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Calfornia Fool's Gold -- Exploring Yucca Corridor, Los Angele's Crack Alley

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 25, 2009 01:25pm | Post a Comment
In this installment of the Los Angeles neigborhood blog, we visit Yucca Corridor. To vote for a different Los Angeles neighborhood, go here. To vote for a Los Angeles County community, go here.

  
Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Yucca Corridor & Hollywood

The Yucca Corridor is a small, crowded neighborhood in central Hollywood, just northwest of downtown. Its borders are Franklin Ave on the north, Hollywood Blvd on the south, Highland on the west, and Vine on the east. Below is the southeast corner of what's now Yucca Corridor as it was in 1907. Nowadays it is 42% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatelmalteca), 41% white (mostly Armenian), 7% Asian and 5% black.



The Yucca Corridor
Yucca Corridor is a fairly dilapidated section of Hollywood, despite 100s of millions of dollars having been dumped into it since the death of Hollywood in the 1950s. Today, although much improved from its nadir, it’s still one of the most run-down areas of Los Angeles. Now, after decades of heralding its complete rejuvenation, the hype finally seems to be approaching reality -- though tellingly, the predominant smell in the air is of sun-dried urine.


Hollywood was originally a dry, Methodist community founded of a few hundred residents located roughly ten miles northwest of Los Angeles. In those days, the film industry was then centered in Edendale. In 1910, D.W. Griffith's In Old California -- shot at 1713 N Vine in what’s now the southeast corner of the Yucca Corridor in downtown Hollywood -- was the first film made in Hollywood. Within five years, most American films were made in Los Angeles and several studios and stars called Hollywood home. By the '20s, it was hopping, as a shot of the same intersection below shows.


By the 1940s, Hollywood was the center of film, radio and television production. In the 1950s, however, faced with rising property values and rents, the entire area experienced a mass exodus with most television and film production facitilies moving away.


For a time, bouyed by the 1954 construction of the nearby Capitol building, Hollywood retained some sense of glamor and was still known as a hub of the music industry. The Villa Capri at 6735 Yucca was a favorite Rat Pack hangout. However, despite its continuing glamourous reputation, Hollywood began a long decline from which it wouldn’t even begin to emerge for another forty years.



By 1958, the music industry had proved incapable of keeping Hollywood alive and it was, for all intents and purposes, dead. In the first of many efforts at restoring life to the necropolis, the neighborhood created the Hollywood Walk of Fame that year, placing eight stars in the sidwalk just west of the Yucca Corridor, which ultimately grew, passing along the entirety of the Corridor's southern edge. Today, the grimy sidewalk of widely unrecognized names seems rather unimpressive. Most of the stores along it sell post cards, novelty license plates, tattoos and clothing so tacky that most prostitutes have too much decency to wear it.


In the 1960s, Hollywood undertook another effort to make the neighborhood attractive -- destroying most of the art deco buildings in the area to make way for boxier, less stylized structures. Two art deco buildings that escaped the wrecking ball are the Fontenoy at 1811 Whitley (pictured above), constructed in 1928 and the Montecito, at 6650 Franklin (pictured below).



The oldest restaurant in Hollywood, Musso & Frank’s, opened in 1919. Suspecting it’s a tourist trap, Musso & Frank's and a Chinese place on Highland are about the only Yucca Corridor restaurants I haven’t eaten at in the name of research. Only the Village Pizza and the Lotería Grill exceed mediocrity, which they both do by a healthy margin. Anyway, back in the 60s, the efforts to attract tourists largely failed and the void left by the departure of the entertainment industry was filled by hippies. The many head shops in Yucca Corridor have proven one of the neighborhood's most enduring business successes.

  

By the '70s, the Yucca Corridor slipped further into decline and most of the hotels in the area became flophouses. One, The Lido, inspired Frank Zappa’s “Willie the Pimp” and was featured in the album art for Hotel California. The Lido had a long history of notoriety, roughly paralleling the neighborhood's decay. Back in the 1950s, Ed Wood did much of his drinking in its bar, which he lived above until he was evicted.

 
Wilcox and Yucca - note the cameras

Wood's upstairs neighbor pimped out her young daughter, beneath was a woman who pimped out her young daughter. A drag queen was stabbed to death in the hallway and it was also there that Victor Kilian, the Fernwood Flasher on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, was beaten to death. Crossing the street to buy booze at Playboy Liqour, Wood was routinely mugged in the intersection that was long considered the most dangerous in the neighborhood. As a result, neighborhood watch groups installed video cameras at the intersection later, but that didn’t stop the theft of the martini glass serving as the “Y” in the store's name and now it goes as Pla-Boy.


The “Tortilla House,” a famous crash pad on Las Palmas, housed 100 homeless transients at one time. But in the '70s, many of the hippies were joined by working class Latinos and the character of the neighborhood changed. On weekends, Hollywood Boulevard was choked with lowrider traffic. Around the same time, many of the sex stores, stripper-wear merchants and porn theatres moved in, followed by an influx of prostitution and drugs. At this point, the crime rate in the area was double the rest of the city -- only topped by the areas around LAX. In the midst of it, the famous The Masque at 1655 N Cherokee was an L.A. Punk venue that hosted The Weirdos, X, The Go-Gos, The Germs, the Screamers and F-Word and was shut down in 1977, when cops began to crack down on the neighborhood.

 
By the early 1980s, the shadowy band of crazed transients known as The Night People dominated Hollywood, based out of the vacant Security Pacific National Bank Building and Garden Court Apartments (aka Hotel Hell), both flanking but just outside the Yucca Corridor. In 1983, the Hollywood Branch Library at Ivar was broken into, vandalized, then set on fire, destroying about 68,000 books.

After much of Hollywood was declared a blighted slum, redevelopment began in earnest in the late 1980s, with efforts led by another shadowy group of glassy-eyed walking dead, the Scientologists. Strangely, they appeared on the scene roughly around the same time as the collapse of another cult, the 1970s' The Center for Feeling Therapy (or The Screamers), who bought much of the property south of the neighborhood. In the 1980s, though a blighted hellscape, game shows still routinely offered winners a two-night stay in glamorous Hollywood, California to unsuspecting tourists, who can still be seen departing from airport shuttles with horrified and disbelieving looks in their eyes.
 

On the left, one of Ed Wood's old apartment buildings. On the right, the former location of La Iguerita.

At the beginning of the ‘90s, the Yucca Corridor seemed little improved, beyond Scientologists' having saved some of the neighborhood's historic buildings from ruin. The crack problem was so bad that the stretch of Yucca between Whitely and Wilcox was known as Crack Alley, which was patrolled by the neighborhood watch groups: Ivar Hawks, Cherokee Condors, Las Palmas Lions, Wilcox Werewolves, Whitley Rangers and Hudson Howlers. Previously focused on individual streets, in 1991 they united as United Streets of Hollywood and Yucca Corridor was proposed as a name to bring attention to the most decrepit neighborhood in a bedraggled district. After two dozen people were killed between the 7-11 on Cahuenga and Ivar and La Iguerita Club, the police formed a special task force to target the area. La Iguerita Club was famous for its violence and drugs that spilled out into the streets. After a murder inside the bar, it was shut down for 45 days. After being closed again for serving alcohol to people who were already blind drunk, people in the Corridor organized to shut it down permanently.

 

In 1992, a block to the south, the LA riots spread to Yucca Corridor and Frederick's of Hollywood was looted, Madonna’s famous pointy bra stolen in the process. The following year, the street was paved with glassphalt, a sparkly pavement designed to add a suggestion of glamour to the embattled, ramshackle neighborhood. When the Northridge earthquake hit the following year, several buildings were condemned. Violence peaked afterward, with Yucca averaging a murder a day. Blockades were erected along the street to reduce drug trafficking.

 
In the 2000s, the neighborhood grew noticeably less shady, with attention-whoring hipsters mostly replacing the the more conventional sort at night. A landscaped median with a sign, the "Gateway to Hollywood” was recently completed by the Yucca Corridor Coalition at a cost of $658,000 in an effort to create yet another reason for visiting the neighborhood. So far, I haven't been asked by anyone for directions to it, although as I took the picture, a guy asked me where the notorious 7-11 is. 
 
For more Yucca Corridor:

  Frank Zappa Hot Rats  



*****


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little Armenia

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 7, 2008 01:13pm | Post a Comment

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Little Armenia

In the Los Angeles Neighborhood poll, right behind Morningside Circle is Little Armenia. To vote in the Los Angeles County Community poll, go here.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Hollywood

When I first moved to Silver Lakefrom Chino I got a job in nearby Burbank. I drove through Glendale and noticed that the population of both cities was largely Armenian. The signs were written in that unique Armenian alphabet that kind of looks like broken bits of elbow macaroni glued to croquet hoops. I think that, at the time, I had only the vaguest notion of where Armenia was. (For the record, at Amoeba we file it in the Middle East, to the consternation of many since it's a Christian nation in South Eastern Europe).


A typical block of Little Armenia

Anyway, Armenia is where Noah crash landed his Ark full of all the world's species at the end of the Earth's brief oceanic period. Armenia is one of the world's oldest civilizations. It was founded by Noah's great-great grandson Hayk. Armenia, situated between Turkey, Iran and Russia finds itself ideally situated for invasion from some of history's biggest imperialists so it's pretty amazing that they still exist as a people. Perhaps that's partly due to the fact that Armenians seem to be willing to live anywhere. Like Australians, Lebanese and Israelis, Armenians are one of the the nationalities you're most likely to encounter in any country as tourists or part of the diaspora.

 
          A Statue of Hayk (In Yerevan)                                 Me in my Little Armenia-purchased Sean John

Back to Burbank then. Many of my customers were Armenian and I noticed that a lot of them really liked Tupac and film Scarface (I think that may still be true). A lot of the guys wore Sean Jean tracksuits, which I thought looked pretty damned comfortable (especially the velour ones). Both the guys and (less often) the girls had a high incidence of synophrys, which I also thought was cool because I have one myself (like many Anglos e.g. Hugh Grant, Damon Albarn, Kraftwerk and the Brothers Gallagher).  Whereas in England they have been linked to criminality, some Eurasian peoples consider them beautiful. I let mine grow in, for the first time in years. But then a friend from college visited me who'd only experienced the groomed version of my eyebrows. Right away when he saw me he said, "Jesus Whoah God" and I returned it to its cage.

Unibrowed beauties

When I noticed the signs in the East Hollywood neighborhood for Little Armenia I was surprised, given the more undeniable  and overwhelmingly Armenian character of Glendale and Burbank. But what I wasn't realizing was that Glendale and Burbank are their own cities and Little Armenia is the main Armenian neighborhood of Los Angeles. When you're new to the city and you drive around on the freeway you see many little clusters of downtown skyscrapers and it's hard to tell which is Los Angeles, which is Century City, which Downtown, &c since they're all roughly the same size and just pop up like termite mounds around the sprawlscape. 


St. Garabed

Little Armenia doesn't really have a downtown. It's roughly quadrisected by Normandie and Sunset; bordered by Hollwood Blvd to the north, Santa Monica Blvd to the south, Vermont to the East and the 101 Freeway to the west. It is neighbored by Los Feliz, Sunset Junction, Virgil Village, Melrose Gateway, Melrose Hill, Hollywood proper, Franklin Village and Thai Town.

It's very diverse. On my bike rides through the neighborhood to and from work I always see Mexicans, Scientologists, Salvadorans, the disabled, Guatemaltecas, Russians, Schizoprenics, Thai and Pilipinos on any day of the week. And all of my co-workers that I know of that live in the neighborhood are Caucasian (in that they're white, not that their people are from the Caucausus Mountains, as Armenians are).  But Little Armenia got its titular character in the early 1970s when significant populations of Armenians started moving to the area and opening businesses.



Aside from the storefronts, which often have signs written in Armenian, Little Armenia has few physical aspects that reflect its Armenian character. Physically, like most of the Hollywood lowlands, it's actually a fairly ugly neighborhood, dominated by bland apartment buildings, small homes with concrete lawns and strip malls. There is, however, a mural depicting Armenian history on the south face of the building at 1203 E Vermont Ave (update: it's been painted over) and several art deco buildings and a couple of attractive churches, including St. Garabed Church (an Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church).



If you've ever looked at the crosses on Orthodox churches, you may wonder why they look like old fashioned TV antennas more than the cross most non-Orthodox Christians are used to. The explanation I've heard for the diagonal bar is that Jesus' legs were unequal lengths. Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as the state religion so they probably know what they're talking about.

   

The Hollywood and Western Building  is a nice Art Deco building that was built for Louis B. Mayer in 1928. It was featured in the film, Hollywood Shuffle and used as a rehearsal space by bands including Guns N Roses and White Zombie. The Holy Transfiguration Russian Orthodox Church on Fernwood is rather striking. I once e-mailed them asking if they were holding services whilst the church was being restored. Disappointed by my experiences with Vatican 2, I hoped to get some old-fashioned ritual. They didn't write back.



There used to be the famous Hollywood Star Lanes. I loved that place, despite my indifference to bowling. Built in 1962, it was famously featured in the Big Lebowski. Sadly, it was demolished to make way for a school.



In the neighborhood's only significant green space, Barnsdall Art Park, there is the Hollyhock House and other buildings atop Olive Hill, which were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in the 1910s during his Mayan Revival phase. This probably makes me sound like a philistine, but I've always thought of the architect as "Frank Lloyd $h*+3" because his designs, from his various phases, always seem like such pale reflections of his influences. The Mayans and the Japanese were architectural gods. Frank Lloyd Wright is like the Disney version in my mind. I do enjoy his appreciation for mulled wine and the fact that he built his furniture to the scale of his buildings' inhabitants ...but I just can't share appreciation for his architecture.

Back in 2005, on Labor Day weekend, the park was the sight of Arthurfest where I saw Sleater-Kinney, The Black Keys, Lavender Diamond, Wolfmother and a whole slew of others that I've can't remember. 



There's also the Scientology Church, located in a former hospital. There are actually a lot of Scientology buildings in the neighborhood. On any given night you might see a bus unloading the unfortunately-attired enemies of Xenu who then parade morosely into a non-descript building for a night of niacin tripping and psychiatry-bashing.

I ended up buying a tracksuit at Little Paris, which isn't a neighborhood, but a store that serves most of the neighborhoods tracksuit needs. I heard the words "baby blue" amidst the Armenian several times. I often observe older Armenian men's uniform consisting more often of waistcoats, jackets, dress shirts and driving caps. They often walk with their hands clasped behind their backs and hang out in their yards with friends drinking libations and playing board games.



Every April 24, Little Armenia is flooded with luxury cars adorned with Armenian Flags, both real and sometimes painted. The streets are choked with Armenians marking Genocide Remembrance Day. This is probably the main thing non-Armenian Americans know about Armenia. The other big celebration in the neighborhood seems to be June 1, which marks Armenian Independence Day.



I've never read any Bukowski because he seems like a writer for bros, but I guess a lot of his stuff took place in Little Armenia. Also, I hear that a lot of The Shield is filmed there. I tried watching The Shield, mistakenly confusing it with the massively-hyped The Wire (which both sound like they're for bros) and got nauseous from the camera work to the point that I couldn't follow what was going on but it seemed to mainly concern the misadventures of a a bald, henpecked Bruce Willis-type bickering with his wife and was very unpleasant physically and spiritually.


As a glutton, I've got to mention Armenian cuisine. Most non-Armenians probably don't even know when they're eating Armenian because so many places take the incognito strategy of calling themselves "Middle Eastern" or "Mediterranean" joints--as do a lot of Lebanese and Persian restaurants. I guess naming yourself "Beirut Palace," "Star of Iran" or "Baghdad No. 1" might not make good business sense in the Near & Middle East-hating USA. Anyway, to be fair, Armenian cuisine is kind of a mix of Assyrian, Balkan, Mediterranean, Caucasian (the region), Eastern European and Middle Eastern influences. If you live in Los Angeles County, you've probably eaten at a Zankou Chicken. After being started by a Lipananahay in Beirut, Zankou opened its second store in the Little Armenia location on Sunset before spreading out. Other oft-spoken of restaurants of Little Armenia include Marouch, Arax, Carousel and Panos and there are a lot of highly-praised bakeries in the area too.


*****


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