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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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