California Fool's Gold -- A Mideast Side Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 16, 2011 05:00pm | Post a Comment
As regular (and probably irregular) readers of Eric's Blog know, I'm a bit of a Southern California wonk and a big part of my focus is writing about the culture, character and history of the many diverse communities of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Although so far there have been around 800 votes from readers, I thought it would be fun (and hopefully entertaining) to focus on the regions and provide a brief summary of the districts within with the hope of encouraging informed voting. In this entry I'd like to focus on the Mideast Side.

Los Angeles' Mideast Side

The Mideast Side describes the region between the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, Midtown, South LA, Downtown and Northeast LA. It includes a stretch of neighborhoods west of the LA river between the peaks of Griffith Park and downtown, in other words, Angeleno Heights, the Byzantine-Latino Quarter, Crown Hill,  Echo Park, Elysian Heights, Elysian Park, Franklin Hills,  Historic FilipinotownFrogtown, Los Feliz, Pico-Union, Silver Lake, Solano Canyon, Temple-Beaudry,  Victor Heights, and Westlake.

It's not apparently a widely-recognized concept yet. Think about it though, doesnt "Mideast Side" provide a nice compliment to its sort of cross-Central-counterpart, Mid-City West? If you like, there is a Mideast Side Facebook group, a Mideast Side art print (from Echo Park's 1650 Gallery), a Mideast Side T-Shirt, a Mideast Side Foursquare page, and an online Mideast Side Primer.

Mideast Side  Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Mideast Side
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's 2nd and 3rd editions of the Mideast Side maps (2nd edition sold)

Hollywood secessionists want to claim parts of the Mideast for their town, all the local gangs represent the Westside (since it's on the LA River's west bank, not east), the cops consider parts of it to be in the Northeast Division, downtowners and developers claim parts of it as Central City West, and the LA Times covers it under Central Los Angles -- which it is, along with Hollywood and Midtown


NORTH CENTRAL - Some have suggested the region "North Central," "the West Bank," or "the Near East" but none of those have ever really taken off. For one, "North Central," while meant to be a counterpart to South Central, ignores the fact that South Central's name refers it's being centered along South Central Avenue, not south of Central LA. North Central Avenue, for the record, goes through Glendale -- not any of these neighborhoods.

THE NEAR EASTSIDE - I sort of like the sound of "The Near Eastside" but it's geographically relativist. It's only nearer if the user is from the Westside, Hollywood or Midtown, really. If one is in the actual Eastside, the "Near Eastside" is really the "Near Westside" ...which actually has more precedent. The neighborhood of Westlake was named as such to compliment Lincoln Heights, which used to be known as Eastlake although aside from gang members, few consider all of Los Angeles lying west of the river to be part of the Westside, since the city has expanded quite a bit further west over the years.

THE WEST BANK - "The West Bank," of course, will forever be associated with Israel and the Palestinian territory. Imagine the results you'd get if you were trying to Google a decent mechanic or restaurant in the West Bank? Your Central Los Angeles results wouldn't even make the top 10,000. 

THE EASTSIDE - There are noobs who call The Mideast "The Eastside." There are also people who call whales "fish," and don't know the difference between "there," "their," and "they're." Don't be one of them. Whereas the Westside has moved further west over the years, the Eastside hasn't moved east since El Sereno was annexed a century ago. The Eastside, then, refers still to those Los Angeles neighborhoods that lie EAST of the Los Angeles River. If you want to read about The Eastside, click here. End of discussion!


So now that we're in agreement, let's move on. The Mideast Side is a region of varied neighborhoods, with working class populations dominating the southern end and richie riches in the northern hills. It has especially large populations of Armenians, Chinese, Filipinos, Guatemalans, Mexicans and Salvadorans. And now a little about these neighborhoods. 


Angeleno Heights

One of the oldest neighborhoods in LA, Angeleno Heights has a number of absolutely beautiful Craftsman and Victorian homes. It used to have four grocery stores but three have been converted to residences. To read more about Angeleno Heights, click here.


Byzantine-Latino Quarter


The Byzantine-Latino Quarter is a small district within Pico-Union. Historically it was nicknamed Greek Town due to a concentration of Greek residents and businesses. Although few Greeks live in the area today, St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral still draws Greek churchgoers since its founding around 1908. The Greek immigrants were largely refugees of war, poverty and political oppression at home. Many of the newer immigrants were fleeing similar situations in their homelands and nowadays the area is home to large numbers of Zapotecs, Mixtecs, Guatemalans, Nicaraguans, Salvadorans and Hondurans. To read more about the Byzantine-Latino Quarter, click here.


Echo Park Lake

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. To read more about Echo Park, click here.


Room 8 the Cat

Elysian Heights, along with park of Echo Park and Silver Lake, used to be part of the historic Edendale neighborhood. It was nicknamed Red Hill for the large numbers of commies that lived there. It was also home to Room 8 the Cat, the most famous cat in the country during his storied lifetime. Oh yeah, the Baxter Stairs, the longest in LA, can also be found there.

Elysian Park

Elysian Park is LA's oldest and second largest park and still includes a few homes within its border. It used to be the location of Little Mexico (Chavez Ravine) but that was torn down and replaced with Dodger Stadium. It's the home of LA's Police Academy. During the day it's popular with joggers, lowriders, footballers, BBQers, piñata-smashers, etc. At night it's popular with dudes on the DL.


Elysian Valley

Elysian Valley
is a tiny neighborhood sandwiched between the LA River and the 5 Freeway. The community was first known as Gopher Flats around 1900, when it was established for railroad workers. It got its nickname of Frogtown in the 1930s. Back before the river was flood controlled, there were thousands of Western Toads (not frogs) that invaded the neighborhood, with the last wave occuring in the 1970s. To read more about Elysian Valley, click here.


Shakespeare Bridge

Franklin Hills is a small, mostly residential neighborhood that was once a big part of the American film industry. It was home to both Vitagraph Studios (later Warner Brothers) and the one time homes of Roy and Walt Disney, whose first two studios were located nearby. Its most recognized feature is the Shakespeare Bridge, built over the covered Sacatela Creek. Also below the bridge is the only campus designed by John Lautner, the Midtown School. To read more about Franklin Hills, click here.


Griffith Park

Griffith Park is LA's largest park (more than five times the size of New York's Central Park). It's home to Griffith Observatory, the Greek Theatre, Bronson Canyon, Wilson Golf Course and the LA Zoo. To those that say, "it's a park, not a neighborhood," I say, get your own blog!" (Also, I'm not sure where the park's western edge ends and the Hollywood Hills begin.)


Historic Filipinotown Mural

Also known as Hi-Fi and P-Town, Historic Filipinotown (and the surrounding area) is home to some 30,000 Pinoy -- more than in any other part of the Southland outside of Long Beach. It's home to many Filipino institutions including the Filipino Christian Church, the Pilipino Workers Center, the Filipino American Community of Los Angeles, the Filipino American Service Group, the Search to Involve Philipino Americans, the Philipino American Network and Advocacy, Filipinas World Travel, the Filipino American Library, Philipino American Comm-LA, a Filipino WWII Veterans Memorial, Bahay Kubo Natin, Kabayan Pinoy, Little Ongpin, Nanay Gloris and Bahay Kubo. To read more about P-Town, click here. 


The Rowena Reservoir

When tour guides and websites write about Los Feliz they tend to throw around words like "young," “funky,” “hip” and “trendy." In reality, it's a largely Armenian neighborhood with a median age of 36. It's not the first time the media image of an LA neighborhood has had practically nothing to do with reality. It's the first home of Walt Disney studios and the current home of Glenn Danzig. To read more about Los Feliz, click here


Pico-Union is the youngest and least diverse neighborhood in the Mideast Side, with small minorities of Asian, white and black, and a median age of 27. It used to be heavily Jewish but today nearly everyone in the neighborhood is Mexican or Salvadoran although Guatemalans, Hondurans and Nicaraguans are increasingly calling the neighborhood home, often fleeing from the violence that results from America's Central American misadventures.


Silver Lake Los Angeles

Although two thirds of Silver Lake residents are Asian or Latino, the media and haters (to whom Asians and Latinos are apparently invisible) invariably characterize its residents as obnoxious, disgustingly-garbed, white trustafarian hipsters. In the hills and around the reservoir are some great examples of modernist architecture. Also, don't make an ass of yourself and spell it as one word. To read more about Silver Lake, click here


Solano Canyon

Solano Canyon is a tiny neighborhood nestled in the southern part of Elysian Park and bordering Chinatown to the south. The heart of the neighborhood is San Conrado Catholic Mission. It's a tight-knit community with its own community garden that's almost completely residential and a bit like Rivendell except when Dodger games are on and traffic chokes its few streets.


 Saint Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church Sunset Heights

Sunset Heights is home to the bar The Short Stop, where hoards of authenticity-seeking bridge and tunnel slummers bafflingly queue up on weekends just to pack a nice but unremarkable dive. Same for Little Joy Jr. It's also home to the Tom of Finland Foundation and the beautiful Saint Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Church.



I'm not sure why Temple-Beaudry warrants designation as a separate neighborhood but I'm glad it is. I'm pretty sure it's synonymous with Colton Hill, on which is located. The tiny neighborhood boasts Show Cave, Dinner House M [now gone], the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre, the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles, Vista Hermosa Park and some freakishly hideous architecture.  


Everett Park in Figueroa Terrace

Victor Heights is named after Victor Beaudry and was historically home to many Croatians and Italians. It's home to the Subliminal Projects Gallery and Party Bus Los Angeles, this hillside neighborhood is situated on a steep hill that overlooks Elysian Park. Separated from Chinatown's Alpine Hill by the 101 freeway, many of the residents are Chinese-American and the street signs are written in English and Chinese (sometimes by hand). It's also terrorized by peacocks.


MacArthur Park in Westlake

derives its name from the lake in what is now MacArthur Park. Westlake's eastside counterpart was Eastlake Park in Lincoln Heights, which was re-named Lincoln Park back in 4-2. Once home to a wealthy white population, after the destruction of Bunker Hill and Chavez Ravine, many Mexicans moved to the area. It's now increasingly home to Guatemalans, Oaxacans and Salvadorans.
To vote for Mideast Side or other Los Angeles neighborhoods to be the subject of blog entries, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here


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Westlake (2), Silver Lake (10), Sunset Heights (1), Los Feliz (3), Central Los Angeles (18), Solano Canyon (2), Temple-beaudry (1), Franklin Hills (2), Elysian Valley (2), Elysian Heights (2), Elysian Park (1), Echo Park (12), Angeleno Heights (1), The Byzantine-latino Quarter (1), Los Angeles (181), Mideast Side (12), Los Angeles Neighborhoods (70), Los Angeles Primer (21), California Fool's Gold (112), Victor Heights (2), Pico-union (3), Griffith Park (1), Historic Filipinotown (2)