East Los Angeles, or East Los

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 20, 2010 06:30pm | Post a Comment

Map of East Los Angeles
Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of East Los Angeles

East Los Angeles is a neighborhood on (as its name suggests) Los Angeles' Eastside -- indeed, I'd say it's the most famous neighborhood on the Eastside. Please click here to vote for other Los Angeles Neighborhoods to be the subjects of future blog entries. Please also click here to vote for Los Angeles County communities. And lastly, please vote for Orange County neighborhoods by clicking here

Map of LA's Eastside
Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of The Eastside

East LA is neighbored by El Sereno to the north, Alhambra to the northeast, Monterey Park to the east, Montebello to the southeast, Commerce to the south, Vernon to the southwest, and Boyle Heights to the west. It includes the smaller districts of City Terrace, Belvedere Gardens, Maravilla Park, Palma Heights, Observation Heights, Occidental Heights, the Whittier Shopping District (not to be confused with the city), Eastmont and Wellington Heights

Classic Truck

Although it is currently one of the most ethnically homogeneous areas of Los Angeles, in the past it was rather diverse. Nowadays 97% of East LA's residents are Latino. Roughly half are foreign born (91% in Mexico and 4% in El Salvador). Though Mexican-Americans live throughout the Southland, East LA is the cultural heart of the community. 

For many, South Central went from defining a specific neighborhood (along South Central Avenue -- hence the name) to mean "any black neighborhood in Los Angeles." In much the same way, "East LA" is often employed as shorthand for the entire Eastside, and in other cases, any Latino neighborhood. That makes getting specifics about East LA music, culture and movies a bit difficult. As always, I welcome any additions or corrections, but before you comment, please make sure you're talking about the neighborhood of East LA.

For at least a couple of thousand years, the land now part of East LA was home to the indigenous Tongva. After the arrival of the Spanish and the transference to Mexico, the area was sparsely populated ranch lands. It wasn't until the US took over and the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in 1875 (and streetcars not long after) that significant numbers began to move to the area. The first wave of Mexican immigrants occurred in the 1910s, with most of the new arrivals coming from Sonoratown, which until then had been the center of Spanish (and French)-speaking Los Angeles and was soon to transform into Little Italy.

California, formerly part of Mexico, was a draw for immigrants from the South. By the 1910's, they were the number one immigrant population to Los Angeles. The Literacy Act of 1917 was designed to restrict immigration on non-Nordic and Germanic people. But since most Nordic people weren't interested in working in dangerous conditions for low pay in seasonal work and with irregular hours, the railroads pushed for and achieved exemption for Mexicans when it passed. As of 1920, there were approximately 100,000 Mexicans living in Los Angeles. 

Whittier Blvd 1924 - East LA

By the 1920s, the Eastside was also home to large numbers of other recently-arrived non-Nords, including Japanese, Jews, Mexicans and Serbians.

Serbian United Benevolent Cemetery        Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Church

There isn't a lot remaining of Serbian character today outside of the Serbian United Benevolent Cemetery and the Saint Sava Serbian Orthodox Church. 

Home of Peace Memorial Park

The first Jewish cemetery established in Los Angeles was in Chavez Ravine, in 1855. The bodies were moved to East LA's Home of Peace Memorial Park between 1902 and 1910. Buried in the cemetery are Lou Clayton (of the Vaudeville act Clayton, Jackson and Durante); comedian Harry Eintstein; composer Leo F. Forbstein; Curly and Shemp (of the Three Stooges); directors Kurt Neumann, Charles Vidor and Mark Sandrich; and film executives Carl Laemmle, Louis B. Mayer, Abe Stern, Morris Schlank, Harry Rapf, and the Warner Brothers -- Harry, Jack and Sam.

There's also the Chinese Cemetery of Los Angeles. Although the Chinese population was centered around Union Station, since Chinese were barred from burying their dead anywhere in Los Angeles (except for the indigent cemetery in Boyle Heights -- for which they had to pay a $10 fee which only applied to them), in 1922 the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of Los Angeles established their cemetery in nearby, unincorporated East Los Angeles.

Most of the Jews and Serbs moved into new developments in Westside and Midtown, leaving East LA more Japanese and Mexican. In 1923, neighborhood residents started the Maravilla Handball Club. By 1930, East LA was home to the largest population of Mexican-Americans anywhere. In the 1930s, the Great Depression saw immigration of foreigners slow to a trickle, but traqueros from El Paso brought their Pachuco culture to LA. Lowriding began when Pachucos lowered their cars by filling the trunks with sandbags. Under the title of "Mexican Repatriation," Herbert Hoover authorized the forced removal of nearly one million Mexican-Americans (including many born in the US), who were sent to Mexico.

Maravilla Handball Court    El Centro Market

When in 1942, 110,000 Japanese-Americans were forcibly interned in concentration camps, the US reversed its policy and invited Mexicans to return. As a result, East LA's homogenization was effectively complete. After the end of the war, some Japanese returned, such as Michi and Tommy Nishiyama, who opened El Centro grocery store next door to the handball court. But in the 1940s, most of East LA's new residents were from neighboring areas like Boyle Heights, whose former slum-dwellers benefitted both from the post-war economic boom and the affordability of housing in East LA. By 1950, the neighborhood was almost completely Mexican-American. 

Zoots Pachucos 1940s

As the emblems of Mexican-American culture, including zoot suits and lowriders, were increasingly seen and adopted, hostility against them grew. In 1943, US Marines attacked Mexicans (and anyone else wearing zoot suits, including large numbers of Filipinos and blacks). Some of the hostility that led to the Zoot Suit Riots was fanned by LA officials. In the trial for the previous year's Sleepy Lagoon Murder trial, E. Duran Ayres (the chief of the Foreign Relations Bureau of the Los Angeles sheriff's office) testified as an expert witness that Mexicans as a community had a "blood thirst" and a "biological predisposition" to crime and killing due to their Aztec ancestry. 

Low Rider   East Los Angeles Car Mural

Lowrider culture began in East LA. In 1958, the passage of California Vehicle Code 24008 outlawed lowriding. As a result, a customizer named Ron Aguirre developed a way of bypassing the law with the use of hydraulics. Although the word "lowrider" wasn't yet used, in 1964, East LA's Imperials car club got parade permits to allow them to cruise Whittier Boulevard between Eastern and Atlantic.

Brown Berets

At the same time, East LA was at the heart of the Chicano rights movement in the 1960s. El Movimiento began in the 1940s, when "chicano" was still considered derogatory. By the 1960s, chicanismo was embraced as a symbol of ethnic pride and chicano rock, literature, theatre and art flourished in East LA and other Mexican communities. In 1966, a group of East LA high school students formed the Young Citizens for Community Action. In 1967, they founded East LA's Piranya Coffee House and changed their name to the Brown Berets. In 1969, they began distributing their own newspaper, La Causa. That same year, Wayne Alaniz Healy, David Rivas Botello, Jose Luis Gonzalez and Juan Gonzalez started the first Chicano art studio, the still extant Goez Art Studio.

In 1970, LA Times columnist Rubén Salazar was killed by a sheriff's deputy during the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War while he had a drink at The Silver Dollar Café, 4945 E. Whittier Boulevard. Salazar's killing was ruled a homicide but his killer was never prosecuted. His killing was commemorated in a corrido by famed East LA transplant Lalo Guerrero, with "La tragedia del 29 de Agosto."

East LA home

In the following decade, a variety of factors, including gang activity, led to many upwardly mobile East LA residents moving to destinations in Orange County, the San Fernando Valley, the San Gabriel Valley, and SELACO. East LA's culture has continued to thrive nonetheless. Self Help Graphics & Art was begun in a garage in the early 1970s and continues to operate today. The muralist arts collective East Los Streetscapers by Wayne Alaniz Healy and David Rivas Botello began in 1975.

Latino Walk of Fame     Latino Walk of Fame

Today, East LA remains the heart of Mexican Los Angeles. In 1997, the Latino Walk of Fame was installed along the sidewalks of Whittier Blvd. The East L.A. Classic Theatre is the nation's' only Latino youth-targeting Shakespearean company. There's also the Josie Neglia Dance Academy. The neighborhood is still also served by the Los Angeles Music and Art School (LAMusArt), which was founded in 1945 by educator Pearle Irene Odell and moved to its present location in 1967.

Whittier Boulevard Shopping District

The heart of East LA is the shopping district along Whittier Boulevard, which is filled with a variety of businesses and crowds of people.

Ruben Salazar Park Mural

Other points of note in East LA include several parks: Atlantic Avenue Park, City Terrace County Park, Eugene A. Obregon Park and Ruben F. Salazar Memorial Park.

La Tia East Los Angeles    Que Ricos Mariscos!

No visit to East LA is complete without a visit to a restaurant. Rocky and I enjoyed a delicious meal at La Tia. Other options to consider include Alvarez Bakery, Boulevard Cafe, Chronis Famous Sandwich Shop, Chung King Cafe, Diana's Bakery, Eastside Deli, La Estrella, Fish Taco Express, Full House Buffet, El Gallo Bakery,  Gallo's Grill, Happy Bakery, King Taco, Little China Express, Little Mexico Seafood, Lolita's Tortilleria, Lulu's Bakery, Mi Tierra, Nick's Burgers, Olympic Donuts, Pizza Man, El Pollon Peruvian Restaurant, Porky's, Pronto Pizza, El Rancho Alegre, Raspado Express, La Ronda, Sandras & Lolitas Tamales, El Siete Mares, Sonora Pizza & Bakery, Super Taco, Tacos Baja Encenada, Tacos Cuernavaca, Tacos Jalisco by Angel, Tacos Mexico, Tamales Liliana, Taqueria La Que Si Llena, Texas Donuts, Thai Daily Bar BBQ, La Tiendita, Tila's Kitchen, Tortas Ahogadas El Guero, Troy Drive In,  2 For 1 Pizza and Zacatecas Raspados. If you feel like drinks or pool, there's Boulevard Bar, Cal Cafe & Billares, California Tiki Club, Ericka's Place, Hi-D-Hi Tavern, Lorena's Bar, Memo's Place and Tu y Yo Bar.

East LA has a rich musical history, including way more than just Motley Crue's mention in the song "Wildside." A walk around the neighborhood will inevitably include crossing paths with wandering guitarists and accordionists. East LA had a vibrant music scene that drew chicano artists from various areas to play venues like Lalo Guerrero's Eastside Nightclub, Kennedy Hall, Rudy's Past House and Vex.

Performers from East LA include Black Eyed Peas, Cannibal & the Headhunters, Hope Sandoval, J-vibe, Kid Frost, Los Lobos, Louie Perez, Luis Villegas, Quetzal, Suzanna Guzman, Taboo, The Bags, The BlazersThee MidnitersThee Undertakers, and Tierra.

Rap label Dragon Mob Records was established in East LA in 2002.

East Los Angeles Swap Meet

There are still several stores, swap meet stalls and sidewalk vendors peddling various Spanish language artists.

Black Wax Records East LA     Black Wax Records

In 2010, Black Wax Records opened, focusing primarily on punk and featuring live performances by newer East LA bands like Skeptical Youth.

Many films and a few TV shows have been filmed or set, in part or in whole, in East Los Angeles, including: The Magnificent Amebersons (1942), the TV series Emergency! (1972), the series Chico and the Man (1974), Rocky (1976), Boulevard nights (1979), The Hunter (1980), Breakin' 2 - Electric Boogaloo (1984), Born in East L.A. (1987), Stand & Deliver (1988), The Rookie (1990), American Me (1992), My Family (1995), the series Resurrection Blvd (2000), Crazy/Beautiful (2001), the series American Family (2002), Real Women Have Curves (2002), El Padrino (2004), Havoc (2005), Huge Naked Guy (2006), El Muerto (2007), The Devil's Tomb (2009), Drive by Chronicles - Sidewayz (2009). East LA is also the birthplace of actor/director Edward James Olmos.

The Golden Gate Theater heyday    Golden Gate Theater Today

The most famous theater in East LA is the historic Golden Gate Theater, a Spanish Baroque Revival Churrigueresque-style theater built in 1927. When the movie palace opened, the 1,345 seat theater showed silent films. By the 1970s, it was showing movies with Spanish subtitles and Spanish Language movies (as was The Unique Theater, down the street). It closed in 1986 and is now rumored to be the future home of a drug store. All of the structures have been demolished except the auditorium, although there are efforts to restore this amazing site to its former glory.

A less celebrated East Angeles architectural jewel is The Tamale

The Big Tamale then     The Tamale today


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