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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Happy Valley

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 5, 2013 10:56am | Post a Comment
BETWEEN OLYMPUS AND PARADISE

There are at least four places in California named Happy Valley. This blog entry is about the small neighborhood on Los Angeles’s EastsideTo vote for other Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Orange County communities and neighborhoods, vote here






The first time I became aware of a place in Los Angeles called Happy Valley was after glancing at an online map. I ascertained that it was apparently located somewhere in the vicinity of Montecito Heights, an area of Los Angeles that strikes me as one of the most obscure areas of the city. One day whilst driving down the Arroyo Seco Parkway (when it was still the Pasadena Freeway) I caught sight of a couple of Victorian structures which I turned off the road to see -- only to find that it was Heritage Square, a sort of living history museum in Montecito Heights. Another time, passing through a scenic cut and cresting a hill along Monterey Road I entered a small, secluded village... but that turned out to be Hermon.

It wasn’t until I was house (and dog and cat) sitting in El Sereno last year that I caught site of a Happy Valley neighborhood sign on Lincoln Park Avenue, just north of Broadway. When I found myself resuming my responsibilities in El Sereno last month, I decided to explore as many neighborhoods of the Eastside as I could. Together, Dooley (the dog) and I rambled through Arroyo View Estates, East Los Angeles, El Sereno, City Terrace, Garvanza, Hermon, Highland Park, Hillside Village, Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Rose Hill, University Hills, and on the final day, Happy Valley


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Happy Valley -- my first water color and bird's eye... go easy on me



Most Angelenos have likely never heard of Happy Valley. Not being in the Westside, Central Los Angeles, or Downtown it’s completely off the radar of most Los Angeles media. If people have heard of Happy Valley, there’s a good chance that they’re either associated with the neighborhood gang’s enemies (i.e. Eastlake Locos, East Side Clover, 18 Street, or El Sereno Rifa) or fans of Charles Fleming’s book, Secret Stairs.


Mural of Mary in Happy Valley dating from the 1970s (at least) -- The Jesus is newer


Walk #10 of that book involves walking along the public stairways and stair streets of Montecito Heights and Happy Valley (difficulty rating 5 out of 5) and it seems that numerous bloggers have undertaken it (e.g. Climbing LA, Postcards from Beverly, stairwalkinginla, and probably others). The story of a couple of Happy Valley murals was also told by LA Bloga in a piece that includes some great photos.


HAPPY VALLEY CHARACTER

Looking down Happy Valley along Lincoln Park Avenue from the hillside

Happy Valley emerges from the southern face of Montecito Heights around the north end of Sierra Street, just north of Glen Alta Elementary. From there it continues south between Paradise Hill on the east and Mount Olympus II (locally known as Flattop or Flat Top) on the west before opening up into a flat area at Broadway.


Paradise Hill from Happy Valley

To the south is Lincoln Heights proper – specifically the Lincoln Heights Business District. Happy Valley is often considered to be a barrio of Lincoln Heights yet on many maps it’s included within Montecito Heights.


Montecito Heights neighborhood sign at Happy Valley's north end


View of Downtown Los Angeles from Happy Valley


The population of Happy Valley today is 79% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 13% white, and 6% Asian (mostly Chinese). In the hours that I spent walking around, nearly everyone that I encountered appeared to be part of one of those populations and the languages that I heard, in addition to English, were Spanish and Chinese. There were some white Anglos in the north end of the valley.


EARLY HISTORY

Southern California was inhabited by humans as many as 13,000 years ago. Roughly 3,500 years ago the ancestors of the Tongva arrived in the Los Angeles Basin. The area that includes Happy Valley is located between the sites of two Tongva villages, Yaanga to the west and Otsunga to the east. In 1769, the first Europeans passed through the area, led by Gaspar de Portolà on behalf of Spanish Conquest. In 1771 they established Mission San Gabriel Arcángel ten kilometers east. In 1781 the Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles was established four kilometers to the west. Per the Laws of the Indies, the Pueblo’s lands included four square leagues of land, including what’s now Happy Valley.


MEXICAN AND EARLY AMERICAN ERA

Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821. Los Angeles was thus a Mexican city until 1848, when the US conquered California. In 1850, Los Angeles incorporated. The lands east of the Los Angeles River that now include Happy Valley remained relatively undeveloped until 1874, when then city health inspector and county coroner Dr. John S. Griffin and his nephew, Hancock Johnston, began selling lots to new homeowners in what was then called East Los Angeles.

Detail of Pierce’s Los Angeles Birdseye View showing Lincoln Heights and Happy Valley (1894)*


In 1886, most of what’s now known as Happy Valley was developed as the Ela Hills tract. The sale of new lots was announced in the 14 March edition of the Los Angeles Herald. The small, folk Victorian homes from that era still dominate the neighborhood, although they’re joined today by not-as-old crackerboxes and the expected assortment of stuccoed houses and apartments. The lots and homes situated on them are quite small. Many of the first inhabitants of them were immigrants from Germany.


Lincoln Heights was renamed Eastlake in 1901 and Lincoln Park in 1917. There’s still a small park nearby on Eastlake Avenue called Ela Park as a reminder of its earlier identity. During that period, many Italian and Mexican-Americans moved to the neighborhood. However, as business flourished along Downey Avenue (now Broadway), Happy Valley seems to have remained a fairly isolated, mostly residential neighborhood.

Victorian home behind a home that appears to have been a shop


Happy Valley apartment complex



HAPPY VALLEY TRANSIT

detail of Electric car and bus routes in L.A. (1934)*

From 1901 until 1963, the Los Angeles Railway’s yellow cars traveled down Downey and Lincoln Park Avenue (originally Prichard Street). Today the area is served by Metro 252 and the DASH Lincoln Heights/Chinatown lines.


ABRAHAM LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL




In the 1910s, a department store, library, bank, movie studio, and hospital all operated nearby in Lincoln Heights. In 1913, Avenue 21 Grammar School moved to the current site of Abraham Lincoln High School at the mouth of Happy Valley. Before the completion of the new building, the students and faculties met across the street and up the hill on the former mansion property of Charles Woolwine.

Lincoln High has a long list of famous and locally notable alumni. The great architect Gregory Ain, who designed Silver Lake’s Avenel Homes and Mar Vista's Mar Vista Housing went there. Another alumnus is Gaylord Carter,an organist who accompanied silent films in at Inglewood’s Seville Theatre, Downtown Los Angeles’s Million Dollar Theatre, Grauman's Metropolitan, and others. He also played organ on old time radio shows including Suspense and The Whistler. Former Black Panther leader and author Eldrige Cleaver attended Lincoln too. In 1978’s Soul on Fire he referred to Happy Valley as “one of these old, proud Chicano communities.” Lincoln was also attended by modern dancer José Limón as well as several film folks including directors John Huston and Moctesuma Esparza; and actors Jeanette Nolan, John Conte, John Doucette, Robert Preston, and Robert Young.


HAPPY VALLEY RIFA

From 1910 until 1920, many Mexican refugees from the Mexican Revolution moved to Los Angeles, joining those who already settled in barrios like SonoratownDogtown, the Flats (in Boyle Heights), Alpine (in Victor Heights), Belvedere Gardens and Maravilla Park (in East Los Angeles), and Happy Valley. Some of the young pachucos of these neighborhoods coalesced into neighborhood clubs, including Happy Valley.

Happy Valley Rifa tagged pay phone!

When the US entered World War II in 1941, many men of fighting age went off to war – in many cases never to return. Not coincidentally, the barrio cliques comprised of young teenagers morphed into street gangs. Around the same time, many Italian-Americans moved east to San Gabriel Valley towns including Rosemead, San Gabriel, and Temple City. In 1946, Beatrice Griffith referred to Happy Valley in her novel American Me, when it first appeared in serialized form in Louis Adamic’s magazine Common Ground two years before it was published as a book. 


Happy Valley Rifa 1975

Whatever you think of gangs, it does seem to me that in the decades when many Angelenos seemed to aspire to suburban anonymity, disassociation, and interchangeable placelessness, street gangs were probably the most visible expressions of neighborhood identity. I’m not suggesting that would-be community boosters join gangs – I can think of better ways of showing your neighborhood pride than warring with rival gang members – but they do historically keep the flame of neighborhood pride burning when others turn their backs. While not exactly an ancient pictograph, seeing a Happy Valley placa dated “1975” on a sidewalk is kind of cool (and way more permanent and less ugly than a spraypaint tag, I might add).


RETURN TO HAPPY VALLEY

Los Angeles was torn apart by riots in 1992. It seems that afterwards one of the ways people sought to heal the wounds was to re-embrace the notion of community. In 1993, the LA DOT began installing the now-familiar neighborhood signs around the city, in many cases reviving forgotten identities on what had become huge, faceless swathes of land (often in South Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, and Midtown). In 1995 Happy Valley was officially recognized when the blue sign went up amid fears that it would trigger a negative response from Happy Valley Rifa’s enemies but nothing of the sort seems to have happened. Instead, it just put Happy Valley back on the map… even if it is still hard to find.


VISITING HAPPY VALLEY

Happy Valley today is overwhelmingly residential, possibly more so now than ever. In fact, there are several residences that appear to have formerly served as stores. There are very few non-residential buildings in the neighborhood today. 


Pomona Market


Apparently the building that houses Pomona Market was constructed in 1922. It is one of several liquor stores in Los Angeles with a sign claiming that it sells the coldest beer in the city. While good beers taste best at a range of temperatures, macroswills are less disgusting the closer they are to freezing. 

Fernando Auto Repair doesn’t even show up in any directories that I saw. I can assure you, however, that it’s there if you need it, housed in a structure constructed in 1946.


Iglesia en el Valle


Iglesia en la Valle seems to have become the current inhabitant of this church (constructed in 1939) much more recently, in 1984.

Near the north end of the neighborhood is Glen Alta Elementary, which opened in 1965.

There was business taking place elsewhere – it was Small Business Saturday after all. A man in a football (soccer) jersey played salsa music from his van and presided over an listless sidewalk sale. Down the street, at a house flying the flag of Texas, a group of women set up some tables and chairs. Having recently dined in the garage of a private residence in El Sereno that sells Mexican food on Sundays I thought that maybe something similar was going to happen here but no food was served during the time of my visit. There were other sidewalk and yard sales too but for the most part it was a pretty relaxed valley.

At one point Dooley and I just stopped, looked, smelled and listened. Ranchera music seemed to drift from a house to the south. A car passed us playing the Young Rascals’ 1967 hit “Groovin’.”

 




In the other direction (in more sense than one), another vehicle passed bumping merengue. A cloud of weed smoke floated in from the east. Meanwhile, the crowing of roosters echoed throughout the valley – as did the barking of dogs. In fact, I’m pretty sure that Happy Valley is the doggiest neighborhood in Los Angeles – perhaps five times doggier than even El Sereno (which I’d previously thought was the doggiest neighborhood).


Looking up the staircase at the north end of Lincoln Park Avenue

The people of Happy Valley may be friendly (I counted four “hellos,” one “buenos dias, and one “good morning”) but the dogs almost invariably seem insane. Nearly every small yard seemed to either be patrolled by a Pitbull and Chihuahua combination or the five small dogs variety pack. Dooley and I had pretty tense confrontations with three dogs (two of them rather large) that simply squeezed through the gates of their yards to nip and bark at us. None of them actually bit us, however. 

Not all of the homes were being used as minimum security dog kennels. There was also quite a lot of front and back yard gardening too. Especially prominent and surprising to me were the many banana trees, which provide shade, privacy, and best of all, bananas with actual flavor (unlike the supermarket ones suitable only as smoothie filler). Besides getting your hands dirty doing something besides maintaining a silly, thirsty, green grass carpet, gardening can yield unexpected rewards. It was on the side of Flat Top above Happy Valley in 1984 that a whale skeleton was discovered when one Mr. F. W. Maley uncovered vertebrae whilst digging in irrigation trench on for Ms. L.W. Blevins’s orchard.

*****

If you know of any musicians, filmmakers or other creative individuals from Happy Valley, please let me know in the comments. And please share your stories, knowledge, and experiences involving Happy Valley. There’s so little official history of this neighborhood so I’m relying on readers to help flesh it out. There is no Wikipedia article and it’s not even included as a neighborhood in the LA TimesMapping LA project.

*image source for both map detail: The Big Map Blog

*****


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California Fool's Gold -- An Eastside Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 30, 2011 04:11pm | Post a Comment

ACROSS THE RIVER -- THE EASTSIDE

People are weird about Los Angeles' Eastside/Westside thing. The same wannabes from Midtown, HollywoodSilver Lake and Echo Park that throw up "W" hand signs and exaggeratedly say, "West-side" when they're ironically enjoying rap music are the same jerks that claim, despite the fact that they live in Central Los Angeles, that they live on The Eastside. If you call them on it, they usually claim that the real Eastside (the communities east of the Los Angeles River) are all East Los Angeles -- which is incorrect but more likely a sign that they've never been to the region that they claim -- and not some willful act of subterfuge. 


THE OTHER EASTSIDE 


To be fair to these noobs, ill-informed Westsiders, transplants, and weirdos who insist on dividing the entire city or county into just two regions (I count 20) -- there is more than one Eastside... sort of. The other Eastside is sometimes referred to as the Black Eastside (even though it's currently mostly Latino) and has a long claim to the Eastside name. To many black Angelenos and South Los Angeles residents,  the traditional division between the Eastside and Westside is the 110 freeway (and before that freeway's existence, Main Street).  However, when "The Eastside" is used in this respect, it's implied (and usually understood) that one is talking about the Eastside of South Los Angeles.


THEE EASTSIDE

Outside of South LA, the communities east of the Los Angeles River have historically been considered The Eastside -- communities like Atwater Village, Boyle Heights, Brooklyn Heights, City Terrace, Cypress Park, El Sereno, Garvanza, Glassell Park, Happy Valley, Highland Park, Hillside Village, Montecito Heights, Mount Washington, Rose Hill, Tropico,  and yes, East Los Angeles (which, of course, isn't actually part of the City of Los Angeles). I'm not sure why, but Eagle Rock seems to be alone in Los Angeles neighborhoods ever considered to be part of the Eastside -- but I could be wrong. Maybe its because even long after its annexation by Los Angeles it still feels like its own municipality (perhaps because it still has its own city hall).


NELA's SECESSION FROM THE EASTSIDE

An Arroyo Seco regional affiliation distinct from that of the Eastsdie  first began to emerge in the 19th Century when the river and surrounding hills were home to a handful of later-annexed-by-Los-Angeles communities. It was only around the 1970s, however, that a separate Northeast Los Angeles (NELA) identity began to emerge that was referred to thus. It seems that eager to disassociate themselves with the negative associations of "the Eastside" (gangs, barrios, working class Latinos, &c), homeowners, real estate developers, and others jumped on board the NELA bandwagon in the 1980s and it NELA became a widely accepted and popular identity. In fact, I've found examples of people claiming every single Los Angeles neighborhood traditionally considered to be part of the Eastside to be part of NELA at some point or other -- leaving me wondering what they think that the Eastside is!


RE-APPROPRIATION OF THE EASTSIDE

Jump ahead twenty years and a new crop of developers began to market the very things the previous generation had shunned (albeit with a different vocabulary) as selling points of a new Eastside -- albeit an Eastside now located on the west side of the river. As with the real Eastside, these neighborhoods were working class (authentic), gritty (less likely to receive city services), and primarily Latino... but also heavily (and historically) gay and more primed for gentrification than the real Eastside. Also, they didn't have a widely-recognized designation. Angeleno Heights, Echo Park, Elysian Heights, Elysian Park, Elysian Valley, Franklin Hills, Griffith Park, Historic Filipinotown, Los Feliz, Pico-Union, Silver Lake Solano Canyon, Victor Heights, and Westlake are located in Central Los Angeles along with Hollywood and Midtown but aren't really part of either. People will keep having East Side Mondays in Westlake, Taste of the Eastside in Hollywood, and call themselves Mr. Eastside Cool because they own venues in Silver Lake and Echo Park unless people inside and outside embrace an identifier. I favor the Mideast Side. If NELA can create an identity, so can the Mideast!


RE-RE-APPROPRIATION OF THE EASTSIDE



Justifiably annoyed that "the Eastside" was being pulled away first by NELA and then Central Los Angeles, many real Eastsiders continued to embrace The Eastside with a sense of pride. In the 2000s, some fought back by slapping up stickers around the west bank stating "THIS IS NOT THE EAST SIDE!." In my capacity as an explorer of Los Angeles neighborhoods I was asked, along with DJ Waldie, to speak on the issue on KCRW's Which Way, LA? (listen here). Someone from the station told us that we were to represent the Eastside. Waldie, a lifelong resident of Southeast Los Angeles who has famously written about Lakewoodand me, a longtime resident of the Mideast Side, both informed them that we weren't Eastsiders... which seemed to confuse the Westsiders on the other end.

Anyway, now that we're all clear...
 

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