California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Wilshire Park, Los Angeles's "Not Koreatown"

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 8, 2009 08:32pm | Post a Comment

This installment of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Blog concerns Wilshire Park. Vote here to vote in the Neighborhoods of Los Angeles Blog Poll (NLABP) and/or here for the Los Angeles County Community Blog Poll (LACCBP). To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Maps of Midtown and Wilshire Park

Wilshire Park is a small, Midtown  neighborhood whose borders are Olympic Blvd on the south, Crenshaw Blvd on the west, Wilshire Blvd on the north and Wilton Place on the east. Its desirable, central location and quaint charm has lead to various parties attempting to claim it for their benefit. Some residential realtors have extended the traditional use of the term “Westside” to the neighborhood, hoping to attach that area’s mostly white and affluent connotations to the neighborhood. Commercial interests have occasionally led to it being described as part of neighboring Koreatown, presumably with an eye on extending the bustling commercial center into the quiet neighborhood.
Wilshire Blvd suddenly gets quiet in Wilshire Park
Wilshire Park is almost completely residential. When entering the neighborhood from Koreatown to the east, one notices an almost complete halt in the Hangul signs, BBQ aroma and crowded shopping centers which immediately give way to several nondescript apartments and only a couple of equally nondescript businesses.

An attractive row of typical Wilshire Park homes
The bulk of the neighborhood is made up of a variety of architectural styles including American Craftsman, California Bungalow, Colonial Revival, Dutch Colonial, Mediterranean, Spanish Colonial and Victorian-Craftsman Transitional styles. The first home built in the neighborhood was in 1908 and most of the rest were built between the ‘10s and ‘30s. A number are listed as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Landmarks.

Although a few Wilshire Park residents have accepted the realities of California and thus xeriscaped their lawns, many of the homeowners attempted to transplant the appearance of where they’d come from to the area and a large number of the homes still feature rose gardens and lush, green lawns. If not for the palm trees, the large magnolias and oaks, the sycamore-shaded neighborhood could pass for somewhere in the Middle West.

              Doris Eaton                                            Helen Lee Worthing                                              Mildred Harris

Much of the neighborhood looks much as it must’ve in the silent film era, when it was home to many stars. Doris Eaton, Helen Lee Worthing, and Mildred Harris all lived there. In 1925, a chase scene in the Buster Keaton film, Seven Chances, took place at Olympic and Bronson.

Situated three miles south of downtown Hollywood and five miles west of downtown Los Angeles, the Mid-Wilshire area was in a prime position in the 1930s and it was at the peak of its association with the film industry, leading to the area being known as “The Upper East Side of the West Coast.” The Ambassador Hotel, the Brown Derby, the Cocoanut Grove club, Perino's and the Wiltern Theater were/are attractions which no doubt contributed to the association.

              Harry James                                Louise Tobin                         Joseph L. Mankiewicz                   Jules Dassin

In the pre-war era, the neighborhood was also home to bandleader Harry James and his wife, singer Louise Tobin, lived there as well as violinist Jan Rubini and screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Following World War II, the southland population largely moved to the suburbs. In the 1940s and '50s, though most of the Hollywood crowd had moved away from the city center, Wilshire Park was still home to several notables. Don McLaughlin, star of old time radio program Counterspy lived on Norton Avenue. Screenwriter/director Jules Dassin lived on Bronson.

In the 1960s, The Douglas Family house in My Three Sons was shot there (837 5th Ave). More recently, the neighborhood was a shooting location in Crossing Over.
Looking toward Olympic
The sometimes histrionic reaction to being lumped in with Koreatown could lead one to believe that the residents of Wilshire Park are living out their own cozy catastrophe, holding out against the widespread Koreanization of the Wilshire region. However, walking around the neighborhood it seems that a vast majority of the neighborhood's residents and businesses are themselves Korean. Olympic Blvd is Wilshire Park’s main commercial corridor and every business is Korean-owned and targeted, including Arirang, Chung Ki Wa, Kang Nam and many others.
                             A Buddhist Temple                                                                  A strange sign
In reality, Koreatown means more than simply Koreans; it means high-density high-rises (it’s the most crowded area in the Southland), LCD JumboTron billboards, traffic, filth and crime. Indeed, the concerns of Wilshire Park residents are hardly unwarranted. The Wilton Place border (where several scenes of 365 Nights In Hollywood were filmed) it shares with Koreatown is noticably more litter-strewn and nearly every crime in the neighborhood (mostly burglaries) takes place within a block of the street. For more on the neighborhood, go to the Wilshire Park Association's website or check their twitter page.

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRWWhich Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubiand Twitter.

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