborhood's residents are Asian -- mostly Chinese. Only about a tenth are non-Latino whites. So just calm down, Beavis.
Theresa Powers's Echo Park/The World Mural
To be fair, if you only visit Echo Park at night, when it's flooded by outsiders, it does take on a different impression and you'd be forgiven for thinking that the population is 70% white and 20% Korean. Venues in the area like Little Joy [formerly Little Joy Jr], The Gold Room, El Prado -- all once havens for local, working class Latinos and Asians, are now busting at the seams with a new crowd of young people willing, for God knows what reason, to wait in line just to get into some pretty average hangouts before returning after last call to Midtown and the Westside.
Leo Politi Square - pretty much like the Lower East Side
OK, I know why they come -- in part, due to the media's attempts to portray Echo Park as "the next Silver Lake™." The following squirm-inducing assemblage of dated cliches is taken from Citysearch and pretty typical of common throw-up-a-little-in-one's-mouthisms. "Want the spirit of New York City's Lower East Side without the subzero weather and skyscraping tenements? Then it's time to hit up Echo Park, L.A.'s edgy Eastside enclave for the painfully hip. Just like its East Coast counterpart, this emerging 'hood is ripe for under-the-radar restaurants, divey bars and cooler-than-thou shops. You'll be sporting the obligatory asymmetrical haircut in no time." Poochie D himself couldn't have said it more annoyingly.
The view from inside the Echo Park Time Travel Mart
Of course, this sort of horse puckey has thankfully little relation to reality, as noted in this unintentionally humorous Yelp review by one of those presumably "painfully hip types" seduced by the promise all things under-the radar, cooler-than-thouch and divey. “I've been living in Echo Park for a couple years now. HOWEVER, I am moving soon for a few reasons. Firstly, the people...Straight up ghetto. Loud, disrespectful, smelly, trash. There's a few hipsters and artists for good measure, but this area is by no means the artsy mecca it's made out to be.” It warms the heart... Yes Echo Park has a fairly Bohemian vibe, but it has more to do with stores like Echo Curio than the commodified, mainstream "edge" of American Apparel.
Echo Park lake used to be the home of many lotus plants. The park was the sight of the much-loved, pan-Asian Lotus Festival from 1972 till 2007. Sadly, the lotuses have since been removed for Lord-knows-what-reason and the festival was replaced in 2009 by the more generic Echo Park Community Festival.
Echo Park does still hold a Cuban festival, held on the birthday of Cuban poet José Martí, who has a statue in the park, pictured above.
The restaurants of Echo Park are generally pretty unremarkable in my opinion. There are numerous, average, Mexican restaurants of no special merit, some taco trucks (which, while fine-and-dandy, receive hyperbolic praise from people who've most likely never eaten at any others), and several highly-regarded Mexican bakeries which I've not tried but always smell really good. These eateries include Burrito King, Celaya, Costa Alegra, El Pasto, Guadalajara’s Real Food, La Adelita, La Espiga, Los Burritos, Mayas Tacos Market, Pescado Mojado, Rodeo Grill, Salinas Churros, Santa Fe Tortilleria, Taco Express 2000 and Taco Zone.
A building with several "cooler-than-thou shops"
There are a pretty good number of non-Mexican joints too. Although I eat at many of them, none have knocked my socks off (except Pizza Buona), including Alltston Yacht Club, Angels Burger, Brite Spot, Café La Paz, Chango, Chinatown Express, City Sip, Hi-Ho the Dairy Store, Delilah Bakery, Downbeat Café, Elf Café, Fix Coffee, It’s Thai, K & K Donut, Kien Giang Bakery, King Bowl, La Fonda de Villa, M S Donuts, Masa, Miyako Sushi, Pioneer Chicken 1, Pizza Buona, Pupuseria la Fogata, Taix and Two Boots.
MUSIC IN EP
Echo Park hasn't produced too many big name musicians -- although The Eels formed there in 1995. At various points, Echo Park has been the home to some big names (e.g. Art Pepper, Elliott Smith, Glenn Fry, J.D. Souther, Marilyn Horne and Woody Guthrie) and the neighborhood has often been referenced and celebrated in song -- most often in ones called simply, "Echo Park."
In 1969, Keith Barbour recorded a song called "Echo Park." In 1977, on Linda Rondstat's "Carmelita" she mentions the Pioneer Chicken (and also being in Echo Park).
In 1980, Gary Numan mentions the neighborhood on "I die: you die." That same year, Alfred Corpuz and the Alleyheads recorded "Echo Park, After Dark." A British band decided to call themselves The Echo Park Orchestra. In 1995, Ryan Cabrera recorded a song called "Echo Park." In 1997, The Blue Stingrays also recorded a song called "Echo Park."
Rancid's 1998 song, "Who Would've Thought" makes several mentions of Echo Park. Welsh band Feeder named their 2001 album Echo Park. In 2004, Joseph Arthur recorded a song called "Echo Park." Echo Park also appears in the music video for the excruciating song "Hey Soul Sister" by Train, which I appropriately was exposed to whilst having painful dental work done in what was sort of a Ludovico technique moment. I fear I will double over in pain if I ever hear Train again -- but maybe that would happen regardless.
There are a couple of music venues of note in Echo Park too. The Echo & Echoplex host a good number of performers and music nights (although they suffer from horrible, over-priced drinks and the Echo smells like rancid sewage and bleach). In the post-music store world, Origami Vinyl has beat the odds, still gamely selling music, running a label and hosting in-stores.
FILM IN ECHO PARK AND ECHO PARK IN FILM
After Edendale’s decline, Echo Park continued to be a location for filming and was featured in parts of the 1953 The War of the Worlds, The 1960s television series Gilligan's Island, Chinatown, Echo Park, Kentucky Fried Movie...
...Mi Vida Loca, Panic In Echo Park, Tending Echo Park...
...Quinceañera and Columbus Day. Several references in the NBC series Chuck place Chuck Bartkowski's fictional apartment in Echo Park and, most humorously, J-Lo recently signed a deal with FX to develop a sitcom called Echo Park, which, according to Variety, will take "a comedic look at the world of yuppie, Latino and hipster" cultures within the neighborhood. Cross your fingers!
And lastly but not leastly, The Echo Park Film Center is a great community resource that provides "equal and affordable access to film/video education and resources."
At this point, blog research ended when I got sucked into two-toddlers' birthday parties.
*both maps available as T-shirts: click here!