California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Hermon

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 2, 2014 02:35pm | Post a Comment

Hermon and the deodars planted by the Arroyo Vista Woman's Club in memorium [sic] of Grace Ebey Reed

In the fall of 2012 I had a stint house-sitting in El SerenoI spent much of my time exploring that neighborhood with a dog named Dooley. This past fall I again returned to the Eastside and Dooley I resumed our epic walks. This time around we explored Arroyo View EstatesCity TerraceEast Los AngelesEl SerenoGarvanzaHappy Valley, Highland ParkHillside VillageLincoln HeightsMontecito HeightsMonterey HillsRose HillUniversity Hills, and on one late afternoon, Hermon.

More signs of Hermon

Hermon is a small neighborhood situated in a small valley between the neighborhood of Highland Park to the north and west, and the city of South Pasadena to the east. To the southeast is the neighborhood of Monterey Hills and to the southwest is the neighborhood of Montecito Heights. When the community of Hermon was just nine years old it was annexed by Los Angeles but more than a century later there are both Hermon residents and visitors who think of it as its own municipality. 

Detail of JR Prince's Territory Annexed to Los Angeles, 1781-1916 (source: Big Maps Blog)

The spirit of autonomy was supported even in the years after the community's absorption into a growing metropolis. A brochure from 1916 described Hermon as occupying “an ideal location, within the City of Los Angeles, but well removed from city vices and allurements.” In 1922 it formally joined Highland Park but its sense of separateness never seems to have vanished entirely. 

Hermon's small size, distance from "city vices and allurements," and independent streak seem to have kept it obscure. In fact, it's best known for being unknown. Take Kim Cooper and Richard Schave's podcast, You Can't Eat the Sunshine, for which the theme-song-singing Ukaladay caterwauls  of a “...long-lost neighborhood of Hermon between South Pas and Highland Park.” An LA Times article by Bob Pool referred to Hermon as “a corner of Los Angeles that time didn't forget but just about everyone else did.” Hermon doesn't even exist on Yelp or LA TimesMapping LA project. AOL doesn't have a Hermon Patch and there's no NextDoor page for it. Still, Hermon isn't exactly a lost civilization and its roughly 3,255 residents are hardly an uncontacted people.

As Dooley and I braved the streets of Hermon, we encountered no hostile natives (unless you count barking dogs). Quite the contrary, in fact -- as Dooley and I walked down Bushnell Way, our first encounter with one of the natives involved a pretty, smiling, Vietnamese woman clothed in the sort of exotic, stripy traditional garb one might get at H&M or Muji. When she said, "hello" (in English) it was with such disarming friendliness that for a split second I thought that she was either somehow expecting us or that we were already acquainted. 

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of Hermon

It actually turned out to be our only interaction with anyone in Hermon and although it hardly felt like we'd entered some fabled land of the lost, the neighborhood does have a discernible air of distinctness. For one there are more pick-up trucks per capita than one finds in most neighborhoods on this side of Angeles Forest -- there were even a couple of monster trucks. Hermon also smells clean and cedar-y... something I associate more with National Forests more than suburban corners of Los Angeles. There are quite a few stately deodars and sycamores and the barriers formed by the Repetto Hills and Arroyo Seco but they alone couldn't account for the sensation that we'd traveled quite a bit further than we actually had. 


The main physical barrier between the rest of Los Angeles and Hermon is the not-usually-very-imposing Arroyo Seco. Spanish for “dry stream,” the Arroyo Seco is a river with headwaters near Mount Wilson in Angeles Forest that passes between Altadena and La Cañada Flintridge before it becomes channelized, below Devil's Gate Dam and near the north end of Brookside Golf Course in Pasadena. After that it continues downward, sheathed in concrete, until it reaches the confluence with the Los Angeles River at the neighborhood confluences of Cypress Park, Elysian Park, Elysian Valley, and Lincoln Heights. A rather short stretch of the river is paralleled by the Arroyo Seco Bike Path, which currently begins in South Pasadena and continues south through Hermon to Debs Park where it ends. Hopefully that will someday be extended to entire the 40 kilometer length of the river (it's currently only about three kilometers long).


The earliest known inhabitants of the area that's now Hermon arrived there some 13,000 years ago. About 10,000 years later the ancestors of the Tongva arrived from the Sonoran Desert, ultimately establishing the villages of Otsungna nearby to the south and Hahamongna to the north. The Tongva reign ended shortly after Spaniard Gaspar de Portolà's overland expedition passed through the area in 1769, setting the stage for Spanish conquest. In 1771, the conquerors constructed Mission San Gabriel Arcángel, at first in Whittier Narrows. In 1776 the mission was moved to its present location in San Gabriel, eight kilometers to the east of what's now Hermon.  A few years later, in 1781, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles was founded the same distance away to the southwest. 

The area that now comprises Hermon was located just beyond the northeast corner of the land designated Los Angeles, in lands belonging to the nearby Mission. Spanish rule ended when Mexico achieved independence in 1821 and the mission holdings were subsequently secularized. Mexico's rule would prove even shorter than Spain's and ended in 1848 when California was conquered by the US. In 1850, California entered the union and Los Angeles incorporated as a city. 

By the turn of the 20th Century, the land that would become Hermon was proving to be a hard sell for its then-owner, Ralph Rogers, who'd successfully overseen developments in Eagle Rock, Garvanza, and Highland Park but was unable to find a buy of the isolated property that became even more isolated when the seasonal Arroyo Seco flooded. 


Photo of the 1913 Arroyo Seco flood (image source: Hermon, Los Angeles)

The floodplain's isolation was something of a selling point to Charles Bond Ebey, who'd moved to Los Angeles from Illinois in 1888 with the hope of improving his wife's health. Ebey was a reverend in the stern Free Methodist sect who sought to found a colony of likeminded folks. Rogers gave Ebey fourteen acres of land to build a seminary and 100 lots to sell to other Free Methodists. The newly established community was named Hermon after Mount Hermon (Senir in the Amorite tongue), the highest peak in what's now Syria.

Hermon in 1904 (image source: Hermon, Los Angeles)

Undated photo (late 1930s?) of Hermon looking south (image source: Hermon, Los Angeles)

Today, streets including Coleman Avenue, Ebey Avenue, Redfield Avenue, and Terrill Avenue still serve as reminders of the community's early leaders (J. Emory Coleman, Ebey, John Wesley Redfield, and Joseph Goodwin Terrill, respectively) who though they undoubtedly preached humility, apparently weren't above being honored through thoroughfares.


Hermon Community Church

The original Hermon Community Church congregation organized in 1903. It wasn't until 1910 that they got around to building their first church. The current Hermon Church building dates back to 1949. 

The original Hermon Church in 1921 (image source: Hermon, Los Angeles)


Los Angeles Free Methodist Seminary in 1920 (image source: Hermon, Los Angeles)

Los Angeles Free Methodist Seminary opened in 1904. In 1911, curriculum was expanded with the addition of junior college courses. In 1934, the school became Los Angeles Pacific College, a four year university. In 1965, the struggling school was absorbed by Azusa Pacific University and the campus was turned over to Pacific Christian High School, which evolved into Pacific Christian on the Hill, which closed in 2004. The campus is now leased to Los Angeles International Charter High School (LAICHS), which may or may not be connected to Bethesda Christian University. Trying to sort it out was taking to long and frankly not that interesting to me but I did notice a sign at the base of a hill that said something about it being the future site of Bethesda. 

Bushnell Way Elementary School

The other school in the neighborhood is Bushnell Way Elementary. It was originally known as The American School and judging from historic photos it apparently was housed in at least two school buildings. An attractive "new" building was constructed in 1935. If I have the story correctly, Rose Bushnell was the school's first principal and folks wanted to name the school after her but there was a rule against naming schools after living people (and Rose Bushnell was a living principal). Instead of waiting for Bushnell to die, they instead named a street after her and then the school after the street. 

Undated picture of kids playing outside the American School (image source: Hermon, Los Angeles)


The Hodel Residence (Tea House not in picture)

Hermon is full of charming homes including some of the modest kit homes that housed the community's first inhabitants. One of the more interesting and least modest houses in Hermon is the Hodel Residence. It was designed by Russian architect Alexander Zelenko in 1921 for two Ukrainian immigrants, banker George Hodel and his wife, Esther Leov. The two were notably also big supporters of the arts and friends with famed Romantic composer Sergei Rachmaninoff.

The couple's son, George Hill Hodel, Jr., was given the tea house in the back and later went on to be the suspect in several murders and of raping his daughter. In 2003, that Hodel's son, a former LAPD homicide detective published Black Dahlia Avenger; A Genius for Murder, alleging that his father wast the murderer of Elizabeth Short

I think it was around 2006 that I had the opportunity to poke around the whimsical mansion although I can't remember what the exact circumstances were. I seem to remember it needing a bit of love at the time but at some point around the same time it was designated a Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument.


Monterey Trailer Park

Just down the hill from the Hodel Residence is another residential development from the same era that's been designated a Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Monument -- the Monterey Trailer Park. The word "motel" (a portmanteau of "motor" and "hotel") was coined in 1925. Around 1923, Elmer Drummond (who operated a service station nearby) opened the Monterey Auto Camp in Hermon, a sort of motel precursor made possible as people were just beginning to undertake long road trips. Most if not all of the original ten cabins are gone -- replaced by mobile homes. 


In 1923, the Highland Park Branch of the Security Trust & Savings, Bank of Los Angeles published a short book titled The Five Friendly Valleys: The Story of Greater Highland Park. Hermon, the smallest of the "five friendly valleys," had forsaken its own identity (as had the communities of Annandale, Garvanza, Sycamore Grove, and York Valley) to band together as the Greater Highland Park Association (GHPA), hoping that in doing so the area would gain clout. Although as a result most people came to think of all of those neighborhoods as Highland Park, decades later some would be revived as growing numbers of Angelenos began increasingly rejecting anonymity and embracing history and community. 


Hermon Car Wall

Hermon's third Historic Cultural monument is an interesting piece of folk art, the so-called Hermon Car Wall. Iowa-born Albert Emmanuel Sederquist moved to Los Angeles in 1926, taking up residence in the Cadillac Hotel. He worked for Carmichael Traffic Corporation, the LA Traffic Bureau, and apparently owned six cars. In 1932 he bought a piece of property he called "The Dugout" in Hermon which he used as a campground and to go a little John Muir now and then. With the aid of a nephew, he built a rather tall retaining wall out of car parts, bricks takend from the rubble a schoolhouse felled by the Long Beach Earthquake, and regular old cement. The wall was completed in 1941 and Sederquist died in 1959. In recent years, gravity seems to have gotten the upper hand but it's still an interesting site and not entirely dissimilar to Simon Rodia's much better known Watts Towers -- built during the same period and the only other piece of folk art on the monument list. The address given, the intersection of Pullman and Lodge, is not especially helpful because both are only "paper streets" -- streets that exist only on maps but that no one got around to actually making happen. Therefore, the easiest way to find the wall is to head up what appears to be a shared driveway stretching uphill and southwest from Terrill Avenue.


Avenue 60 Bridge

Hermon may've become part of Highland Park on paper in 1922 but in reality it remained largely isolated (except from South Pasadena) until the Avenue 60 bridge over the Arroyo Seco was constructed in 1926. The so-called Monterey Road Pass (also known as "The Great Wall of Hermon" or "The Cut" to some locals) was cut through the hills to the south in 1930 and is, in my mind, the most scenic way to enter the neighborhood. Hermon Avenue Bridge was constructed in 1939. 

Monterey Road Pass


Around the same time, Hermon resident Claude Watson (a Free Methodist lawyer) ran for office on theClaude Watson Prohibition buttonProhibition ticket. The Prohibition Party (PRO) is the oldest third party in the US and is still trying to make alcohol illegal. In the 2012 presidential election, the PRO presidential candidate even received 519 votes. In 1935, two years after Prohibition's repeal, Watson ran as Vice President in support of D. Leigh Colvin and the two received 37,667 votes. He ran for president on the same party ticket in 1944 and '48, receiving 103,489 votes in the latter, more successful election -- only 24 million fewer votes than Truman. Although deed restrictions that kept the town dry for decades have been lifted for even more, there are still zero bars, nightclubs, taverns, or any other sorts of watering holes in Hermon so in a sense, it's still a dry town (although as far as I known you can buy alcohol at the market and possibly the 76 station).


The old Lyons Gas Station

Lyons Gas Station back in the 1950s (image source: Hermon, Los Angeles)

It's not a recognized Historic Cultural Monument but I happen to be a fan of old service stations. Lyons Gas Station was built in 1953. It's currently home to A F Automotive Service


Monterey Plaza and "Downtown" Hermon

Hermon's business district, or downtown (if you can call it that), is dominated by Monterey Plaza -- a shopping center constructed in the 1960s. Monterey Plaza is dominated by Hermon's only market -- Fresco Community Market -- which like many markets of its size includes a bakery, kitchen and deli in addition to grocery section. The market is also a popular filming location and an ad starring a guy named Josh Duhamel and another with those Smothers Brothers-esque hipsters who hawk car insurance -- as well as a dozen others -- have been shot there.


In 1978, then-concilman Arthur "Art" Snyder renamed Hermon Avenue after his then-three-year-old daughter, Erin-Marisol. The freeway exit sign was changed to reflect the re-designation. Not everyone in Snyder's constituency was apparently happy and Caltrans responded by restoring the name to the traffic sign, although they ignominiously misspelled it "Herman Ave." Their mistake wouldn't be corrected until 2002! Snyder passed away in 2012 and some immediately seized on the opportunity to demand that Via Marisol be re-named Hermon Avenue. I have no problem with that although I'd simply like to point out that Monterey Road was formerly Walnut Hill Road but no one seems to be clamoring for its nomenclatural restoration.

La Due Way -- was this part of an abandoned development project?



According to City Data, the population of Hermon is 61% Latino, 16% Asian-American, 15% white, 5% black, and 1% Native American


Leave your cars at home... or the daycare center

The only public transit serving the neighborhood directly are Metro's 176 and 256 bus lines. Metro's Gold Line light rail train also passes through the community but the nearest stop, Highland Park Station, is less than a kilometer away in Highland Park. Walkscore (one of the few online resources who recognizes Hermon's existence) gives Hermon a walkscore of 50, a transit score of 44, and a bike score of 38 – all relatively low but probably more a reflection of the fact that most “errands” (especially if said “errands” involve, say, going to a bar) require leaving the neighborhood and not that the community isn't easily walkable, bikeable, and close to public transit stops -- because it is. Most of Hermon is pretty flat although some of the residential streets around Santa Fe Hill (originally known as Sugar Loaf Hill) in the north end are slightly hilly. Charles Flemming's book, Secret Stairs, includes a walk through Hermon and Highland Park (Walk #6) which the author rates 2.5 out of 5 on a scale of difficulty. 


Villa Marisol

The tallest structures in Hermon, as near as I can tell, are the hills – which are usually ignored because acknowledging them would challenge the prevailing stereotypes of Los Angeles as a horizontal city. As far as human-made structures are concerned, none seem to rise above maybe six stories (incidentally the same number of stories as the first building to be labeled a skyscraper had), although a couple of complexes reach or approach that height. Those include Monterey Road Apartments, Monterey View Apartments, Villa Marisol, and Luxury Park View Apartments.


There are only a a handful of restaurants in Hermon: Aki Sushi & Roll, Monterey Donuts, Tasty Mama's, and Thai Fantasy Restaurant. Anyone who knows me know that at any hour I'm liable to go for Thai and I'm by no means an authenticity hound -- but when most of a Thai place's glowing reviews rave about orange chicken (a Chinese-American dish), I can't help but get a little warys. 

Monterey Donuts is a highly-rated donut establishment in a city full of donuts but unfortunately, there are far fewer occasions when I would seek out sweets so I passed on it too, despite the rave reviews (none of which mention items you wouldn't expect to find there -- like orange chicken). I didn't pop into Aki Sushi either, but as long as there are more vegetarian options than just tempura, I'm willing. 

Tiny Mama's 

Tasty Mama's is the latest tenant in a building that sees a lot of turnover -- it was recently home to Zosa Cafe, The Pantry, and Cycleway Cafe. The building was constructed in 1915 and has a nice ambiance and I'll try to check it out at another time, provided that it's still there.


Hermon Park

Hermon is home to two parks (three if you count the city-owned median with deodars and the Nouveau font Hermon sign). Hermon Park is a decent-sized, unstaffed, dawn-to-dusk park with grills, a playground, picnic tables, and lit tennis courts.

Nearby is Hermon Dog Park – an off-leash, dawn-to-dusk dog park supported by the Friends of Hermon Dog Park, a group which seems to be the most active organizer of local events and observances in the the neighborhood, such as Howl-oween, in which human participants mark the ancient Celtic harvest festival by dressing their canine companions in strange garb and have a "peanut butter lick-off." The dog park includes two fenced areas: one for big dogs and one for small, disabled, shy, or elderly dogs. It should be pointed out here that Dog Fancy listed the Hermon Dog Park as the 7th best in the USA and it also got high marks from fellow urban explorer, Itty Bitty Gadabout.


In addition to Friends of Hermon Dog Park, there is (or at least was) a Hermon Neighborhood Association, a Hermon Clean Team, the Hermon Local Issues Committee of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, and a Hermon, Los Angeles Facebook page. There's also a HermonLA website from which I obtained all of this entry's historic photos and is a really great community resource.


Art in the Park

I'm not aware of any musicians or composers born in Hermon. I'm similarly unaware of any live music venues, music festivals, independent music stores. If there are, please let me know in the comments and I'll add them. I did see a pot-smoking teen wearing a Motörhead T-Shirt and I heard an ice cream truck playing"Turkey in the Straw" but that was about as far as my musical experiences in Hermon went.

There is also Art in the Park, home to the Lalo Guerrero School of Music -- a non-profit organization that teaches music lessons to children (8 - 18 years old) in the Northeast Los Angeles area -- presumably including those from Hermon. A plaque outside the building says that it was constructed by the WPA in 1939. Eduardo "Lalo" Guerrero, for those that don't know, was a labor activist and musician and the Father of the Chicano Music

Another view of the Lalo Guerrero School of Music


There've been many television commercials filmed at various locations but I'm not aware of too many films or or television series either set or shot in the neighborhood -- just In Time (2011) and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012), both of which featured the scenic Monterey Road Pass. I'm also not aware of any actors or filmmakers from Hermon nor any independent movie stores, historic theaters, or film festivals in Hermon. Once again, if you are, please let me know in the comments. 


As with much of Los Angeles, at night Hermon seems like a pretty sleepy place. Most of the sanctioned, public amusements are strictly daytime only. If there's even a grain of truth to internet hysteria, Hermon Park seems to attract cholos and homeless after night falls. Anyway, if I'm missing any art festivals, movies in the park, or farmers markets, &c, please let me know.


As always, I welcome corrections, additions, and personal accounts of Hermon experiences. To vote for other Los Angeles neighborhoods to be the subject of a future piece, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Orange County communities and neighborhoods, vote here


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Monterey Hills

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 11, 2013 09:43am | Post a Comment

Monterey Hills sign on Via Mia

In Los Angeles, the Monterey Hills can refer to more than one thing. One is a landform known as The Monterey Hills that is technically part of the Repetto Hills, a chain of hills which runs from between the San Rafael Hills and Elysian Park Hills at one end  to the Whittier Narrows at the other (and in doing so forms one of the borders of the San Gabriel Valley). The hills are especially associated with the city of Monterey Park and there's a subdivision of that community that's also called Monterey Hills.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Monterey Hills

Another Monterey Hills refers to a small residential neighborhood between El Sereno, Hermon, Montecito Heights, Rose Hill, and South Pasadena. I recently explored that neighborhood with Dooley (a dog) whilst house, dog, and cat-sitting in El Sereno. During my stint on the Eastside, Dooley and I visited all the aforementioned communities and additionally explored Arroyo View Estates, East Los Angeles, City Terrace, Garvanza, Happy Valley, Highland Park, Hillside Village, Lincoln Heights, and University Hills. Our first excursion was of Monterey Hills on a cool, clear day that followed a light, overnight rain.

Via Marisol on a road diet

We approached Monterey Hills via Monterey Road, which runs along the western edge of the neighborhood. We then entered the neighborhood via Via Marisol – a ridiculously wide (even on a road diet) street that's an extension of what was formerly Hermon Avenue. Hermon Avenue was renamed Via Marisol in 1978, when then Councilman Arthur Snyder renamed it, attempting to pander to his mostly Latino constituency by explaining that allowing a street to continue to be named "Hermon" in a neighborhood traversed mostly by Spanish-named avenues would have a "jarring influence" on the residents. That the councilman had a then three-year-old daughter named Erin-Marisol Snyder was surely a happy coincidence. 



At least as early as 13,000 years ago people were living in Southern California. The ancestors of the Tongva arrived from the Sonoran Desert much later -- only about 3,500 years ago. After that they were the dominant people in the area for thousands of years and the Monterey Hills area lay between their villages of Hahamongna to the north, Otsungna to the southeast, and Yaangna to the southwest.

The Tongva reign ended shortly after Spaniard Gaspar de Portolà's overland expedition passed through the area in 1769, setting the stage for conquest. The Spanish first constructed Mission San Gabriel Arcángel in Whittier Narrows in 1771. In 1776 the mission was moved to its present location in San Gabriel, nine-and-a-half kilometers east of what's now Monterey Hills. A few years later, in 1781, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles was founded 8-and-a-half kilometers to the southwest.

The area that became Monterey Hills was located just outside the four Spanish leagues given to the pueblo and was on Mission lands but Spanish rule ended in 1821, when Mexico gained independence and subsequently secularized the church's holdings. Mexico's rule would prove even shorter than Spain's and ended in 1848 when California was conquered by the US. In 1850, California entered the union and Los Angeles incorporated as a city.


The land containing what would become Monterey Hills was subdivided in 1902 along a grid system that ignored the hills' steep topography. The area was annexed by the City of Los Angeles on 9 February, 1912, as part of the Arroyo Seco Addition. The three hills that now make up Monterey Hills neighborhood remained mostly empty for the decades that followed largely because the gridded street and lot patterns made the development of streets and installation of utilities rather difficult. Nonetheless, there were a few residents and structures in the 1960s, when the idea for the Monterey Hills Development Project was first dreamed up by the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).

The Monterey Hills Redevelopment Project was adopted by Los Angeles City Council in 1971. The idea was to slap a master-planned community on top of three of the Repetto Hills. To deal with the forbidding terrain, the developers brought in engineering and geological consultants who assured them they they need only remove soil from the hills and dump it into the canyons. Once the dust -- and hopefully landfills -- had settled, large condominiums and town homes could be built that would be affordable to middle and working class first time home buyers drawn to the development by its proximity to the Pasadena Freeway (now the Arroyo Seco Parkway) and thus to Downtown Los Angeles.

Construction began in 1973 and over the years that followed, 21 residential complexes were ultimately built which contain a total of 1,781 units. The complexes include Austin Terrace, Bradley Court, Cabrillo Villas, Catalina Terrace, Chadwick Terrace, Chapman Townhouses, Drake Terrace, Eaton Crest, Fremont Villas, Harte Terrace, Hudson Terrace, Huntington Terrace, Linden Heights, Marshall Villas, Muir Terrace, Portola Terrace, Stanford Terrace, Temple Terrace, Vallejo Villas, and Wilson Summit [I seem to be missing one]. I was pleasantly surprised to find that not one them has been rebranded in that silly, trite "The such-and-such at so-and-so" manner (e.g. Fremont Villas have escaped being renamed "The Villas at Fremont.")

Problems with some of the complexes began to arise in the 1980s, however, when the experimental landfills that they were built upon continued to settle, bringing some of the residential complexes with them and creating significant structural damages in the process. Understandably incensed, the homeowners banded together and instigated the longest civil jury trial in Los Angeles County history.

Hillside in Monterey Hills with El Sereno below

At the end of the trial, $21,634,466 were awarded in damages and the fund created with the money is still used to remedy damages. Since the end of the trail, only the sixteen-unit Bradley Court townhouses have been constructed in the neighborhood. However, Monterey Hills Investors proposed a similar development -- albeit one targeting wealthy homebuyers -- in the adjacent Elephant Hills of El Sereno in 1984. In 2009, however, the city took control of the land and decided to preserve it as open space.


The ethnic breakdown of Monterey Hills, according to information gleaned from City Data, is roughly 36% Asian-American, 34% white, 24% Latino, and 10% black


Dooley and I walked to Monterey Hills from El Sereno. Monterey Hills isn't particularly well served by public transit. Only Metro's 256 line accesses the area. The route winds along Collis Avenue and Avenue 60 near the neighborhood's edges. Although it's been on the chopping block before due to low ridership, the 256 has its share of fans -- mostly due to the fact that its route manages to visit Altadena, City Terrace, Commerce, East Los Angeles, El Sereno, Hermon, Highland Park, Pasadena, and University Hills.

A man walking on the sidewalk heading toward Hermon

Although hilly, the neighborhood is small and both easily walkable and bikeable for the able bodied. Presumably its relatively low walk score (28) on Walkscore is due to the fact that getting coffee, picking up groceries, eating out, shopping, and enjoying more forms of entertainment all require leaving the neighborhood (although walking to both El Sereno and Hermon where those things can be found is quite easy). It's transit score is 23 and its bike score only 11.


Euclyptus trees in the forbidden zone

There's little if any native vegetation in Monterey Hills. Most of it was grazed out of existence during the Spanish era and today most of the landscape architecture is pretty inconspicuous and, although the hill tops are covered with groves of eucalyptus that have a certain allure and the leaves of some of the trees were changing color -- which is apparently one of the only way that some people raised in temperate climates can recognize the arrival of autumn.

Obvious signs of autumn at Drake Terrace

Someone's been guerrilla gardening... kale in the landscape at Stanford Terrace

Via Marisol is lined with magnolia trees. Sometimes a seed pod would fall from one, shattering the silence and startling both Dooley and I. The crisp air smelled wonderful, carrying as it did, the mixed scent of eucalyptus and walnuts. All aound us we could hear the cawing of crows, the cooing of morning doves and the calls of various other birds -- in stark contrast to the neighborhoods beneath it, which are generally dominated by a Cain-raising canine cacophony.

Fortress Monterey Hills -- actually Huntington Terrace

In my research I had read that each of Monterey Hills' large residential complexes were built in what were supposed to be a variety of styles and judging from the directories, their layouts vary. Yet somehow all of them are variations on a particular sort of residential architecture that I'm still struggling to make peace with. Regardless of their variations, to me they invariably all resemble business parks or newish college campuses and -- encountering almost no one in our walk -- it felt a bit like exploring those after business hours or during a long break.

Eaton Crest

In the course of our constitutional, Dooley and I did encounter a few women and men strolling, -- walking with weights or dogs, or jogging without either -- but the overall lack of people and the heavy autumnal ambiance gave the neighborhood a forlorn air, although I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way. Everything has its unique charm and almost before I realized it I found myself quietly singing "The Power" by Suede, a band who along with several of their early '90s contemporaries (e.g. The Auteurs, Blur, Denim, Pulp) famously celebrated (or at least expertly chronicled) the discreet charm of suburban life and the great indoors.

Someone pushed a cart a ways and then parked it under a tree in Muir Terrace

Monterey Hills' near complete rejection of public space is part of the master-community plan, which includes no theaters, no art centers, no community gardens, no restaurants, no shops, no cinemas, and no houses of worship. The original development plan contained four categories: "Residential," "Residential/Alternate Hillside Preserve," "Residential/Alternate Institutional," and "Residential/Alternate Commercial."

Music Lessons in Monterey Hills -- let me know what musicians and film figures, if any, are from the Hill

The "alternate commercial" area was the at one point the proposed site of a 7-Eleven but residents successfully fought against that and it became the neighborhood's only park. One of the "Alternate Institutional" areas was developed with homes. The other is home of the Los Angeles International Charter High School -- formerly the site of Pacific Christian High School -- a site more often associated with the Hermon neighborhood than "The Hill" (as Monterey Hills is nicknamed). There are shared private spaces in the form of designated seating areas, swimming pools, and tennis courts -- all of which were invariably empty -- as were the guest parking lots.

The pool area at Stanford Terrace

A guest parking lot


Budd Wiener Park

As Monterey Hills' only official public space (unless one counts the sidewalks), Budd Wiener Park not surprisingly hosts the neighborhood's official community activities. The best known event that takes place there is the Monterey Hills Jazz Festival has taken place since 1993. In the past it's featured performers including the Angie Whitney Group, BluesMen, Bobbie Rodriguez and the HMA Orchestra, City Beat, Jimmy McConnell, Lori Andrews JazzHarp Quartet, Luis Conte, Nocy, the Pasadena Jazz Institute Youth All Stars, Ron McCurdy Collective, and Susie Hansen Latin Band, among others.

Another view of Budd Wiener Park

Budd Wiener has also hosted Movies in the Park, in which family friendly fare is screened outdoors. When there aren't organized events taking place in the park, it's not exactly the most inviting place. There are no no pedestal grills, no jungle gyms, no spring riders, no basketball courts… just a couple of empty benches and a poop bag dispenser or receptacle (I can't remember which -- maybe it's both).


Official seating area

Monterey Hills is blessed with quite a bit of mostly undeveloped space as well. It's separated from Hermon below by a steep, woody hillside. The hillside separating Monterey Hills from El Sereno (an "alternate hillside preserve") is less steep but terraced and lined with anti-erosion drainage ditches and a chain link fence. The earthen slope appears to have been built up considerably, almost as if it's meant to serve as a defensive wall to protect this modern Masada in the unlikely event of a siege.

Neighborhood fortifications agains the Eastsiders below

Ditch-lined hillside above El Sereno

Some of the concrete ditches are heavily tagged. If I'm correct that the goal of tagging is to place one's handiwork in highly visible yet inaccessible places then spraying ones tag on the bottom of easily accessed and little-seen ditches must be the equivalent of mere scent marking.

De facto dog park

There's also a large open area next to Fremont Villa that seems to serve as an unofficial park… or possibly dog park as it was the one spot in the otherwise decidedly clean neighborhood that was littered with dog defecation, garbage, and more. Dooley and I walked a well-worn trail and encountered signs of a small fire (or at least a burned log). The area affords a spectacular view and an empty case of Bud Light, an empty box of Patron, an empty case of Modelo Especial, and an empty case of something called Straw-ber-ita suggest that it's a popular site to do some outdoor drinking, relaxing -- and sadly, littering. There was also the expected litter from Del Taco and McDonald's. More surprising was a midden where the shells of various animals seemed to have been dumped.  

A shell heap in Monterey Hills

Apparently Max was here... and Dooley's hindquarters

Feeling a bit confined I decided to ignore the clearly-posted prohibitions against trespassing and scale the tallest hill in the neighborhood. Perhaps it's officially known as Wilson Summit as that's the name of both a condo and street on it. In my imagination, however, it felt like I'd scaled Weathertop (or "Amon Sûl" as it's known in Sindarin).

Atop "The Hill"

After catching my breath I found that I was not the first Rudi Matt to bound up that barrow. Although a faded Hello Kitty ribbon was possibly carried to the hilltop grove of trees by a nearby and deflated mylar balloon, there was also a 20 oz glass Pepsi bottle (c. 1990) and a single tennis shoe that were presumably carried there by fellow explorers. The abandoned footwear, Dooley's continued interest in sniffing underneath concrete ditch covers, and the darkening skies found me changing my tune, suddenly humming songs from the moody movie Memories of Murder (살인의 추억). Thankfully Dooley and I didn't find any bodies but after a bit more exploration I decided that Dooley and I should head back down the hill to the street.

Marshall Villas pool and clubhouse

Back in the neighborhood we encountered a couple more people out for their perambulations but most seemed to be safely indoors. We did spy some younger people towards the end of our visit. Two girls sat in a parked car -- both on their smartphones. Not long after, a group of school kids jogged up the sidewalk along Via Marisol as Dooley and I made our way back towards El Sereno. One said, "I like your dog" which seemed to signal to Dooley that it was time to cheerfully gallop the rest of the way to Monterey Road -- pulling me along with her.

Monterey Hills sign on Via Marisol

The distinction between Monterey Hills and El Sereno below felt more pronounced upon our return. On every curb Dooley and I seemed to pass discarded, rain-soaked furniture, enraged dogs and people apparently walking to or from somewhere (rather than speed walking in loops). Banda music blasted at a deafening level from a passing Chevy Tahoe, a brood of chickens and a rooster scratched at the street, ice cream trucks played their century old rags, and there was a freshly-painted gang tag on the wall of the home in which I was staying.  

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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Altadena, The Community of the Deodars

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 17, 2012 11:18pm | Post a Comment

When people hear the disyllabic sounds, “alta” and “dena,” I would wager that most of them think of the well-known City of Industry-based Alta Dena Dairy, which was started by the three, Missouri-born Stueve Brothers in Monrovia, California in 1945. Oddly, more than five minutes of internet research haven’t helped me figure out why they named their dairy after a fellow San Gabriel Mountains community located some miles west of their hometown. Nonetheless, I based my map's "typeface" on their logo.

For a community that's never bothered incorporating, Altadena seems to have a very strong sense of pride, place and community. The first time I think I visited Altadena involved walking there from my workplace in Pasadena. Although my journey involved little more than crossing a freeway, once I arrived I felt as if, proverbially speaking, I was no longer in Kansas.


Undoubtedly part of Altadena's unique vibe is owed to its particular racial and ethnic demographics. The population of roughly 43,000 people is 40% white (mostly English and Lebanese), 27% Latino (mostly Mexican), 24% black, 6% Asian – making it noticably less Asian, and much more black than most of the San Gabriel Valley. Indeed, it feels very different from most of LA. Within the community the vibe varies greatly too. Laidback, working class West Altadena feeling worlds rather than miles away from wealthy, woodsy East Altadena, which convincingly enough (for some) stood in for Beverly Hills on the series Beverly Hills, 90210. The foothill neighborhoods swing between eye-searingly dull suburbs and rustic, bohemian and slightly creepy enclaves. 

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Altadena

Like Pasadena, Altadena's neighbor to the south, most of Altadena is situated on a broad alluvial slope at the mouth of the Crescenta Valley, partially separated from the San Gabriel Valley proper by the Kinneloa Mesa at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains in the east and the low, rolling hills of San Marino and South Pasadena to the south. I’m assuming that this is why it’s most often considered to be part of the San Gabriel Valley but The Verdugos region by the LA Times – despite the fact that none of it is located in the Verdugo Mountains or their smaller geographical siblings, the San Rafael Hills and Shadow Hills

To many, Altadena has a reputation as a high crime area. In researching for this blog entry I’ve read descriptions stating that it’s “gang infested" or "the ghetto." As with all of LA, people tend to perpetuate, exaggerate and overstate how dangerous an area is. The average amount of violent crimes reported in Altadena per month is 1.8. Its violent crime rate is lower than that of neighborhoods like Chatsworth, Eagle Rock, Silver Lake, West Hollywood and plenty of other places less-often (or never) characterized as ghetto. While any and all violent crime is lamentable, fear of it should not factor into one's exploration and enjoyment of any neighborhood. The sad fact of the matter is that "gang infested" and "ghetto" are thinly-veiled code words for young, black men and Latinos.

There seems to be a bit of a buzz about Altadena as of late (click here to listen to an "Off-Ramp" segment) and in this episode I was accompanied by Maryam Hosseinzadeh, who spent a large chunk of her childhood there.  It was a hot day and the air was really fragrant. Walking around I inhaled the scent of huge evergreens and even a tiny clove cigarette butt on the ground. 


We started our exploration at the Altadena Historical Society, a non-profit founded in 1935 by 
Marsh. Although at the time the community was only a few decades old, they published their first history in 1938. Today the society offers lectures on historical subjects, tours of historical sites, and boasts a large collection of fascinating artifacts and materials from Altadena’s surprisingly rich history. ($25 membership buys newsletters, program announcements and discounts on events. $50 buys all that plus 4 limited edition reproduction vintage post cards of Altadena).

Upon our arrival we met Sherry Cavallo, an Altadena resident who moved “from out east” some 35 years ago. We also procured an invaluable guide to locals sites of note which we used to determine much of our day’s course. The next place we checked out was accessible from the Historical Society’s parking lot, the Woodbury-Story House. The house was built in 1882 for one of Altadena's founders, Captain Frederick Woodbury, and his wife, Martha. More on them later. First a bit of history.


For approximately 7,000 years, the area that now makes up Altadena was home to the Hahamog'na band of Tongva. Hahamog'na was the leader of the band which lived in two villages -- also named after him -- in the upper Arroyo Seco area. Hahamog'na encountered the Spaniard Gaspar de Portolà on his 1770 overland expedition through the area, a precursor to the Spanish Conquest. The Mission San Gabriel Arcángel was established in 1771 in present day Montebello before relocating to modern day San Gabriel a few years later. Hahamog'na’s lands were stolen by the mission and claimed for Spain. Hahamog'na was converted to Catholicism and re-named “Pascual.”


In 1834, Mexico (including California) gained independence from Spain and the lands that now include Altadena (along with present day Pasadena, San Pasqual, South Pasadena and parts of San Marino) became part of the 58.29 km2 Rancho el Rincon de San Pascual. It was granted to retired artillery lieutenant Juan Marine by José Figueroa. Marine passed away in 1838 and the land passed to José Pérez and Enrique Sepúlveda. They died in 1841 and 1843, respectively, and the land was granted to Manuel Garfias.


In 1848, following the US’s victory in the Mexican-American War, the old land grants were honored by the victors. Garifas sold off portions of his land to finance the building of his home. By 1858, all of the lands had been purchased by Benjamin Wilson, who in turn sold to John S. Griffin in 1860. Griffin sold a portion to Dr. Benjamin S. Eaton, who developed water sources from the Arroyo Seco and Eaton Canyon later in the decade, allowing for a development he, Griffin and Wilson called the San Pasqual Plantation. The project failed by 1870. In 1873, Wilson negotiated a deal with Daniel Berry, who represented a group from Indiana who founded “The Indiana Colony” in Pasadena. The portion that became Altadena was sold to two brothers from Marshalltown, Iowa -- Fredrick and John Woodbury – in 1880. Fred had his mansion – the Woodbury-Story House – built in 1882 and still there today. (It's been featured in commercials, episodes shows like Ghost Whisperer, LXD, of and music videos by the likes of Debbie Ryan, Lost Prophets, Nicole Sherzinger, Shwayze, and films like Dark Reel).


One of the first homes built in the area is Virginia-native Eliza Griffin Johnston's on her Fair Oaks Ranch which, built in 1862. Englishman Walter Allen established the 502-acre Sphinx Ranch in 1878. His home, despite its historical distinction, was demolished in 1928. In 1882, the Johnstons' house was moved from to its current location to make way for the construction of the James Crank House ( featured in Catch Me if you CanMatilda, and Scream 2). The Eastlake-style Lewis Schumann House was built in 1888 for the Coloradan family who’d moved to the area in 1883. Scott and Kay Way moved into a Victorian farmhouse then-surrounded by ten acres of exotic gardens they named “Idle Hour.” Las Casitas Sanitorium was built in 1887 (it became a private home in 1895).  


The Mountain View Mortuary & Cemetery was established in 1882 by another early resident, Levi Giddings. Over the years, 14,000 people have been buried there including Charles Richter, Eldridge Cleaver, George Reeves, Octavia Estelle Butler, Wallace Neff, Wilbur Hatch and obviously, many others. On the day of our visit a scene was being filmed, presumably for a movie, involving an LAPD funeral. Extras in cop uniforms lounged around comfortably and upon passing, we noticed that many of the LAPD cars were painted sloppily and therefore presumably not meant to be filmed in close-up.  


In 1883, after a trip to Italy, John Woodbury brought Deodor Cedar (Cedrus deodar) – indigenous to the Himalayas – to Altadena and had 135 of them planted them along Santa Rosa Avenue (where Woodbury was planning to build his mansion). The work was carried out by a labor force made up of Chinese workers who also lay the open river-rock gutters that line the street. Woodbury abandoned the construction of his home in 1888 when the boom busted.


In 1920, after the trees had matured, one fourth of the 1.1km stretch was lit for Christmas following the efforts of then-president of the Pasadena chapter of Kiwanis, Frederick Nash and advertised as the "Mile of Christmas Trees." In 1927, an Altadena chapter of Kiwanis formed and the Avenue of Deodars came to be nicknamed Christmas Tree Street (later Christmas Tree Lane). Over the years, especially in the mid-20th century, Christmas Tree Lane was the subject of many colorized postcards. In 1990 it was listed on the US National Register of Historic Places in 1990 and designated as California Historical Landmark No. 990.  


In 1887, the Woodbury Bros formed the Pasadena Improvement Company and attempted to sell lots of their Woodbury Ranch in a subdivision they called The Woodbury Subdivision --just as a great land boom was about to bust. Earlier, in 1875, a nursery had been established in the foothills by Byron O. Clark, who’d named it Altadena Nursery before moving away. The Woodbury’s contacted him and he gave them permission to rename their subdivision Altadena.


Although abolitionist Owen Brown (son of famed abolitionist John Brown) died of pneumonia in Pasadena, he was buried on Altadena’s Little Roundtop Hill near El Prieto Road. A memorial plaque was later added that stated “Owen Brown, Son of John Brown, the Liberator, died Jan. 9, 1889.” The monument also included two iron ornaments meant to represent freedom from slavery. Mysteriously, after the land was purchased by new owners in 2002, they were removed.


Despite the presence of the aforementioned settlers, Altadena's population was spread out, sparse and devoted primarily to agricultural concerns until a group of mostly Midwestern millionaires began to build mansions along Mariposa in what became nicknamed Millionaire’s Row. One of the earliest to establish a home there was Irish-born Chicago map magnate Andrew McNally and his friend, Colonel George Gill Green – a veteran of the War Between the States and patent medicine entrepreneur. Another printing magnate, William Scripps, moved to Millionaire’s Row from Detroit, Michigan in 1904, to his home known as the Scripps Estate.


The Scripps Estate is a three-story Crafstman-style “Ultimate Bungalow” designed by architect Charles W. Buchanan and built in 1904. In 1979, the home faced the threat of demolition and was saved when purchased by the Pasadena Waldorf School in a deal negotiated by Altadena Heritage. Renamed Scripps Hall, it was was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.

Scripps also opened The William A. Scripps Home for Aged People in 1913 in a home originally built by one Thaddeus Lowe (more on him in a paragraph), for his son, Thad Jr. Its name was changed to “The Scripps Home” in 1962. It closed in 2007. All of the facilities except the small Gloria Cottage (built in 1914) were demolished in 2008 by developers and its residents were relocated to facilities in Alhambra. Today the old Scripps Home sign hangs at the Altadena Historical Society.



New Hampshire-born aeronaut, adventurer, scientist, inventor and dreamer, Professor Thaddeus Sobieski Coulincourt Lowe, famously scaled Oak Mountain (bragging he was the first white man to do so), planted an American flag atop it and re-named it Mount Lowe after moving to Los Angeles in 1887. His friend and fellow Altadenan, Andrew McNally, ensured that the new name stuck when his Rand, McNally & Co. maps labeled it Mount Lowe on their maps. Lowe, formed the Pasadena & Mt. Wilson Railroad Co. in 1891 with a Canadian-born engineer David J. Macpherson, who’d drawn up plans for a scenic, mountain railroad. Unable to obtain the rights to scale Mount Wilson, the duo turned their sites to Oak Mountain, near Lowe’s new home in Pasadena, where he'd moved in 1890. The first section of the Mount Lowe Railway opened on 4 July, 1893. Ultimately the line would grow to include three sections: the Mountain Division, the Great Incline, and the Alpine Division. The Mountain Junction railway station was located at the corner of Lake and Calaveras.

Part 1: The Mountain Division

For the Mountain Division the railway used a trolley that traveled from Mountain Junction Railway up Lake Avenue before passing through the Poppyfields District and ended in Rubio Canyon, at the base of Echo Mountain. At the Rubio Canyon terminus stood the 12-room Rubio Pavillion guest house and station.

Part 2: The Great Incline & Echo Mountain

The second stretch of the railway required passengers to transfer from the trolley to a funicular train which took them to the summit of Echo Mountain. At the mountain’s peek there was the 40-room Echo Chalet hospice. In 1894, it was joined by the addition of the 80-room Victorian Echo Mountain House. Ultimately the site included an observatory, a casino, a dancehall and other structures which came to collectively be known as White City.

Echo Mountain is separated from its neighbors by Las Flores Canyon, Rubio Canyon, and Castle Canyon. Boy Scouts assisted in development of the mountain by locating "sweet spots" where people yelled for entertainment – in some cases aided by the use of “echophones.” Today, with the train long gone, it’s primarily accessible by the Sam Merrill Trail and a fire road that begins in Millard Canyon.

Part 3: The Alpine Division & Mount Lowe

The third section of the railway opened in 1896. After crossing Los Flores Canyon, rounding the “Cape of Good Hope,” and passing through Millard Canyon and Grand Canyon, the train arrived at Crystal Springs. At this terminus there was a 12-room chalet called Ye Alpine Tavern, which had been built in 1895. Mule rides were conducted from there on a trail known as Mount Lowe Eight (for its figure eight shape) and there were tennis courts and a wading pool as well. Mount Lowe is primarily accessible by Chaney Trail as well as a fire road.

The End of Mount Lowe Railway

From the very, start Lowe’s adventure was, in most ways, a disaster. The train operated at a loss from day one. By 1899 Lowe was in receivership to Jared S. Torrance. A whole series of disasters struck over the years to come. The Echo Mountain House was destroyed by fire in 1900. Henry Huntington's Pacific Electric Railway took over in 1902. A 1905 fire destroyed more structures. The Rubio Pavillion was destroyed by a flood in 1909. Having lost his fortune, Lowe moved into his daughter’s home in Pasadena and died, aged 80, in 1913 and was buried in Altadena’s Mountain View Cemetery. In 1928, a wind storm felled the observatory. A 1936 fire destroyed the tavern. In 1938 the railway was abandoned and today, all that remain are ruins. Lowe’s life was dramatized in the 1972 Walt Disney miniseries, High Flying Spy, part of Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color.

The last remaining vestige of the lower part of the railway, the Pacific Electric Railway Substation #8, was used for retail from 1942 (after the electrical switching equipment was removed) until 1979. It was restored and repurposed for offices in 1980.


Zane Grey Estate - photo credit: Alex Tarr

The large, Mediterranean Revival-style home known as the Zane Grey Estate was originally built in 1907 for a Chicago business machine-manufacturer, Albert Herbert Woodward from designs by Elmer Grey (no relation) and Myron Hunt. In 1918, western author Zane Grey moved to Southern California. Two years later they purchased the Woodward home and made several additions. Grey died in 1939. 


The Altadena Town and Country Club was formed in 1910 by five members of the Altadena Improvement Association. In 1911 they purchased two acres of a former dairy farm and built a small bungalow-style clubhouse. It was damaged by a storm in 1913 and subsequently enclosed by a new, larger clubhouse. The current building was designed by club member, David A. Ogilvie. It acquired its current name in 1946, when it was reorganized and incorporated as an equity owned member club.


 The Cobb Estate in 1930

                                                                  Haunted Forest" 2009 - photo credit: Kansas Sebastian

At the northern end of Lake Avenue sits the 107-acre Cobb Estate – nicknamed the Haunted Forest. Lumber magnate Charles H. Cobb and his wife, Carrie, had a large, Spanish-style mansion built for them in 1918. Cobb, a Freemason, died in 1939 and his will stipulated that his estate be given to the Scottish Rite Temple in Pasadena. The Freemasons sold it a few years later and it went through a succession of owners over the next few years – including the Sisters of St. Joseph. It was purchased by the Marx Brothers in 1956 but gained notoriety as a hangout for juvenile (and adult) delinquents. In 1959, most of the home was demolished. The Marx Brothers’ estate sold the land in 1971 and local preservationists purchased the land. Sometime later, stories involving the usual cast of KKK members, Satanists and murdered children began to circulate. In 1978 the gates were deemed sufficiently spooky and were filmed in the movie, Phantasm.



Chicago doctor Henry B. Stehman opened a hospital in Pasadena in 1909, a colony of 17 bungalows, after moving to California to recover from tuberculosis. Shortly thereafter, he and the newly-formed Pasadena Health Camp Association purchased Eugene W. Giddings' 160-acre vineyard in the hills and named their new hospital La Viña. The help cover operational costs and patient treatment, the hospital raised horses, chickens, turkeys, and cattle; grew orange trees, grapefruit trees, and vineyards and operated its own post office. In turn they sold eggs, grapes and milk. A children’s wing was added in 1934. The Las Flores Canyon fire destroyed it all in 1936. A new Myron Hunt-designed building opened on the site in 1937. In its final incarnation it operated as a respiratory hospital. In 1978, its offices served as those of the Warren County Sanitarium in the film Halloween. In 1992, after a lengthy battle, the La Vina McMansion gated community replaced Hunt’s building.

Many of Altadena's historically significant homes were built in the 1910s. Other significant homes from the era include the Frank Keyes House and the Mount Wilson Tollhouse (both built in 1911), The Chambliss/Benzinger House (built in 1914), and The Frederick Popenoe House (1919). There’s also a small neighborhood of Crafstman homes dating from the period on the 1900 block of Mar Vista Avenue.


The Theosophical Society was founded in New York City in 1875. The Altadena building was completed in 1920. The esoteric society is supposedly an altruistic one devoted to seeking hidden knowledge but there’s a creepy vibe that made me feel like I’d stepped into a Giallo film – probably just a combination of eerie silence suddenly shattered by the arrival of a noisy flock of ravens.


photo credit: I Am Not a Stalker

Ronnie’s Automotive Service is a gas station built in 1920. It's supposedly been featured in many commercial and movie shoots although all I could find on imdb was Dodgeball - A True Underdog Story (2004), where it is listed as having been the site of something called “hot girls’ car wash." I Am Not a Stalker says it also appeared in Crossroads (the Britney Spears one), Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, and Transformers.


The 15 acre Farnsworth Park was purchased by Los Angeles County in 1921 and initially used as a tree nursery. In the 1930s, General Charles S. Farnsworth successfully lobbied to have it turned into a park. In 1934, the impressive, stone William D. Davies Memorial Building was completed by the WPA. The park was named Farnsworth Park in 1939. For the last fifteen years it has hosted an annual summer concert series.  


Between 1924 and 1926, developers LG and MA Collison oversaw the construction of buildings on the 900 block of East Altadena that constituted Altadena’s first commercial district. It later grew to include Altadena’s first fire station, first sheriff station, an architect’s office, a grocery store and a beauty salon.



Between 1924 and 1926, a number of English-styled cottages were built – largely by Elisha P. Janes -- supposedly to attract World War I veterans with a new taste for the Old World. I've never been to England so I can't really say whether or not Janes Village really evokes Albion or not but for those that have but that's the kind of charming simulacrum that makes Southern California turn.


The home now known as the Balian House was built in 1922, originally for Burnell Gunther and his mother, Jennie. Its current owner is ice-cream magnate George Balian. Since 1955 the house has been widely known for its increasingly over-the-top Christmas displays which transform the pink Mediterranean into something of a Yuletide playhouse that would turn Pee-Wee Herman's bow tie green with envy.


On par with the Craftsman neighborhood and Janes Village is the La Solana Spanish Revival neighborhood. The Spanish Revival-style homes designed by B.G Morriss and built by the BO Kendall Company in the 1920s.


Built in 1922, the Boulder Manor was the first home built on Boulder Road as a wedding present for Howard Edgecomb’s wife, Thelma. Its grounds used to also include a stocked, artificial stream. 


Webster’s is really a complex of connected six buildings and a beloved landmark to locals. The original, central building was originally Bailey’s Drugstore, constructed in 1926, and later purchased by Harold Frank Webster and his brother. After buying out his brothers share he opened Webster’s Soda Fountain. The next building, to the north, was added in 1930. In the past, the six buildings were connected by an open segment wall and operated as separate departments. Sections included Webster’s Liquor Beer & Wine, Webster’s Health Mart Pharmacy, Webster’s Fine Stationers, and Webster’s Shipping & Supplies. At one point there was also a video rental store.Webster's was featured in at least one episode of The Wonder Years. In 2010, the pharmacy was sold by members of the Webster family to Michael and Meredith Miller, former owners of South Pasadena’s Fair Oaks Pharmacy, who remodeled, reorganized and renamed it Webster's Community Pharmacy. The rest of Webster's -- including the liquor store, stationers and thrift store are still Webster family operations.


Though born in La Mirada, Andrew McNally’s grandson Wallace Neff began his architectural career in Altadena with his design of the St. Elizabeth of Hungary, completed in 1926. Influenced by Mediterranean and Spanish architectural schools, his synthesis came to be known as the California architectural style.


Altadena was formerly served by The Altadena Press, who released their first issue on 21 November, 1929. It ran until 1944. A complete set of the papers can be found at the Altadena Historical Society. It was succeeded by The Altadenan, which ran between 1944 till 1977. The Altadena Chronicle was printed from 1977 till 1983. From at least 1936 - 1954 there was also the Altadena Weekly. Beginning in 1922, Paul F. Johnson briefly broadcast Altadena’s only radio station, KGO, from his home (Sagemont).


photo credit: Altadena Historical Society

Altadena’s first miniature golf course opened in 1930 at the intersection of Lake and Foothill. Live musical accompaniment scored the golfing, broadcast throughout the park. The park closed after just two years of operation. There’s still a remnant of the course, however, behind Lifeline Fellowship Christian Church.


Armenian Jirayr Zorthian immigrated with his family to New Haven, Connecticut. As a teen, he attended Yale's school of fine arts. After graduating, he spent part of the 1930s travelling and studying in Africa and Europe. Returning to the US he rose to prominence as a muralist with the WPA -- mostly painting in the South and East. During World War II he designed propaganda posters. After the war's conclusion, Zorthian and his wife, Betty Williams, moved to Altadena where they bought a 27 acre ranch in the foothills which they named Zorthian Ranch.

Charlie Parker at Zorthian Ranch (best audio available)

After a divorce, Zorthian married his second wife, Dabney, and added an additional 21 acres to their holdings. On the ranch, Zorthian experimented with building techniques, erecting many structures and making sculptures and objects out of found materials. The Zorthians also organized music events and threw parties/bacchanalias for their eclectic assortment of bohemian friends/luminaries (Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, Buckminster Fuller, Charlie Parker, Chet Baker, John Lautner, John C. Lilly, Richard Feynman, William Saroyan and others). Charlie Parker recorded a live set at the ranch, released as At Jirayr Zorthian’s Ranch, July 14th, 1952.

Additionally, the ranch has been used as a shooting and filming location. Jirayr passed away in 2004, at 92 years of age. Dabney passed two years later. It's currently inhabited by one of their five children. Today it hosts an annual New Los Angeles Folk Festival.


photo credit: Root Simple

Tim Dundon (aka "Zeke the Shiek" aka "The Guru of Doo Doo" aka "The Sodfather") was born in Altadena in 1942. His family lived adjacent to Mountain View Cemetery. In his 20s, as a plasterer, he fireproofed buildings. He later got into ironwork... and boxing... and pill-popping (bennies, reds, Percodan and more). He raised snakes, had a pet coyote, and hung out at Zorthian Ranch. It was only after dropping acid that he graduated to the so-called "gateway drug," marijuana. A weed shortage in 1967 led to a new found interest in gardening. Gardening was the gateway to composting. That interest in composting turned into an obsession.

He was arrested in 1985 for cultivation, sales to a narcotics officer and possession of mushrooms with intent to distribute. Out on bail he was arrested for possession yet again. He defended himself in court as his alter-ego, Zeke the Sheik, and ended up serving eighteen days. In 1990 his huge compost pile (located on land owned by Mountain View Cemetery) burst into flames -- bacteria and fungi give off considerable heat as they feast on compost. In 1999, his pile had grown to a height of more than forty feet and he ran afoul of zoning officials. The cemetery was faced with possible fines and the pile was bulldozed. Dundon still lives and composts in Altadena in the Mountain View home that grew up in that is now full of lush vegetation growing from rich soil and shared with geese, ducks, chickens.


Photo taken from Sazanka (who do NOT represent Nuccio's, it should be noted)

In 1935, Joseph and Julius Nuccio opened Nuccio’s Nurseries in Alhambra and specialized in Azaleas and Camellias, they sell over 600 species of the latter. In 1946 their father, Giulio Nuccio, bought forty acres of land in Altadena at the nursery’s present location. Today it’s managed by Tom and Jim Nuccio.


As greedy, gourmandizing Pasadena grew, it steadily devoured chunks of its neighbors through annexation. In 1888, South Pasadena incorporated as its own city, protecting it from obliteration. East Pasadena and Altadena never did. Today East Pasadena has been almost entirely annexed by Pasadena but Altadena, despite never incorporating, successfully fought off the attempted wholesale annexation in 1956 after decades of small annexations. (As a result, Pasadena pulled the plug on Christmas Tree Lane which resulted in the foundation of the Christmas Tree Lane Association in 1957 to take over).


Ain, Johnson, and Day's Park Planned Development was begun on Highland Avenue in 1946. Some people (well, maybe a couple) may know that Gregory Ain is one of my absolute favorite architects (I’ve mentioned Silver Lakes’ 1947 Avenal Cooperative Housing Project and Mar Vista’s 1948 Modernique Homes in previous entries).



The Bass House - photographed by Julius Shulman 

Buff, Straub and Hensman's Case Study House #20 was built in 1958. The famed USC trio of architects built the residence for the great graphic designer/filmmaker, Saul Bass. The man had an eye for modernist beauty.


David Oliver Green's "The Tree of Life" (1969)

Altadena’s first library operated out of a classroom beginning in 1913. The Altadena Library District was formed in 1926. The first structure built specifically to be a library was completed in 1938. The Bob Lucas Memorial Branch Library was built on Lincoln Avenue in 1957. The Main Library was built on Mariposa Avenue in 1967, designed by Boyd Georgi. It is located at the former site of Colonel George G. Green’s home, which was demolished to make way for the library.

Green's carriage house, built in 1889, remains.


As a result of the extension of the 134 and 210 Freeways into Pasadena in the 1960s, and following the desegregation of the Pasadena Unified School District in 1967, much of the area’s white population moved away from the area. Whereas before 1960, the black population had been only 4%. By the 1970s it was much larger, with some neighborhoods having black majorities for the first time in their history. As Altadena went through sometimes tumultuous changes, its sense of community seemed to grow. In 1975, five Altadenans formed the Altadena Town Council. Though it has no legislative or legal authority, it continues to attempt to express consensus opinions of Altadenans to the County of Los Board of Supervisors.


The International Banana Club® Museum opened in 1976 – about 20 years after the Panama Disease devastated the staple (and, I'm told, vastly superior) Gros Michel banana resulting in our now eating slushy, almost-flavorless Cavendish bananas (thanks Science Friday!) . Anyway, I may dislike the fruit but the museum must love them as the museum has, with over 17,000 pieces, the world’s largest collection of banana-related objects. It's listed in the Guiness Book of World Records as “the world’s largest collection devoted to any one fruit.” Sadly for local bananaphiles, (but boon to banana-lovers in the Inland Empire) it moved to Hesperia in 2006. 


Charles White Park was dedicated and named for Altadena artist Charles White in 1980 after he died in 1979. White was also well-known for having served as Chairman of the Drawing Department at the Otis Art Institute in the 1960s and ‘70s. From 1980 till the early ‘90s the park hosted the Charles White Memorial Arts Festival. The Altadena Arts Council and White’s son, artist C. Ian White, have recently focused their efforts on trying to bring the festival back.


Altadena got its first town hall in 1991 when a structure originally built as a barn in 1891 (with several additions and remodelings and a stint as a home) was moved to its current location from its original site at Lake and Sacramento.


In February 2011, the Arroyo Time Bank and teamed with Mariposa Creamery owners Gloria Putnam and Stephen Rudicel to host the Altadena Urban Farmers Market at the Zane Grey Estate. I was there to help set up. It was done underground but obviously not very secretly and issue with permits, fees and neighbors resulted in its being shut down not long after. In 2012, the famers market returned as the Altadena Certified Farmer’s Market returned to Loma Alta Park (right next to the Altadena Community Garden) with necessary permits.  



In addition to the aforementioned TV shows and films, there are at least a few other times Altadena has appeared on screen -- though often as somewhere else.

On Beverly Hills, 90210, Minnesotan parents Cindy and Jim Walsh moved with their teenage daughter, Brenda, and their 31-year-old son, Brandon to a home in Beverly Hills… which was actually in Altadena (1675 E Altadena Ave). Their friend Dylan McKay moved a couple of doors down the street, to a bungalow at 1605 E Altadena.

Though named after a Valley community with a long-established and large black enclave, Neil LaBute's Lakeview Terrace, is based on events that happened in Altadena, concerning John and Mellaine Hamilton, an intteracial couple who were terrorized by a black LAPD officer, Irsie Henry. It was, however, mostly filmed in Walnut.

Currently, Kentucky-born director Allison Anders (Gas, Food Lodging, Mi Vida Loca, Grace of My Heart, &c ) is planning on filming her next film, The Amorous Humphrey Plugg (named after a Scott Walker song) in her Altadena home.


I’m sure there are more musicians from and bands who’ve formed in Altadena – that’s where you, the reader, hopefully comes in. Maryam pointed me to The Moore Brothers and The Sundowners. The internet pointed to R&B singer Major James.

Photo credit: Altadena Above it All

I also don’t know of any traditional live music venues. As I mentioned, Zorthian Ranch, somewhat regularly hosts musical events. There’s also The Folly Bowl, Susanna Dadd and James Griffith’s backyard amphitheater where they’ve hosted music events and other follies, since at least 2007.


The Underground Art Society is an Altadena art gallery owned by Ben McGinty. Its permanent collection includes works by over 65 artists. They have art show/parties on the first Friday of every month that take place between 7:00 and midnight. McGinty is (or at least, was) also a member of the Altadena Arts Council – established in 2003 and whose Altadena Community Arts Center is located in the Loma Alta School Center


We did not use the guide to determine our next destination, which was to be lunch. Maryam suggested Oh Happy Days Natural Food and Café. Normally I wouldn’t be opposed to a vegan restaurant but I’d had a great, late night and awoke hungry as a horse and was desirous of something heavy to be washed down with copious amounts of coffee. We tried to go to Fox’s – an old school, family-owned joint that opened in 1955 and is known for breakfast and lunch and homey atmosphere. Unfortunately they were closed. So we ventured over to Amy’s Patio Café – a gruyere asparagus omelet sounded amazing. Unfortunately for us, they were also closed. Across the street is El Patron, situated in a tiny, triangular building constructed in 1951 that has hosted a succession of eateries including the Echo Café and most recently, CJ’s Wing Café.

My eyes proved to be a bit larger than my stomach and I ordered both a mushroom quesadilla (which, though listed as an appetizer, would’ve been sufficient on its own as a meal) and nopalitos con huevos. I thought the chips and salsa were so-so. The chips, I suspect, were store bought and the tomatoes in the pico de gallo hadn’t ripened sufficiently to the point where discernible flavor had emerged. The other dishes, however, were good and our waitress was great.

Overall, Altadena has a relatively small restaurant scene (and one surprisingly and thankfully short on chains). Other places to grab a bite include Bill’s Chicken, Bulgarini Gelato (which Maryam extolled the virtues of), Coffee Gallery, Dutch Oven Bakery, Everest Restaurant, Fair Oaks Burger, Jim’s Burgers, Mota’s Mexican Food, Pasties By Nancy, Patticakes the Dessert Company, Pizza Joe’s, and Poncitlan Meat Market.


Photo credit: Bill Qualls

With Altadena extending into the lower San Gabriel Mountains, hiking is one of the best pastimes one can take enjoy in Altadena. The Altadena Crest Trail, Gabrielino Trail, Rubio Canyon Trail, The Sam Merrill Trail, and the Ridgeline Trail all reveal stunning views of the San Gabriel Valley and access places like Millard Canyon Falls, Inspiration Point, the aforementioned ruins of Lowe’s misadventure, and other treasures. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time in our day to hike at all so I look forward to coming back another time. 


We did have time to check out Altadena's “gravity hill” at a bend where E Loma Alta Drive becomes Rubio Canyon Road. Apparently, a school bus full of children drove off the road killing everyone on board and if one puts their car in neutral, the tiny ghosts of the dead children push your car uphill, against gravity. Another explanation is that the various angles of landscape such as trees, streets, homes and landscapes interact in such a way as to make it appear that one’s car is rolling uphill when, in fact, it’s rolling down. During our visit, neither youthful ghosts nor landscape angles conspired to make us feel like we were rolling anywhere but down... something I didn't feel warranted commemoration of with a picture.


There are very few places to grab a drink in Altadena. Although not a bar, George's Drive-In Liquor seems like a popular place to grab some liquor, take it outside, transfer it to a cup and hang out on a heavily-tagged bus bench. We stopped by to grab something non-alcoholic and a group of young men and a woman sipped from their styrofoam cups, nodding politely and seemingly attempting to appear nonchalant. The liquor store also offers incense in scents including Ghetto Love and Chronic Killer. There's also Johnny's Liquor.

It wasn’t until we concluded our day that we decided to go to a bar, forsaking the Altadena Ale House for the only other bar in down, Rancho Bar. Back when I worked in Pasadena, I occasionally headed up to Rancho to join a group of Pasadenan friends. However, it wasn’t until having spent the day exploring the neighborhood that I noticed how much it’s covered with clippings and artifacts about Altadena – like a the historical society if it had beer and was packed with regulars. Our bartender was cheerful and her pit bull was friendly.

Coyotes and pickup trucks in Altadena

After waiting a bit, we headed back to our homes. Physically, it’s a short distance between Altadena and Silver Lake but Altadena’s distinct vibe serves as an example of just how much variety is packed into the wonderful Southland of ours.


As always, if you have any helpful tips or additions – please leave them in comment section. If you have any spam or are a troll, kindly keep that to your sad self.

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California Fool's Gold -- A Northeast Los Angeles primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 9, 2011 05:22pm | Post a Comment

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Northeast Los Angeles*

Northeast Los Angeles is situated on a green, hilly topography bounded by the Los Angeles River, the Arroyo Seco and the San Rafael Hills. It's neighbored by The Verdugos region to the north, the San Gabriel Valley to the east, the East side to the south, and the Mid-eastside (part of Central Los Angeles) across the LA River to the west.

Many of the neighborhoods of the area began as small settlements that developed independently and were gradually annexed by LA. Highland Park became part of LA in 1895, Garvanza followed in 1899, Occidental in 1916 and Eagle Rock in 1923. It's gone through many changes but has always maintained a unique vibe that distinguishes it among LA regions. It's especially well-known for its many fine Craftsman homes. Currently, the population is roughly 63% Latino, 17% white, 16% Asian and 2% black.


An Arroyo Seco regional affiliation really began to take off in the 19th Century when the river and surrounding hills were home to a handful of later-annexed communities. However, it wasn't until around the 1970s that the current/not quite synonymous Northeast Los Angeles identity began to emerge. Before then, gangs of Cypress Park, Garvanza, Glassell Park, Highland Park, Montecito Heights, Rose Hill, &c invariably represented "The Eastside" (I'm not aware of the regional affiliations of any historic Hermon or Eagle Rock-based gangs although in a 1971 episode of Adam-12 called "Gang War" a Latino gang called The Eagle Rocks beefs with one called The Verdugos). In the 1970s, the small Varrio NELA 13 formed around a group of about 30 members in Highland Park and were likely the first organization to popularize the now widely-favored NELA acronym. 


Eager to disassociate their properties with "The Eastside," which was by then synonymous with "the barrio" and Latino gang violence in the minds of many Angelenos, real estate developers and others jumped on board with the furtherance of the distinct NELA identity in the 1980s and actively attempted to shed their associations with the Eastside they'd historically been part of. Nowadays, every single Eastside Los Angeles neighborhood (including Boyle Heights, El Sereno, and Lincoln Heights) has been re-branded by some as part of Northeast Los Angeles, leaving only unincorporated (and therefore not part of the City of Los Angeles) East Los Angeles part of the city's Eastside. (Some 20 years later a new crop of developers and others would attempt to co-opt and commodify "The Eastside's" edgy/gritty/authentic nature to market Central Los Angeles communities like Westlake, Los Feliz, East Hollywood, Silver Lake and Echo Park as a re-imagined Eastside for people at best unaware of and at worst simply uninterested in the real Eastside). What neighborhoods are part of The Eastside vs Northeast LA is therefore a matter of ongoing debate.

And now for the neighborhoods… 



Arroyo View Estates is an early 1960s suburban development located in the hills between Highland Park and Pasadena. The tract was developed by William Gorham in two phases, and is almost exclusively comprised almost exclusively of mid-century ranch homes. It was once famously the neighborhood of choice for several professional athletes. 


Annandale General Hardware & Builders Supply (image source: John McVey)

In 1917, part of Annandale was annexed by neighboring Pasadena. In 1992, what remained of Annandale joined Garvanza, Hermon, Sycamore Grove, and York Valley in forsaking their individual identities for increased clout they hoped would come from joining together with Highland Park in the Greater Highland Park Association.


Atwater Village began as a poppy field known as "Atwater Park," named after Harriet Atwater Paramore. It was subdivided in 1912 and became Atwater Village. Most of the Spanish-style homes and bungalows were built beginning in the 1920s. One of the oldest restaurants in the county, the Tam O'Shanter Inn, opened in 1922 and was frequented by Walt Disney. The Los Feliz Drive-In opened in 1950 at the corner of Riverside and Los Feliz although it only lasted six years. Many of the early residents were employees of the nearby DWP station. Nowadays the diverse population is 51% Latino (mostly Mexican), 22% white and 20% Asian (mostly Filipino). To read more about Atwater Village, click here


Cypress Park is the youngest, poorest and least diverse neighborhood with a populace that's 82% Latino (mostly Mexican), 11% Asian (mostly Chinese) and 5% white. Two of my favorite local chains, King Taco and El Atacor, both started there. One of the local bars, Footsie's, was featured in a TI video. To read more about Cypress Park, click here.


Eagle Rock is the oldest, wealthiest and most diverse neighborhood in NELA, with a population that's 30% Latino (mostly Mexican), 30% white and 24% Asian (mostly Filipino). The name comes from a large boulder which, at certain times of the day, casts a shadow that looks like a flying bird. It's long been a desirable neighborhood for artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers. To read more about Eagle Rock, click here.


Garvanza is a tiny neighborhood considered by many to be part of the larger Highland Park neighborhood that was a major center of the California Arts & Crafts movement. It's named after the garbanzo beans that purportedly flourished there after being planted by Don Julio Verdugo in 1833. In 2007, the neighborhood was made an Historical Preservation Overlay Zone. To read more about Garvanza, click here.


Glassell Park was established by attorney Andrew Glassell, who received part of Rancho San Rafael as a result of the Great Partition of 1871 lawsuit. Many of the streets, including Toland Way, Drew, Andrita and Marguarite Streets are named after his family members. It was annexed by Los Angeles in two phases, in 1912 and 1916. Today the population is 66% Latino (mostly Mexican), 17% Asian (mostly Filipino) and 14% white. To read more about it, click here


Half-square-mile Hermon was established in 1903 as a colony by the Free Methodists, who purchased the valley area from Ralph Rogers, who'd previously struggled to sell his isolated property. The Methodists named it after the Biblical landmark in Syria (currently occupied by Israel). It was annexed by Los Angeles in 1912. Hermon streets including Ebey, Coleman, Terrill and Redfield were named after clergy. Today it has a small commercial district but is primarily residential. To read more about it, click here.


Highland Park is a scenic neighborhood that's a popular filming location (it's been filmed in Reservoir Dogs, Cutter's Way, La Bamba, Tuff Turf, Up in Smoke, Yes Man, Cyrus, Karate Kid III and other films). In 1928, resident Edward M. Hiner established a music studio/rehearsal building that developed into the music department at Los Angeles State Normal School, and later UCLA. Today it's 72% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 11% white (mostly German) and 11% Asian. To read more about Highland Park, click here.


Montecito Heights is situated in the Monterey Hills and was another signigican center of the California Arts and Crafts movement. It's also known for Heritage Square, a "living history museum" where old and significant building from around Los Angeles have been relocated for preservation. It's also home to the Audubon Center and a population that's 66% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 17% Asian (mostly Chinese), 12% white and 3% black.


Monterey Hills is a small condominium development that has developed a neighborhood identity distinct from that of Montecito Heights. It's part of the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council (ASNC) and the LA Department of Transportation has installed signs at its borders. In 1971, The Monterey Hills Redevelopment Project proposed building over a thousand units on a previously undisturbed hillside. Twenty years later many of them suffered severe structural damage resulting in high profile court battles.  The cultural highlight is the annual Monterey Hills Jazz Festival. To read more about it, click here.


Mt. Washington was founded in 1909 by developer Robert Marsh. On the summit of Mt. Washington, he built the Mt. Washington Hotel and the Mount Washington Railway offered passage up the steep hillside until 1919. It's home to the Southwest Museum of the American Indian which was established my noted anthropologist, historian and journalist Charles Fletcher Lummis and is the oldest museum in the city. It's population today is 61% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran, 21% white (mostly German) and 13% Asian. To read more about Mount Washington, click here.


Sycamore Grove was annexed in 1895.The area early on began to attract bohemians and bandits, resulting in brothels and saloons springing up around Sycamore Grove. The day after Sycamore Grove became part of Highland Park, the sporting clubs in the area were razed and the land became a park. Sycamore Grove Park was dedicated in 1905. By 1910 it was a popular filming location. In 1922, Hiner began conducting bands at the Sousa-Hiner Bandshell.

York Valley is named after its main thoroughfare, York Boulevard. It was originally known as Eureka Avenue before it was changed to New York Avenue. In the 1920s, in part to distance itself from it's nickname "Poverty Flats," it became simply York Boulevard (whether true in reality or not, in the popular conscience New York is more impoverished than York). In 1922, York Valley joined other neighborhoods in retiring its name in favor of identifying with Greater Highland Park but, as with many forsaken identities, in more recent years some have attempted to restore it.


California Fool's Gold -- An Eastside Primer

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


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. 


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.


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).


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!


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!


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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