California Fool's Gold -- Exploring University Hills

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 7, 2014 10:26pm | Post a Comment

In the fall of 2012 I had a stint house-sitting in El Sereno and I spent much of that time exploring said neighborhood with a dog named Dooley. This past fall I again returned to the Eastside and Dooley I again resumed our epic walks. This time around we explored Arroyo View Estates, City Terrace, East Los Angeles, El Sereno, Garvanza, Happy Valley, Hermon, Highland Park, Hillside Village, Lincoln Heights, Montecito Heights, Monterey Hills, Rose Hill, and one warm, sunny morning, University Hills
(University Hills is home to Los Angeles's longest public stairway -- the 234 step "Heidleman Stairway").

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of University Hills

University Hills is a small neighborhood in Los Angeles's Eastside. University Hills is, like Hillside Village, often (perhaps even usually) considered to be a district of the greater El Sereno neighborhood by some and a separate entity by others. To its west is Hillside Village, to its south are East Los Angeles and City Terrace, to the southeast is Monterey Park, and to the east is Alhambra


The earliest known inhabitants of the area that's now University Hills 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 village of Otsungna, meaning "The Place of Roses," near the banks of a stream later named Arroyo Rosa de Castilla.

The Tongva's reign ended shortly after Spaniard Gaspar de Portolà's overland expedition passed through the area in 1769, an event which set the stage for Spanish conquest. In 1771, the conquerors constructed Mission San Gabriel Arcángel -- first in Whittier Narrows. In 1776 the mission was moved to its present location in San Gabriel, seven kilometers to the northeast of what's now University Hills. A few years later, in 1781, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles was founded eight kilometers to the west.

The area that now comprises University Hills was located in lands owned and controlled by the mission until Mexico gained independence in 1821 and the missions' holdings were later subsequently secularized. In 1831, the land containing what's now University Hills was granted to Juan Ballesteros by Governor Manuel Victoria. Ballesteros named his ranch “Rancho Rosa de Castilla.” 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.

In 1850 the rancho was acquired by Anacleto Lestrade. In 1852, the title passed to a Basque couple, Jean-Baptiste Batz and his wife, Catalina Hegui. The family patriarch passed away in 1859 but it wasn't until 1876 that Catalina acquired the title to the land and purchased surrounding areas. After her death in 1882, the land was inherited by six of the eight Batz children. Their adobe, built in 1776 and gradually expanded upon over the years, was destroyed by a fire in 1908.


Freight rail along Valley Boulevard

The northwestern border of the University Hills is generally formed by a Union Pacific freight train line, acquired from Southern Pacific in 1996. Southern Pacific was the first transcontinental railway to reach Los Angeles, back in 1876. I don't believe (but I'm not sure) that this section of the rail was part of the original route connecting the city to San Francisco (since it seems to be heading in the wrong direction) although I believe that I read somewhere that it was installed no later than the 1880s. Back then the train also carried passengers to Los Angeles and in 1885, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad broke their rival's monopoly, a rate war saw trips from Kansas City, Missouri temporarily drop to just $1 per passenger.

By 1888, the San Gabriel Rapid Transit Railroad passed through the area, linking Monrovia with Los Angeles. The local stop was listed simply as "Batz." Portions of the railway were incorporated into the Pacific Electric Railway, which traveled along the route of the modern Metrolink line to San Bernardino. The train carried passengers from 1914 until 1941 and ceased to run freight in 1950. The tracks continued to be used by Southern Pacific and Amtrak until 1990, when the line was sold to LACTC (the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission), which established Metrolink in 1992. Cal State LA Station opened in 1994.


By 1906 or so, a small part of the area that's now University Hills was subdivided as Grider & Hamilton's Floral Park, who promoted their tract in the Los Angeles Herald with an ad that read, “Acres and Half-acres. Whole acres for the price of town lots just beyond beautiful Eastlake park. Close In. Wait for it. It will pay you to do so.” Grider was Leroy M. Grider, a real estate developer who'd moved to Los Angeles in 1857 and started his first company, L. M. Grider & Co., in 1886.

Grider was described by some as being the first developer to sell neighborhood's via the “excursion method,” which saw him ferry potential homeowners via streetcar to then-new "toonervilles" where they would additionally be plied with free BBQ. Grider also served on City Council but after retiring from both politics and real estate, opened a pet store called Birdland.  

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Hillside Village

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 26, 2013 10:44pm | Post a Comment

Last fall I had a stint house-sitting in El SerenoI spent much of my time exploring that neighborhood with a dog named Dooley who belongs to the owners of the home I was... sitting. This fall I again returned to the Eastside and Dooley I resumed our epic walks. This time we explored Arroyo View EstatesCity Terrace, East Los AngelesEl SerenoGarvanza, Happy Valley, HermonHighland ParkLincoln HeightsMontecito HeightsMonterey HillsRose Hill, University Hills, and on one afternoon and early evening, a neighborhood considered by many to be part of El Sereno -- Hillside Village.


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Hillside Village

Hillside Village is a small neighborhood surrounded by the rest of El Sereno to the north and east, University Hills to the east, East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights to the south, and Lincoln Heights to the west. For what appears to this nonpartisan outsider to be nothing more than a tempest in a teapot, the argument over whether or not Hillside Village is part of El Sereno is surprisingly heated -- at least between a few zealous parties in LA-32 in one corner and the El Sereno Historical Society in the other.

I can understand some of the arguments of both sides. Ever since Valley Village split from North Hollywood back in '39 other Los Angeles neighborhoods have followed suit whenever a group of residents decide that changing their name will at least distance them from perceived negative associations -- if not actually change anything about where their neighborhood is. On the other hand, elevating or reviving a forgotten tract name to neighborhood status -- or coming up with a new neighborhood name (as will the Empowerment Congress's Naming Neighborhoods Project) seems like it could be an expression of something more positive. Whatever the case may be, the "Hillside Village" designation has been around for at least five decades and doesn't show any signs of going away so without further adieu, here's a brief history of the area...


13,000 years ago, roughly the time when the first people began living in the area, there was no El Sereno and no Hillside Village. We don't know what these people called the area, if anything, nor what they even what they called themselves. Spring ahead about 10,000 years and the ancestors of the Tongva arrived from the Sonoran Desert, ultimately establishing the villages of Otsungna to the east and Yaangna to the west. 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, first in Whittier Narrows. In 1776 the mission was moved to its present location in San Gabriel, nine kilometers east of what's now Hillside Village. A few years later, in 1781, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles was founded about five kilometers to the west of the neighborhood's location. 

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

The area that now comprises Hillside Village straddled Mission lands to the east and Pueblo lands of the west. Spanish rule ended when Mexico achieved independence in 1821 and the mission holdings were 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 and neighboring Lincoln Heights was one of the city's first suburbs. The rest of what what's now Hillside Village was annexed as part of the Bairdstown Addition of 10 June, 1915, which also included most of the rest of El Sereno and what's now University Hills.


The southern border of the Hillside Village is generally formed by a Union Pacific freight train line. Los Angeles's borders extend just a bit to the south to include a small, rail-adjacent industrial area north of East Los Angeles along Worth Street between Indiana Street and Miller Avenue that's home to the beguiling Roscoe Moss property. The Roscoe Moss facility is a red brick building that was constructed in 1925 and (more than any pretentious bar) looks like it should be lit with Edison bulbs. 

Anyway, this industrial corridor is situated along a Union Pacific freight line which that company acquired with its acquisition of Southern Pacific in 1996. Southern Pacific was the first transcontinental railway to reach Los Angeles, back in 1876. I don't believe (but I'm not sure) that this section of the rail was part of the original route connecting the city to San Francisco although I believe that I read that it was installed in the 1880s. Back then the train also carried passengers to Los Angeles and in 1885, when the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad broke their rival's monopoly, a rate war saw trips from Kansas City,Missouri drop to just $1 per passenger. As I write that last sentence, I heard it whistle blowing although, as I said, it's a freight train now so there are probably rich folks eating in fancy dining cars. 


The Edmondson Building

On the other side of the tracks are some other older buildings, including several properties owned by the expanding USC Empire, whose massive and ever-expanding LAC+USC Medical Center is located just south of the tracks in Boyle Heights. The first of the USC Health Sciences Campus buildings was the Burrell O. Raulston Memorial Research Building, which opened in Boyle Heights in 1952. Over the decades that followed, USC's medical campus expanded greatly -- in some cases acquiring already extant buildings and repurposing them and in other cases building new ones. The University of Southern California Dorothy and Hugh Edmondson Research Building was built in 1961. Looking at it from the outside it looks like it's mostly used as a storage warehouse these days. To the east of that is the Valley Boulevard Building (which was built by the County for some other purpose). East of that is another group of buildings with USC signage dating from 1930. I can't tell what they're used for.

USC-owned building from 1930


New Ascot Speedway in 1924 (image source: LincolnHeightsLA)

After the arrival of the rail, the next big noise in the area was a midget car track that opened on 24 January, 1924 -- New Ascot Speedway. It was so named because the first Ascot Speedway had opened in the Florence neighborhood in 1907. For four years it struggled to draw sufficient crowds when the Glendale American Legion stepped in and subsequently convinced AAA to get behind the operation, at which point it became the Legion Ascot Speedway. In 1936, after a total of 24 race car drivers had died on the track, the Glendale Legion decided to withdraw from the deadly operation. It was then finally rebranded the Ascot Motor Speedway and soldiered on until one final, deadly accident on 25 January of that year that took the lives of Al Gordon and Spider Matlock. After that the speedway was closed. Eight months later the grandstand burned to the ground, conflagrating that chapter in one fiery swoop.

Place your bets -- in the Beverly Hills of the Eastside (aka the Beverly Hills of El Sereno)

A few years passed before most of what's now Hillside Village was subdivided. Most of the homes were constructed between 1940 and 1942 in tracts with unglamorous names like "Tract No. 23799," "Tract No. 6837," and my favorite, "Tract No. 12323." I'm not sure when folks started calling what was originally part of the El Sereno neighborhood "Hillside Village." At least as early as the 1950s The El Sereno Star listed Hillside Village as being one of the communities that it covered alongside West Alhambra, Emery Park, and Rose Hill (although spelled "Rose Hills)". There was also formerly a Hillside Village Market at least as early as the early-1970s (anyone?) but it does have a fairly distinct World War II-era suburban vibe -- not that homogeneous sameness does a neighborhood make.

Lawn jockeys and Zumba

It's just that most of it looks like like it stepped out of an episode of The Wonder Years -- although it seems that many Hillside Villagers are converting their thirsty and boring carpets of grass into xeriscaped lawns or other more interesting options.

Beautiful, drought tolerant, no-mow Zoysia -- aka Korean Velvet Grass aka Temple Grass

Still, I'm never going to refer to it as "The Beverly Hills of the Eastside" unless I want to illustrate why some are rubbed the wrong way by the neighborhood's reputation as an oasis of pretense in an otherwise pretty unpretentious area.

Air Raid Siren Number: 192 and a late Art Deco/vaguely Streamline Moderne apartment building from 1948

Get this and get it straight -- Hillside Village has a lot in common with the rest of the Eastside and comparatively little with the Westside. There are seemingly as many angry dogs as people (78% Latino, 16% Asian, 5% white, and 1% black) and I saw none being carried in Coach handbags. As I walked down Valley, a lowrider bounced past me -- hardly a typical site in Beverly Hills or even laid back Palms. School was out for a winter break so it was probably quieter than usual but that heavy silence was broken by an ice cream truck bumping that 1820s jam, "Turkey in the Straw" as well as both crowing roosters and squawking parrots. Actually, it was so quiet for the most part that at one point I thought that I hear crickets breaking into song even though it was still light out. That noise turned out, after investigation, to be the sound of a loose belt in the machinery at a small strip mall that, along with the rest of Valley Boulevard, serves as the neighborhood's primary commercial corridor.

Hillside Village storefronts on Valley

Downtown Hillside Village -- the mall

Although none of it made me think that I was magically transported into the Westside, there were a few signs that this neighborhood was unlike the others. I smelled no weed being smoked (although it was surely taking place) and instead of  hearing banda or rap coming from passing cars I only heard Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" and The Cars' "Just What I Needed." Coincidentally, both songs were released in 1978 and in researching the neighborhood I found a map that someone made of Eastside gang territories from that year. It showed most of "The Village" being claimed by an organization known as "Hillside." Although as Eastside barrios go Hillside Village is relatively un-scarred by placas, I did see numerous ones from El Sereno Rifa and none from Hillside suggesting that Hillside are no more and that the Locke Street clika doesn't recognize Hillside Village as being distinct from El Sereno. Neither, then, did the media who when President Carter visited, referred to the area (erroneously and ignominiously) as "East L.A."

        Map showing gang territories of 1978           Modern placa in Hillside Village suggesting borders have changed

There are LA DOT neighborhood signs designating the area "Hillside Village" that went up in 1998. However,  the El Sereno Historical Society alleges in one of the least-subscribed-to conspiracy theories (on their GeoCities-esque website) that they are counterfeit. Not exactly through the looking glass but there you have it.

Ascot Hills Park behind Hillside Village homes


Ascot Hills from Woodrow Wilson High School

Although located just north of Hillside Village, the 93 acre Ascot Hills Park is practically the community's backyard. Plans to turn the space into a park began in 1930 but it instead was used as an LADWP training center for many years -- visible to people not part of that utility mafia through bars and fences (much like Los Feliz's tantalizing-but-off-limits-to-the-public Rowena Reservoir). Before it opened as a park, the largest park on the Eastside was a cemetery -- that is, if one conveniently excludes the much larger Ernest E. Debs Regional Park in Montecito Heights from one's definition of the Eastside for the sake of a good quote (e.g. "Until the groundbreaking for the park in 2005, the largest open space in East Los Angeles was Evergreen Cemetery. This sent the wrong message to our children. If you want open space, you have to die first.")


The main school in the neighborhood is Woodrow Wilson High School. The high school first began in 1937 at what's now El Sereno Middle School. After outgrowing that location, it relocated to the present campus in 1970. The school's architecture was designed by the great local architect Paul Revere Williams. Twice a year, at homecoming and graduation, the school puts on a fireworks show. There's also Multnomah Elementary School. I don't have any other information about it but it didn't look that interesting from the street and probably shouldn't be to anyone who's not enrolled there are related to someone who is. 


Los Angeles Christian Presbyterian Church (나성한인교회)

There's a huge worship hall on Druid Street. From that fact alone you might expect the high priest to be Julian Cope but because it's actually a Presbyterian church -- a denomination with roots in decidedly un-druidic Calvinism. The Los Angeles Christian Presbyterian Church (나성한인교회) congregation moved into this mega-church in 1984.

Ming Ya Buddhist Temple (明月居士林)

Ming Ya (明月居士林)

Behind the gates

Yet another view of the temple 

The building that Ming Ya (明月居士林) is located in was constructed in 1951 and was once the home of the aforementioned Roscoe Moss Company (now located across the boulevard). The last tenants before the Buddhists was Electronics Division of the Thomas & Betts Corp. Ming Ya acquired the building around twenty years ago and even though it seemed to be all locked up and empty, the smell of joss sticks still hung heavy in the surrounding air. I've still yet to go inside but in my experience, most Buddhist temples are worth a peek -- and maybe more.


Cha Cha Chili

Valeria Market

There are a few restaurants and markets located in Hillside Village, most on or near Valley Boulevard. They include Big Panda, Cha Cha Chili, Johnnie's Market, King Torta, Olympic Donut, Roong-Fah Thai Chinese Food, Tony's Subs & Salads, and Valeria's Market. Cha Cha Chili began in 2009 as Red Hot Kitchen and I've eaten there on another occasion. It's a tiny Korean/Mexican place and the tacos are good. The tortas are cheap and delicious at King Torta -- in my opinion it's a real gem of the area. Johnnie's Market also sells sandwiches although I've only bought water for Dooley there (after I thought I'd broken her with an epic walk). It was established in the 1950s by Johnnie Costentino. Last year I asked the man behind the counter how long it's been run by current owners -- Kim and Winnie Kong -- and he guessed 38 years or so. Valeria's Market also sells its own food, including at least tamales.

King Torta -- not much from the outside but try the food

Johnnie's -- with some nice, commercial mural work


The small neighborhood is served well by public transit, including the DASH El Sereno/City Terrace line and Metro's 76, 251/252, and 256 lines. Although Walkscore has separate date for neighboring University Hills, they lump Hillside Village in with the rest of El Sereno, to which they only give a walk score of 53. Their transit score for the neighborhood is 41 and the bike score is 39. Nowhere within Hillside Village is more than half a kilometer from a bus line and although there might not be many bike lines, it's all quite easily biked and only Eastern AvenueSoto Street, and Valley Boulevard see any significant automobile traffic. I suppose though that due to the limited number of businesses one might have to leave the neighborhood to accomplish many errands.


Although there was a band called a skate punk band called Hillside Village I have doubts about them being from the neighborhood or their name being a reference to it. I'm certain, however, that there are musicians from the neighborhood because I heard someone practicing drums somewhere and on a walk through Ascot Hills Park on a previous occasion, Dooley was entranced by a high schooler playing the saxophone at a bus stop.

As far as film, there are no movie shops, no theaters, no films shot in part or whole there, nor any filmmakers or actors from there that I know of. If I'm missing something, please let me know in the comments! Same goes for games, literature, theater, dance, and the other arts.

Fire Station No. 16

Dooley investigates the Dalmatian

There is a little bit of public art in the neighborhood. In front of Los Angeles Fire Department 16, there's one statue of a firefighter and statue or figurine of a dalmatian (that Dooley took an entirely wholesome interest in). One plaque on the stations wall is dedicated to Everett H. Young, who died in the line of duty on 12 November, 1947 (the same day that the Spruce Goose made its only flight). Another informs us that the fire station was built in 1962.

Two Hillside Village examples of Jose Antonio Aguirre's A Luminarias Journey

There's also José Antonio Aguirre's A Luminaries Journey, a collection of public art pieces installed near the Valley Boulevard Bridge honoring significant figures in Chicano history. And wherever there's freight rail, there's invariably street art (or at least graffiti) although I've never really explored along the rails in the area.


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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 El Sereno, The Last of the Independent

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 12, 2012 09:41pm | Post a Comment


Normally for my LA and OC neighborhood blogs, I spend a day (two in the case of Highland Park) exploring and seeing as much as I can and then write about it. For El Sereno, however, I had two whole weeks to explore.

I was house-sitting for a couple, staying in their 1959 mid-century home and taking care of a dog and two cats. Before this excursion I was fairly unfamiliar with El Sereno, having once visited the couple I was house-sitting for, twice visited musician Johann Bogeli (Moving Units), passed through on my bike, eaten at King Torta a few times, and just once purposelessly peregrinating (during which time I came across the Mazatlan).

A hawk seen from the window

The first night I spent in El Sereno, one of my hosts and I attended a mescal party in Eagle Rock. Aterward, joined by the other host, we all relaxed in their yard, absorbing the sounds of banda music and partying taking place nearby.

After my hosts embarked on their road trip I would almost always be accompanied in my rambles by their trusty dog, Dooley. I’m not sure if people were especially friendly because I was walking a dog and not just a suspicious guy walking around taking pictures or if people in El Sereno are just generally amongst the city’s most friendly. Whatever the reason, the average day involved so many exchanges of “good morning,” “buenos dias” and hand-waves with complete strangers (and one unintelligible between Dooley and a woman that seemed to have something to do with her ankle monitor and maybe a lighter). As a result, El Sereno has for me deposed Compton as the friendliest community to strangers. (For those wondering, Laurel Canyon and Cambodia Town seemed the coldest).

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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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