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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Monterey Hills

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 11, 2013 09:43am | Post a Comment
RUNNING UP THAT HILL -- MONTEREY HILLS

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. 

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EARLY HISTORY OF THE AREA

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.

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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.


DEMOGRAPHICS

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



GETTING THERE AND AROUND

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.

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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

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).



COUNTERPUBLICS

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 -- A Northeast Los Angeles primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 9, 2011 05:22pm | Post a Comment
 ESTAREI PENSANDO NELA -- NORTHEAST LOS ANGELES


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.


THE ARROYO SECO SET AND THE EMERGENCE OF A NELA IDENTITY

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. 


SECESSION FROM THE EASTSIDE


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… 

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ARROYO VIEW ESTATES

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


HERMON 


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


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


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


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.


MOUNT WASHINGTON


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


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
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.

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