California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Glassell Park

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 5, 2014 03:42pm | Post a Comment


This entry of California Fool's Gold is about the Los Angeles neighborhood of Glassell Park, a working class neighborhood in Northeast Los Angeles. Glassell Park's neighbors are the neighborhoods of Eagle Rock to the east, Mount Washington to the southeast, Cypress Park to the south, Elysian Valley to the southwest, Atwater Village to the west, and the Glendale neighborhoods of Adams Hill, Somerset, and Tropico to the north. 

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's maps (prints available from 1650 Gallery)

Sometime around the 1970s, a distinct Northeast Los Angeles began to emerge. Back then, the NELA 13 gang coined an acronym that their members couldn't have known would turn into a hip branding tool used to market luxury (yet freeway-adjacent) townhomes promising "modern living" in the form of a private dog park and two-car garages. Elsewhere in the neighborhood today, incongruous McMansions are improbably squeezed into tiny lots formerly occupied by tasteful Craftsman homes. 

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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little Seoul

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 19, 2014 07:53pm | Post a Comment

Welcome sign at Brookhurst

Drive down Garden Grove Boulevard with your windows up (paying proper attention to the road in front of you) and you might not notice that you're passing through Little Seoul. There are no banners, memorials, murals, monuments or that many fluttering South Korean flags. Pass through on a bus and maybe you'll notice the Hangul signs and blue tile roofs. The best way to experience Little Seoul, despite some drawbacks, is by walking in it – although your hair might pick up the smell like bulgogi by the end of your ramble. The other day I headed over there to explore it, accompanied by Una Zipagan and host of the excellent Notebook on Cities and Culture podcast, Colin Marshall

Another blue tile community


Los Angeles currently has the largest population Korean-Americans. In fact, 17% of all Korean-Americans live somewhere in the Southland. Korean business districts have sprung up in Los Angeles's Koreatown and Garden Grove's Little Seoul as well as in Buena Park, Cerritos, Fullerton, Rowland Heights and elsewhere whilst Koreans have more often chosen to make their homes in places like Anaheim, Gardena, Glendale, Hacienda Heights, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Palma, Santa Clarita, and Torrance (as well as Buena Park, Cerritos, Fullerton, and Rowland Heights).

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of North Orange County

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Garden Grove

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of Little Seoul

Although Koreatown is incontestably the main Korean business district in the entire US, Little Seoul – located about 50 kilometers southeast – is no slouch. By some estimations it's the second largest Korean business district on the West Coast and the fourth largest Korean business district in the nation. Even in Little Seoul, Koreatown's dominance is reflected by the telltale Wilshire addresses of most of the newspapers's offices and business names like Wilshire Bank but the cultural exchange is not completely one-sided; when Colin spotted Ondal Restaurant, he alerted Una and I that Koreatown is home to Ondal 2.

Little Seoul – or officially and less charmingly “The Korean Business District” -- is located along a 3.5 kilometer stretch of Garden Grove Boulevard in the city of Garden Grove, abutting against the much larger enclave of Little Saigon. The population of Garden Grove is currently about 38% Asian-American, although 73% of that percentage are Vietnamese. Koreans, after Vietnamese, are the second largest Asian ethnicity in Orange County and Korean is the fourth most spoken language in Orange County homes.



The first Korean to become a naturalized citizen was Philip Jaisohn (Seo Jae-Pil ), who arrived in the US in 1885 as a political exile. In 1902, King Gojong, the first emperor of Korea, granted Koreans the right to work abroad and following that, hundreds and soon thousands of Koreans were lured to American-occupied Hawaii, where the Hawaiian Sugar Planters' Association courted Asians of various ethnicities (so that solidarity and strikes would be difficult to achieve and undertake) to work on their plantations. 

Racist and completely ineffective sidewalk appeal in Little Seoul (possibly written by John McCain)

Koreans faced considerable ignorance and hostility both there and in the mainland. In 1913, California passed a law prohibiting all Asians from buying property. That same year Korean farmers were attacked in Hemet by an anti-Japanese mob of idiots. In 1924, the US Congress passed the Oriental Exclusion Act which barred all Asians from immigrating. Some Koreans, however, were admitted into the US on student visas and by the 1930s, there was a community of a few hundred Koreans living primarily in Chesterfield Square and Vermont Square, two neighborhoods on South Los Angeles's Westside located near the campus of USC.

After the surrender of Japan to the Allies in 1945, Korea (which had been officially “annexed” by Japan in 1910) was divided by the victors of World War II at the 38th parallel. Tensions between North and South Korea escalated into all out war in 1950 and a stalemate was achieved in 1953, after perhaps one million had perished. The McCarran-Walter Act was passed in 1952 which allowed for increased immigration from South Korea. In the years that followed, war brides and mixed-race orphans joined students and professionals in the ranks of Koreans heading to America. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 allowed for even larger numbers of immigrants and, after Filipinos, Koreans became the second fastest-growing Asian ethnicity in the US.

The seeds of Koreatown were planted in in Los Angeles in 1969, when Lee Hi Duk opened Olympic Market on Olympic Boulevard in Wilshire Center. Lee opened several more businesses and by the mid-1970s, Koreatown was established and growing, although it wasn't officially recognized until 1980. Koreatown spread outward in all directions from Olympic, including into South Los Angeles, where there were well-publicized incidents of racial tension. Most infamously, in 1991, a black 15-year-old named Latasha Harlins was shot and killed by a Korean shop keep, Soon Ja Du, at Empire Liquor in Vermont Vista. When the Los Angeles Riots erupted on 29 April, 1992, Koreatown was hit especially hard and 40% of all looted businesses in the city were Korean owned. The incident came to be widely known amongst Korean-Americans as “Sa-I-Gu” (4-2-9).

It has sometimes been hypothesized that the riots were one of the primary catalysts for Koreans' exodus to the suburbs but in fact that movement had been occurring for a while. Koreatown was and is often an entry point for Korean immigrants who in many cases choose to then make their homes in communities with highly ranked school districts rather than convenient access to Korean shopping districts. By 1980 there were more than 11,000 Koreans living in Orange County (nowadays there are Korean populations that exceed that figure in several Orange County cities) and the Korean businesses district of Garden Grove was already firmly established.


Garden Grove was founded by Alonzo Cook in 1874 and the agricultural town's economy depended in its early years on the production of apricots, chickens, chilies, grapes, oranges, peaches, strawberries, and walnuts. When Garden Grove incorporated in 1956, the population had grown to about 44,000 -- mostly white, working class folks would followed the post-war suburban sprawl emanating from the nearby Harbor area and its aerospace industry and transformed the city into an almost entirely residential one.

Garden Grove Boulevard (originally Ocean Boulevard) was designated Highway 22 in 1934. It was the primary thoroughfare until 1965, when construction of the Garden Grove Freeway began, slashing and burning its way through the city and having an especially deleterious effect on the area immediately surrounding it. In the 1970s, a redevelopment program was launched to reverse Garden Grove's declining fortunes. In neighboring Westminster, similarly caught in a downward spiral, anti-Communist (and therefore presumably uber-Capitalist) Vietnamese were wooed to bring business to Bolsa Avenue. Around the same time the first Korean businesses began to appear three kilometers north in Garden Grove.

Possible throwback to the good ol' days -- Romantix and Hip Pocket Adult Bookstore

The Ranch Motel

The stretch of Garden Grove Boulevard that's now home to Little Seoul was then largely undeveloped although there were a couple of strip clubs, adult video stores, seedy motels. One such lodge, the Ranch Motel, was the site of the grisly torture and murder of a Huntington Beach prostitute in 1985. By then the Korean redevelopment of the area was already underway.

Xenophobe-baiting Hangul-heavy sign (with faux gas lamp)

As with Koreatown, the first Korean business established in Little Seoul was a supermarket [was it the now-closed Han Nam Supermarket?]. By 1980 there were 80 Korean-owned businesses in the neighborhood and in 1981, the first Korean Festival was held in nearby Garden Grove Park. The name “Little Seoul” was applied at least as early as 1986 and predictably complaints were made by some about signs written in Hangul. In 2001, signs designating the area the “Korean Business District” were placed at the eastern and western ends of Little Seoul. 

(Click here to read my account of exploring Garden Grove)


OCTA stop in Little Seoul

Right now Little Seoul is served by Orange County Transit Authority's bus lines 29, 33, 35, and 56. The neighborhood is located just west of the old West Santa Ana Branch Line of the Pacific Electric Railway, which connected Santa Ana to Watts until 1950. For the time being the closest train station is 13 kilometers east in the city of Orange. Metro is working on ultimately restoring rail to the neighborhood with its West Santa Ana Transit Corridor project but when that will be completed (or even begun) remains to be seen. 

Vodie's Alignment & Brakes

Luckily, Little Seoul is quite flat and therefore quite easily bikeable and walkable -- provided one is physically able and psychologically predisposed. Garden Grove Boulevard still often gives the impression of being a freeway and the lack of buffering road verges, measurable amounts of shade, benches, or even other pedestrians as well as the inward orientation of businesses and the close proximity of the sidewalks to speeding cars give off a sort of pedestrian-hostile vibe. Walkscore doesn't have a figure for Little Seoul but assigns a score of just 55 out of 100 to the city of Garden Grove. If you need a bicycle, Little Seoul is home to Garden Grove Bike Shop.

A rare, non-linear view of Little Seoul 


If you'd like to stay in Little Seoul overnight, there are several lodging options. There's the aforementioned Ranch Motel, built in 1956 and the Tropic Motel, built in 1955. Perhaps the best motel sign award goes to the Grove Motel.

Other nearby lodges include Best Western Palm Garden Inn, Hospitality Inn-Garden Grove, Little Saigon Inn, Morada Inn & Suites, and Ramada Plaza Garden Grove/Anaheim South.


In contrast to nearby Little Saigon, where on Sundays parking lots are packed both with men hanging out in folding chairs and bad drivers, Little Seoul proved to be decidedly quiet. Many of the parking lots were almost completely empty. Some even had improbably long gates extending across their entrances. When a car alarm sounded in the distance, it only underscored just how quiet it all was.

From the sidewalk it was sometimes difficult to tell which businesses were open, which were closed, and which were completely vacant but we soon learned that within the air-conditioned environment of the great indoors, there were buzzing pockets of activity (if nothing that even approaches the level of pedestrian-dense-and-friendly Koreatown or I suspect, big Seoul) 

Today the number of Korean businesses in Little Seoul reportedly exceeds 1,000. Although most of people that I spotted entering and leaving the neighborhood residences seemed in most cases to be Latino, Anglo, or Vietnamese, under the roofs of the sprawling markets the clientele were almost (with the exception of ourselves) exclusively either Vietnamese or Korean.


Despite its lack of accommodations for pedestrians, there are few errands that one couldn't conceivably accomplish on foot or by bicycle in Little Seoul. The neighborhood is full of dentists offices, spas, optometrists, hair salons, &c.

Police and psychics in the streets

Lost Treasures (Found! on the roof)

Since I most tourists (Korean-American non-Korean alike) are drawn to Korean businesses districts for the food, I'll start there. And because they made Little Seoul possible and still prove to be the centers of human activity, I'll begin with the supermarkets.

Shop smart, shop H-Mart

Inside Arirang Supermarket 

Until a couple of years ago there were three markets to which to pledge one's allegiance. Han Nam Supermarket closed and now, Arirang Supermarket (A.R. Supermarket) and H-Mart compete for commerce and Yelp reviews. Meanwhile a new Wal-mart Neighborhood Market sits poised and ready to possibly destroy both although it's hard to imagine a Wal-mart supporting the food courts and various other shops that make Arirang and H Mart take on the appearance of something akin to a swap meet crossed with a town square.

Shops and food court at H-Mart

Curly-haired cubist men must push their carts behind the X to their McMansions


Korean cuisine is one of those foods that has been cautiously and only partially embraced by most Americans, who seem perfectly happy to draw the line at BBQ, Hite beer, and maybe Korean tacos whilst casting a needlessly suspicious eye at the many any varieties of soups, stews, noodles, rice dishes, banchan, anju, sea vegetables, and sweets.

Thanks in large part to Buddhism (and Buddha's vegetarianism) Korean cuisine is not as vegetarian-unfriendly as many wary vegetarians might suppose. Most restaurants can make a vegetarian bibimbap and even when the menu lists no vegetarian items, I've still never been to a Korean restaurant in Southern California where the cook wasn't capable of making a tasty and filling vegetarian dish... especially if you add alcohol to the mix. 

Han Guk Kwan (right?) where we ate lunch

We started our day at "pariba" (Paris Baguette) albeit the location in St. Andrew's Square. Later we ate in a food court at a place whose sign simply stated something like "Korean Place." In addition to the “purely” Korean restaurants, there are Korean takes on Chinese cuisines, donuts, french pastries, pizza, and sushi and Seoul Do Soon Yi Kimchi Company, a locale kimchi manufacturer. 

Looking through the door of Past Memories (recommended by Colin)

Here's the (incomplete) list of local Korean eats: An Ocean's Story, Anna's Mondu, BCD Tofu House, Boba Loca, Bonjuk, Cafe-T, Cham Sut Gol Korean BBQChu Ga Jip, Chung Dam Keul, Flower Pig, Donut Time, Ga Bo Ja Restaurant, Gae Sung Restaurant, Go Goo Ryeo, Ham-Hung Restaurant, Han WooriHangari Hwang Hae Doh, Hangari Kalgooksu, Hodori Snack, Incheonwan BBQ House, Jang Choong Dong, Jang Mo Gip, Jang TohJong Ro Shul Lung Tang, Kaju Tofu, Korean Folk Village Restaurant, Lee Sook Won Kimchi, Light Town House Korean BBQLove Letter Pizza & Chicken, Mi Ho Restaurant, Mo Ran Gak, Muse Coffee Shop, Myung In Dumplings, New Seoul BBQ Buffet Restaurant, Obok Bakery, Ondal Restaurant, Paris Baguette, Past Memories, Peking Gourmet, Poong Nap Dong, Seoul Soondae Restaurant, Shik Do Rak, Siroo, Smile RestaurantStar BBQ, The Pine, Tous Les JoursYeh Won Korean Restaurant, and Young Pung

Non-Korean eats (but often either Korean owned-and-oriented or Vietnamese) in the neighborhood include Aloha Teriyaki, Alerto's Mexican Food, Artist Crawfish Express, Casa de Soto, David's Vietnamese Restaurant, Diamond Seafood Plaza, Diem Hen, Dzui Lounge, Genki Living, Hong Kong Express, Kim’s RestaurantM & Tôi Vietnamese Restaurant, May Bon Phuong Restaurant, Misoya Rockin' Sushi, Pho and Rolls Vietnamese Cuisine, Pho 2000, Phu Sandwich, and Phuoc Thanh.


The no-use mixed-use Garden Grove Galleria

Construction of the Garden Grove Galleria began in 2005. The original design called for two levels of shops, six levels of condos, and given its size it was set to become an icon of the neighborhood. Construction halted in 2008 and in 2010, the Garden Grove Galleria sued Cathay Bank for a breach of contract. Two months later Cathay counter-sued for essentially the same. More suits followed and the design plans were changed -- the condos were to become apartments -- but nine years later it still stands, only partially complete and rusting.

Quiet Koreatown Mall

Good times just around the corner at New Seoul Plaza

Hanmi Plaza

Quiet Arirang Galleria (built in 2009 and mostly empty)

Complete and functioning (if sometimes barely) shopping centers in Little Seoul including Arirang Galleria, Brookhurst North Shopping Center, Garden Grove Shopping Center, Gilbert Plaza, Golden Plaza, Hanmi Plaza, Ka-Ju Plaza, Korea Plaza, Koreatown Mall, New Seoul Plaza, Newland Plaza, Newton Plaza, Town-Center Plaza, and Western Shopping Center.


The lushly-landscaped Frat House

Rendezvous Nightclub

Idol Karaoke

Cafeoke Ding Dong Dang

B & G Karaoke -- "Grand Reborn"

Business hours in Little Seoul vary greatly but the nightlife seems to make its home in Club Rendevous, Frat House (not a dudebro sports bar) and Soju Belly as well as karaoke clubs (noraebong), which include B & G KaroakeCafeoke Ding Dong Dang, Karaoke Nice, and Idol Karaoke.

Sunday morning at 2000 Points Billiards

Hyundai Billiard or GG Billiards and Ping Pong

There are also several billiard and ping-pong halls too, including GG Billiards and Ping Pong (also listed as Hyundai Billiard), 2000 Points Billiards (which also has ping-pong), and King Billiard (which may or may not have ping pong).

Liquor and Bikes -- A liquor store and Garden Grove Bicycle Shop 

There are more liquor stores than bars in the neighborhood although we ventured into none. Several have nice signage.

A liquor store with a nice, fake gas lamp (a common decoration) atop the sign


In South Korea, only 53% of Koreans identify themselves as religious. Of those, about 29% are Christian and 23% of South Koreans self-identify as Buddhists. In the US it's a different story. In 1902, Changho Ahn and his wife established the first Korean American Church and today, roughly 71% of Korean-Americans self-identify as Christian.

St. Anselm of Canterbury

I'm sure that some of the Korean churches in the area were built by different denominations but ones occupied by Korean denominations now include Gospel First Korean Baptist Church, Korean Garden Grove United Methodist ChurchSaint Anselm of Canterbury Episcopal Church of Garden, and Suh Moon Presbyterian Church. Despite it being a Sunday morning and a Korean neighborhood, the churches all seemed to be oddly quiet. Only 6% of Korean-Americans identify as Buddhists and in Little Seoul there are just two temples from which to choose, Bupwahng sa Korean Buddhist Temple and Orange County Won Buddhist Temple.


Martial Arts and Golf

Little Seoul is perhaps to small to support an actual arts scene. I'm only aware of one arts-oriented space in Little Seoul, Seoul Oriental Art Gallery. There are seemingly more organizations devoted to the martial arts than the creative, performing, or visual. Those institutions include Five Star Tae Kwon Do & Martial Arts, Kenpo United Karate Kung-Fu Studios, King’s Martial Arts, Musashi Martial Arts, Nam Phan Mixed Martial Arts Academy, Orange County Judo Training Center, Shaolin Warrior Academy, Shotokan Karate of Garden Grove, and Yoon Tae Kwon Do School.

Video Town or ghost town? Either way, they still have some copies of Six Days, Seven Nights in the back

A video store in Koreatown Mall

Inside the above video store -- which mostly deal in VHS and sells VCRs

I don't know of any movies shot in Little Seoul or any actors or filmmakers from there. I don't know of any live music venues or bands from there either. There are some mom-and-pop shops, many of which sell or rent video, music, and video games. There's Han Nam Video, Music Town, Sam's Video, Saranbang Video, 20th Century Video, (Spanish language-centric) Video 9, Video Village, and Western Video

Come for the Korean dramas and pick up some seed packets... and a steering wheel cover (or two)

The only music store that I saw was Immanuel Music, which carries a large selection of guitars, violins, and metronomes. There's also at least one music school, Spotlight School of Music.


Being such a small area, there aren't a lot of parks within the neighborhood and as I mentioned, most of the activity seems to take place indoors (or in cars). However, should you wish to go outside, there's Acacia Park, Garden Grove Park (including Garden Grove Dog Park and the Atlantis Play Center), Kiwanisland, and Liberty Park


Though probably un-named -- Donut Time seems to be the popular hangout for male, Korean, retirees and (like as with many donut shops) seems to serve as a sort of de facto community center. More official outlets for community engagement can be pursued through the Little Seoul or the Orange County Korean Community, the Korean American Coalition, the Korean American Federation of Orange County Garden Grove, Korean Community Services, the Korean-American Seniors Assn Garden Grove, the Korean American Youth & Community Center, the OC Korean Community Center, the Orange County Korean American Bar Association, the Orange County Korean Festival Foundation, the Orange County Korean Community Service Center, and Orange County Korean Social Service Information Center.


There is no "Little Seoul" edition from the Images of America series (although there is Katherine Yungmee Kim's Los Angeles' Koreatown). There's also Angie Y. Chung's Legacies of Struggle: Conflict and Cooperation in Korean American Politics, which goes a bit into Little Seoul but near as I can tell, there are as yet no books the primary focus of which is on Little Seoul.


Dorcas Orange Christian

Korean Bookstore

There are a couple of bookstores in the neighborhood: Dorcas Orange Christian, Korean Bookstore, and World of Life Books. Also nearby is the Westminster Branch Library and Garden Grove Regional Library. There are also popular newspapers like Korea Times and Korea Daily (both available in English language versions as well as Korean) and more locally focused paper, The Town News. The first two are headquartered in Koreatown but perhaps maintain bureaus in Little Seoul whereas The Town News is actually headquartered in Little Seoul.

The Korea Daily

Radio Korea in Koreatown Mall

You can tune into the sounds of Korean-America by setting your dial to several Korean radio stations. There's Radio Korea (1540 KMPCPasadena’s 1230 KYPA – Radio JBC (Joongang Broadcast Company), and Hancock Park’s 1650 KFOX – Radio SeoulIf you're feeling spiritual, 1190 KGBN is the home of the Korean Gospel Broadcasting Network.

Pulp's "Little Seoul," my generations' "Catz in teh Cradle"


As always, please contribute your additions and corrections. Enjoy exploring Southern California, just start at Hollywood & Highland and go in any direction away from there and I guarantee it will get more interesting. To vote vote for other Orange County communities, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here. Please leave any additions, corrections, or shared memories in the comment section. 행쇼 

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Watts

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 13, 2014 11:07pm | Post a Comment

It seems to me that reputation of Los Angeles's Watts neighborhood is based almost entirely on two things – the Watts Rebellion and the Watts Towers. Results of a Google search for “watts” can be divided into three categories: photos of the towers, black and white images of burning buildings, and people with the family name of Watts (i.e. Naomi, Charlie, and Reggie). Pop culture and the media almost never present Watts in a positive light – usually they don't mention it at all. 

Metro Blue Line heading to Los Angeles

Watts is, however, a community of 37,000 Angelenos – most of whom probably don't sell drugs, aren't in gangs, and probably spend many days not dwelling on half century-old riots or neighborhood folk art – impressive and important as both are. With that in mind, my friend Bruce and I met at 7th Street/Metro Center in the Financial District and headed down the Blue Line to Watts. 

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Watts


Detail of a map showing Watts's location from a piece about the Green Line for KCET

Although Watts is often talked about as if it's its own city, it's technically a neighborhood of Los Angeles. It's located on the Eastside of South Los Angeles – neighbored by unincorporated Graham to the north; the cities of South Gate and Lynwood to the east; unincorporated Willowbrook to the south; and the Los Angeles neighborhoods of Century Cove, Harbor Gateway North, and Green Meadows to the west.


What's now the Southland was largely inhabited at least 13,000 years ago by a people who are theorized to have been the ancestors to the modern Chumash people. Some 3,5000 years ago, the Tongva arrived from the Sonoran Desert and became the dominant nation, establishing numerous villages (such as the nearby Huutngna) throughout the area. The Tongva supposedly referred to the area in which modern Watts is located as Tajáuta.


Spaniard Gaspar de Portolá led an overland expedition through the area in 1769 that set the stage for the subsequent Spanish Conquest. The Spanish first established a mission in the Whittier Narrows region in 1771 and in 1776 moved their mission to its present location in San Gabriel, about 23 kilometers to Watts's northeast. In 1781 the Spanish founded El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Añgeles, the town which evolved into Los Angeles, about fourteen kilometers to Watts's north.


Detail of Gerald Eddy's Spanish and Mexican ranchos of Los Angeles (1937) (source: Big Maps Blog)

Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821. The land on which Watts is situated was granted as Rancho La Tajauta to Anastasio Avila in 1843. The 3,560 acre (14 km2) cattle ranch remained in the possession of the Avilas after the US defeated Mexico in 1848. A claim for Rancho La Tajauta was filed with the Public Land Commission in 1852, and the grant was patented to Anastasio's son Enrique Avila in 1873.


Detail of Map of the Pacific Electric Railway in Los Angeles, California (1920) (source: Big Maps Blog)

Shortly thereafter the land began to be sold to settlers including Charles H. Watts, a Pasadena resident who purchased a 220 acre (.89 km2) parcel in 1886 and began using it to raise alfalfa and cattle. Hoping to spur development of the area, Watts donated ten acres of his property to the Pacific Electric Railway (PE), founded in 1901 by Henry Huntington and Isais W. Hellman. As the map above shows, Southern Pacific Railroad also passed through the area and today it's successor, Union Pacific, continues to.


Watts Pacific Electric depot ca. 1942

PE's first major project was a line to Long Beach, which was constructed in 1902. The Victorian Watts Station was constructed in 1904 and was one it subsequently served as a model for similar train stations in Covina, Glendora, and La Habra. Other lines that branched off at Watts traveled to Santa Ana, San Pedroand Redondo Beach

The old Watts Train Station today

Watts Station remained in use as a train station until PE's Red Cars stopped running in 1961 (the shorter Watts Line ended service in 1958). The station was one of the few structures on 103rd Street to survive the Watts Riots in 1965 and four months later was designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #36. In 1980 it was re-opened by the LADWP as a customer service office who seem to be occupying it still. 

Willowbrook - Rosa Park Station

In 1990, the old Long Beach Line right-of-way was re-purposed by the Metro's Blue Line, the Watts Station of which is located very near the old one. There's also a Blue Line and Green Line stop a little further south, Willowbrook – Rosa Parks Station – which is where Bruce and I got off of the train. I'd intended to check out Nickerson Gardens and Imperial Courts before further exploring but they're located beneath the Imperial Highway which isn't exactly pedestrian friendly. (The can also be approached by East 115th Street, it turns out).

In addition to the Green and Blue Line, Watts is currently served by Metro bus lines 55, 117120, 202, 254, 355, and 612 as well as LADOT's DASH Watts line. It's worth mentioning that in 1967, the black owned Blue and White Bus Company was established in Watts to serve its people and surrounding areas. The successful company was acquired by SCRTD (the precursor to the modern LACMTA) in 1971. 


Looking east down Main Street (later 103rd) in 1912

The land in Watts was low-lying, prone to flooding, sandy, and therefore cheap. Unlike 95% of Los Angeles, it also wasn't off limits to non-whites and so-called “not-quite-whites.” Many of Watts's early residents were connected to the rail. Many of the traqueros were Mexican-American and most of Southern Pacific's Pullman porters and waiters were black. Other early residents were largely of German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Jewish, or Scottish backgrounds and engaged in raising sugar beets. Watts was nicknamed “Mudtown,” a nickname which stuck well into the 20th Century when many of the dirt roads were still yet to be paved. Officially, however, it incorporated as Watts in 1907.


Although the first Great Migration primarily involved southern blacks moving to the Northeast and Midwest, some families headed west – including that of Arna Bontemps. Bontemps's mother, Maria Carolina Pembroke, was a school teacher and his father, Paul Bismark Bontemps, was a bricklayer. The migrated to Watts from Louisiana. Arna later became a prominent poem associated with the Harlem Renaissance.


Advertisement for performance at Leak's Lake (also spelled Leake's Lake) (image source: Doctor Jazz)

Located beyond the city limits of Los Angeles, Watts was exempt from that city's midnight curfew on dance clubs. That, in addition to its diverse, working-class population (and during Prohibition, its bootlegging), helped foster a thriving night life by the mid-1910s. South Central Avenue extended south from Los Angles's South Central neighborhood to Willowbrook and in that era, numerous venues sprang up in Watts including Baron Long's Tavern (later renamed Jazzland and finally, The Plantation Club), the Watts Country Club, Leak's Lake (later renamed Wayside Park), and at least by the 1920s, The Chateau, The Little Harlem, and Villa Venice.


The most recognizable icon of Watts are the Watts Towers, built between 1921 and 1954. Their architect was Simon “Sam” Rodia, born Sabato Rodia in Serino, Italy in 1879. Rodia and his brother moved to the US in 1895. He moved to Watts in 1920 and work on his folk art masterpiece the following year. The tallest tower reaches 99 and a half feet (30 meters) into the air, just under Los Angeles's then-100 foot height limit. After he moved to Martinez, it's believed that he never returned to revisit his handiwork but by then they were already celebrated and Rodia participated in a 1957 documentary about them, The Towers – which Bruce and I watched at the Watts Towers Arts Center.

In 1963 the towers were designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #15 (the only folk art LAHCM is the Hermon Car Wall in Hermon). The Watts Towers Arts Center opened in 1961. In 1990 the towers were designated both a National Historic Landmark and a California Historical Landmark

The Watts Towers Jazz Festival was instigated in 1976. The Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival followed in 1981 and the Day of the Drum and Jazz Festivals still takes place the last week of every September. Past performers have included Alaadun, Clayton Cameron Old School Swing, Cuauhtemoc Mexica Dance Group, Futa Toro, Get Lit Players, Greg Wright, Jalaludin Nuriddin (Last Poets), JMP All StarsKevin Richard & Creole Journey from Santiago Cuba to New OrleansKishin Daiko, La Palabra y Calle 6, Ron Powell's LA Samba, Ultra Sound, and Wadada Cultural Soul World Beat.

Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center

In 2008, next door to the Arts Center, the Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center opened and offers piano lessons and animation classes in collaboration with CalArts and Sony

Watts Towers Art Center 

We visited the Watts Towers Art Center and met the center's director (and documentarian/actress/singer) Rosie Lee Hooks. We also met Compton-based artist Charles Dickson and after checking out his one man show, checked out the garden and turtle pond -- part of the community garden created in 2009 referred to as the Garden Studio. One of the women (I believe that her name was Norma) working in the garden gave me a packet of Peaches & Cream Hybrid Corn kernels which I planted today.

Watts turtle pond

Other documentaries about the towers or arts center and available on DVD include: I Build the Towers (2006), A Tribute To Charles Mingus: Past, Present, and Future (2009), Fertile Ground: Stories from the Watts Towers Arts Center, and Trading Dirt with Simon Rodia and Allan Kaprow.


David Starr Jordan High School (image source: Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy)

David Starr Jordan High School was established in 1925 and named after a naturalist and president of Stanford University. Five of the campus's structures were built between 1925 and 1927. After the 1933 Long Beach Earthquake, the buildings were renovated with a unifying Streamline Moderne-style, designed by Sumner P. Hunt.


In 1926, Watts seemed to be on the verge of electing a black mayor and city council and the Ku Klux Klan clandestinely attempted to infiltrate the town's politics at every level. Watts was consolidated with Los Angeles in 1926, in part to ensure that a black municipality didn't neighbor Los Angeles. 


Watts experienced significant growth in the 1940s, when many more Southern blacks – especially from Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas – headed to Western cities. The US entered the World War II in 1941 and many war industry jobs were to be found in places like Oakland, Long Beach and Los Angeles. In Watts, four housing projects were constructed to provide housing for the booming population of both immigrants and returning vets – Hacienda Village, Imperial Courts, Jordan Downs, and Nickerson Gardens.


The chief architect of Hacienda Village was Paul Revere Williams, the first black member of the American Institute of Architects. Williams collaborated with Richard J. Neutra, Walter Wurdeman, and Welton Becket on 184 units, which were completed in 1942. The landscape architect was Ralph D. Cornell and, for projects, there's quite a lot of landscape surrounding the units. Priority on the units was originally granted to defense workers. In December 2000, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) renamed the project Gonzaque Village to honor neighborhood advocate Ozie B. Gonzaque.


700-unit Jordan Downs was named for David Starr Jordan and Samuel Elliot Downs. Completed in 1944, it was the US' first Veterans Housing Project. In 1955, HACLA converted it to public housing, shortly after mayor Norris Poulson put a stop to all new public housing in the city due to pressure from right wingers who suggested that public assistance to anyone – even veterans – was Communist and anti-American. The lead architect on the renovation was James R. Friend and the landscape architect was Hammond Sadler. The most famous former resident of the project was track and field athlete, Florence “Flo-Jo” Griffith-Joyner. Just a couple of blocks west is Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School. Jordan Downs has been the home of rappers including Aktiv, Bad Lucc, Blacowt, Dre Vishiss, G Boy, G Tah, Gutta L, Ice Breezy, Kanary Diamonds, Lil Money, Pipe Da Snipe, RiQ G, Sumu, T-Dogg, Twist Downz, V0$k!, Watts Guerillaz, Wolfcat, and Yung Jay R.


The 498-unit Imperial Courts housing projects were completed in 1944. They were renovated in 1955 under the guidance of architect John L. Rex. A memorable scene in the hugely-entertaining but frankly over-the-top film Training Day was shot there.


Paul Williams also designed the Imperial Compton housing project, competed in 1955. It was renamed Nickerson Gardens in honor of William Nickerson, Jr., the founder of Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company. The landscape architect was again Ralph D. Cornell. The 1054-unit housing project is the largest project west of the Mississippi River. It was the home of rappers Jay Rock and the 1990s group, O.F.T.B.


In 1948, the US Supreme Court ruled that the enforcement of racist housing covenants was unconstitutional. After that, blacks and other minorities were free (on paper at least) to live wherever they could afford to buy or rent a home. Almost immediately the black population (theretofore mostly confined to South Central proper, South Park, and Central-Alameda in the north and Watts in the south) grew together and spread to South Los Angeles's Westside and the Mid-City area of Midtown to form one, large, contiguous, black majority region and as a result, “South Central” began to be applied to a much larger region and is still done so by many today.


On 11 August, 1965, a young man named Marquette Frye was pulled over on the suspicion of drinking and driving by California Highway Patrol. That seemingly quotidien occurrence proved to be the catalyst for the five days of civil unrest which left 34 Angelenos dead, 1,032 injured, and 3,438 arrested.

Even thought the arrest took place in Harbor Gateway North, the $40 million dollars of damage was spread across eleven square miles (more than four times the size of Watts), and the estimated 50,000 Angelenos involved in the chaos was about twice the number of the entire population of Watts, it was labeled the Watts Riots (or Watts Rebellion) and to be sure, Watts was hit particularly hard. 103rd Street, Watts's main thoroughfare, was nicknamed “Charcoal Alley” because nearly every structure along it was burned to the ground. 49 years have passed since that event and yet Watts is a place still seemingly more associated with a particular conflict than a geographic space... like Vietnam. In City of Quartz, Mike Davis even called Watts-Willowbrook “the Mekong Delta.” However, even though it's less acknowledged, just as the riots were seen as the end of an era, they also marked a new beginning. 


The Watts Writers Workshop (image source: the LA Times)

Screenwriter Budd Schulberg organized the Watts Writers Workshop, which was composed primarily of black authors from Watts and neighboring communities. Early writers in the program included Eric Priestley, Herbert Simmons, Johnie Scott, Ojenke, Quincy Troupe, and Wanda Coleman. Unfortunately, it was burned down by an FBI operative, Darthard Perry, in 1975.


Another graduate of the Watts Writers Workshop was the proto-rap group, The Watts Prophets. The Watts Prophets were formed as Watts Fire by Richard Dedeaux, Father Amde Hamilton (born Anthony Hamilton), and Otis O'Solomon in 1967 (notably, before Harlem's better-known Last Poets). As The Black Voices they released On the Streets in Watts in 1969. Two years later they returned with 1971's Rappin' Black in a White World (recorded in 1970). It wasn’t until 1997 that they released their third album, When the 90's Came.


Ted Watkins and four other volunteers co-founded the Watts Labor Community Action Committee in 1964 to provide jobs and social services in the aftermath of the rebellion. Watkins was born in Mississippi and passed away in 1993, aged 71. From the outside, WLCAC looks inconspicuous -- a bit like a strip mall, a collection of warehouses, or maybe a SNF.

WLCAC and an old train car

I saw the WLCAC logo on a building and Bruce and I began to explore and take pictures of the statutes and what looked like an old train car. At that point, a guy on a bike (EJ, I believe he introduced himself as) rode up and asked us what we were up to. After introducing us to someone in charge and shortly after giving us a tour. I also got filled in a bit on WLCAC's mission by Ronald Preyer -- member of soul act The Young Hearts (a fact which he didn't mention).

Nijel's bronze Mother of Humanity sculpture

Touring WLCAC's campus was moving and mind-blowing. It's a bit like a museum, sculpture park, event space, cultural center, bazaar, school, atelier, and theme park all rolled into one incomparable space. Although it's currently on hiatus, until recently there was a monthly event with food and music called "Bones and Blues." There's really too much to mention here so just check out their website,

A Hopi katsina with glasses

Phoenix Hall

The Blues stage at WLCAC's Delta Row 


The Watts Skill Center, since renamed the Maxine Waters Employment Preparation Center, opened in 1966. It was renamed after the congresswoman, Maxine Waters, in 1989.


Watts Health Center was founded in 1967 as one of the first Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) neighborhood health centers. 


A few years after the uprising, the Wattstax concert was organized by Stax Records and the Joseph Schlitz Brewing Company. It was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Exposition Park on 20 August, 1972 and has often been described as the black Woodstock.

It featured performances from the likes of Albert King, The Bar-Kays, Isaac Hayes, Johnnie Taylor, Kim Weston, Rufus Thomas, and The Staple Singers. Mel Stuart filmed a documentary of the event and later injected pointed social commentary from Richard Pryor and The Love Boat's Ted Lange, scenes filmed around Watts, and footage pertaining to the Civil Rights Movement. In 2004, a restored version of this amazing film was rereleased in theaters and I watched it a couple of times.



Perhaps even more critically-acclaimed than Wattstax and more closely associated with Watts is Charles Burnett's poetic, neo-realist film, Killer of Sheep. Burnett wrote, directed, produced, and shot the film primarily over the course of 1972 and '73. After shooting additional footage in 1975 he submitted the film as his Master of Fine Arts thesis at the School of Film at UCLA in 1977. The film concerns the existence of a man named Stan who works at a slaughterhouse and his family. For many years it wasn't widely seen because the rights to the music used in the film had not been secured... until 2007, when a restored print was shown in movie theaters and released on DVD. You can find it in Amoeba's Black Cinema section. 


The MLK Shopping Center opened in 1984. In 1992, the MLK Jr Monument was dedicated by Mayor Tom Bradley. The MLK Jr. Monument was designed and created by Charles Dickson – the same artist whom we met at the towers and whom we were asked if we'd heard of at WLCAC. Dickson really pushed for us to check out the monument, adding that he was really proud of it, but we forgot. Hopefully next time I'm in Watts.


Like most of what was historically the Black Eastside, Watts today is primarily Latino. After the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, many more black residents of the area relocated to more distant communities including in particular those in the Antelope Valley, the Inland Empire, the San Gabriel Valley, Orange County, the San Joaquin Valley, and beyond. At the same time, Latinos, primarily with origins in Mexico and Central America, filled much of the void created by the departure of the previous population. Shortly before the riots, in 1988, Watts was 86% black and 13% Latino. By the mid-1990s the populations were roughly equal. In 2000, the population of Watts was roughly 62% Latino and 37% black. Nowadays it's closer to 72% Latino and 27% black. 34% of current Watts residents were born in another county – in most cases either Mexico or El Salvador.

Maya Obelisk on Santa Ana Boulevard


Unfortunately, the perception of Watts as a dangerous place still sadly frightens off many would-be visitors. The violent crime rate in Watts is lamentably high – but then all violent crime is lamentable in my opinion. Watts currently has the tenth highest violent crime rate of Los Angles's neighborhoods but those more violent (Chesterfield Square, Green Meadows, Vermont Knolls, Athens, Gramercy Park, Vermont Vista, Harvard Park, Manchester Square, and West Compton) seem to benefit from their obscurity whereas the Watts name continues to strike fear into the hearts of many.

In 2012, Los Angeles had the 56th highest violent crime rate of cities in the US with populations of over 100,000 -- beneath places like Portland, San FranciscoMinneapolis, and Omaha. In other words, it is extremely unlikely that a visitor to Watts (or any Los Angeles neighborhood) is going to become the victim of a violent crime. In fact, I'd rank Watts as one of the friendliest places that I've visited -- and the only one where someone gave me a seed packet.


Comfort Inn in Watts

There are several motels in Watts, including the Hills Villa Motel, the Mirror Hotel, and the Crown Hotel. The Mirror Motel, built in 1964, has the most appealingly 1960s exterior and sign but any traveller knows that such superficialities are rarely accurate indicators of room conditions. My suspicion is that all three are budget motels -- the sort that charge both hourly and weekly rates, depending on a lodger's need. An online review of Hills Villa simply states “It was firme.” Probably more appealing to most tourists is the Comfort Inn, comfortably situated on the WLCAC campus and fairly modern looking. There's also Airbnb.


In Watts, it seemed as if there was almost always music playing wherever we went. Although Bruce had something with him called a Jammy Pack, he left it unused. Many other folks were less shy about playing their music on phones, and even radios hanging from their wearers necks. No one seems to bother with headphones and it reminded me of the 1980s, when people traded in their inward-oriented Walkmans for outward-projecting boom boxes. In other parts of Los Angeles I routinely see death-wish-having cyclists deafly racing through traffic with their ears blocked by earbuds but in Watts, even the lowrider bicycles have speakers. The musical highpoint of the day came when a car crept by us bumping B.G.'s "Don't Talk to Me" off of his best post-Cash Money album, Life After Cash Money.

Music-making has had a huge place in Watts for at least a century too. Back in the day local acts included The Woodman Brothers' Biggest Little Band in the World, Big Jay McNeely, Buddy Collette, Bumps Myers, Dootsie Williams, the Irving Brothers, Joe Comfort. In contemporary times, rap is seemingly the chosen genre for most Watts musicians and rappers born or raised in Watts (in addition to the aforementioned) include Cashola, Choc Nitty, D Ray, Glasses Malone, Jahccy, Kam, Lil' Rocc, Lorenzo Straight, and Run Russ.

The most famous jazz musician associated with Watts is almost certainly Charles Mingus, who was born in Nogalez, Arizona but raised in the neighborhood. 

Perhaps only slightly less is Sylvester, the Hi-NRG disco star who was born in the neighborhood. Watts the birthplace of another disco diva too -- Viola Wills.

Soul singer Brenda Holloway was born in Atascadero but raised in Watts. Watts-born musicians in other genres include Devan Vyasa (electronic) and Blind Boy Paxton (blues).


Despite its large, long-established black population, Watts seems to have only been home to two so-called “negro theaters,” the Linda Theatre and the Largo Theatre. The former formerly stood at 1635 E. 103rd Street. It was a 669-seat, single screen, independent theater that existed at least between 1946 and 1953. The latter stood at 1827 E. 103rd Street. The 904-seat, single screen theater was designed by Carl Boller for his firm, Boller Brothers, and opened in 1923. Both were demolished long ago. 

Watts was a film location for several films, including He Walked By Night (1948), Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), My Brother's Wedding (1983), To Live and Die in L.A. (1985), Daniel and the Towers (1987), Colors (1988), White Men Can't Jump (1992), Atomic Samurai (1993), Menace II Society (1993), Real Ghosts (1995), Dark Blue (2002), and Family (2008). 

In the Blaxploitation era alone Watts was featured in Hit Man (1972), Melinda (1972), The Bad Bunch (aka Tom) (1973), Dynamite Brothers (1974), and Dr. Black, Mr. Hyde (1976). 

Watts has shown up in episodes of the television series Robbery Homicide Division and Southland as well. Although filmed in a studio in Burbank, Sanford and Son (1972-1977) was a remake of the BBC's Steptoe and Son which relocated the action from Shepherd's Bush to Watts.

Watts has also been the subject of several documentaries including an episode of CBS Reports titled"Watts: Riot or Revolt?"(1965), and episode of ABC Scope titled “The Face of Watts” (1965), and more recently, American Drug War: The Last White Hope (2007).

The only actors that I know of who are Watts natives are Aaron Meeks and Tyrese (Tyrese Gibson). If there are others (or filmmakers), please let me know in the comments.


Jordan's Cafe 

Although admittedly my desire to eat at Jordan's Café was primarily due to the building's signage (utilizing as it did both arrows and at one point, incandescent bulbs) I lost my chance when it closed in 2010, 68 years after it opened in 1942. I guess my point it -- if you see somewhere you want to check out, don't put it off!

Still open eateries include Caveman Kitchen, Chapo's Tacos, China Bowl Express, China Express, El Burrito Loco, El Pollo MachoM & T Donuts, Puro Oaxaca Nieves y Antojitos, Sandy's Food Service, Seafood Express, Tacos La Potranka, and Tamales Elena

Watts Coffee House -- through the door on the left

One of the best-loved places to eat is Watts Coffee House, the roots of which lie in the Watts Happening Coffee House, which opened shortly after the rebellion. Bruce and I first walked right past the restaurant because it's practically hidden inside a building shared with a school. We did notice the mural, which is a holdover from the building's past as the home of the Mafundi Institute in the early 1970s. 

Wattstax and my Wattstax-inspired "font" and map

It's not even primarily a coffee house (despite the name), and secondarily a museum/shrine to Watts. The kitchen specializes in southern/soul food. We did both get coffee with our lunches, however, and it was good. After filling our waitress in on our mission, she played a DVD of Wattstax for our entertainment.


Mural at Geraldo's Meat Market Carniceria

Lee's Market -- the reason that the chicken crossed the road apparently

There are almost as many markets as restaurants in Watts as there are restaurants although many are little more than convenience or liquor stores. They include C & C Mimi Market, Chapala Market, Easy Market, El Ranchito Market, El Osito Nutritional Products, El Pavo Mini Market, El Rinconcito Water, El Torito Market, Family Mini Market, Geraldos Meat Market, Hammer's Market, Harris Grocery Marketa, Jay's Market, Jordan Market, Lee's Market, Lims Market, Local Market, Randy's Mini Market, Tala Market, Tommy's Liquor Market, and Watts HP Meat Market.

C & J Market -- with Mary in a case that Houdini would have trouble with


St. John's United Methodist Church (source: their Facebook page)

St. Lawrence of Brindisi

Grant AME

Not unexpectedly, there are a lot of churches in Watts. Some of them are rather interesting architecturally. The Macedonia Baptist Church was founded in 1908. St John’s United Methodist Church was constructed in 1923. St. Lawrence of Brindisi was built in 1924. Bethel Baptist Church was built in 1941. Grant AME's current hangar-like home was constructed in 1954. 

There's also Beulah Baptist ChurchBible Revival ChurchChurch In God In ChristCompton Ave Church of ChristDeliverance Church of God In ChristFaith Temple Church of Christ Holiness USAThe First Saint John Missionary Baptist ChurchFirst Unity Missionary Baptist ChurchGood Faith Missionary Baptist ChurchGreat Antioch M B ChurchGreater Wayside Church of God In ChristJesus Is Delight Missionary Baptist ChurchLighthouse Church & Community OutreachMarshall M Rev Union Missionary Baptist ChurchMorning Star Missionary Baptist ChurchMt Beulah Baptist Church, New Light Missionary Baptist ChurchNew Way Missionary Baptist ChurchOlive Branch Baptist ChurchPotter's House ChurchRevival Center Triedston Church of God In Christ, San Miguel ChurchSt Peter Aoh Church of GodSweet Pilgrim Missionary Baptist ChurchTree of Life Missionary Baptist ChurchTrue Mount Zion Missionary Baptist ChurchUnion Missionary Baptist Church, and Village Baptist Church.


Ted Watkins Memorial Park

Watts Senior Center and Rose Garden

Unfortunately South Los Angeles is a rather park-poor region. Jordan Downs, Imperial Courts, and Nickerson Gardens both have their own recreation centers. There's the 109th Street Recreation Center and Park and tiny Grape Street Pocket Park. The Watts Senior Center is home to the Watts Senior Center Rose Garden although the roses weren't doing much at the time of our visit. Located just outside of Watts is the aforementioned Ted Watkins Park (fka Will Rogers Memorial Park), where the Watts Healthy Farmers' Market - SEE LA is held on Saturdays. That park is also home to the Promenade of Prominence, aka the Watts Walk of Fame. The nearest park of any real size is lovely Magic Johnson Park (fka Willowbrook Park) in neighboring Willowbrook.


The Watts Village Theater Company was founded in 1996 by Lynn Manning and Quentin Drew. The organization produces original theater works and educational programming for South Los Angeles.

Alma Reaves Woods - Los Angeles Public Library - Watts Branch

Watts is also home to the Alma Reaves Woods – Los Angeles Public Library – Watts Branch -- which was closed because Lincoln's Birthday.

Watts House Project

YO! Watts - Youth Opportunity Center -- an old firehouse.

Local organizations trying to make a difference include East Side Riders Bike ClubFriends of St. Lawrence - Watts Youth CenterNeighborhood Youth Achievers, Operation Progress, Watts Century Latino Organization, the Watts Gang Task Force, Watts Girl Scout Troop #19785, the Watts House Project, the Watts Neighborhood Council, the Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club, and YO! Watts.

If you're aware of any other resources or civic organizations that should be included (and linked to) here, please let me know in the comments.


If you'd like to read more about Watts there are several books and short pieces worth a look including Spencer Crump's Black Riot in Los Angeles: The story of the Watts tragedy (1966), Thomas Pynchon's A Journey Into The Mind of Watts (1966), Colin Marshall's A Los Angeles Primer: WattsBud Goldstone and Arloa Paquin Goldstone's The Los Angeles Watts Towers (1997), The Dapper Rebels of Los Angeles, and especially, Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles (1999).

My Neighborhood: Watts from Intersections South LA

The couple at Esotouric delved into Watts with their podcast episode, “Secrets of the Watts Towers” and the late, great Huell Howser explored a bit of Watts (and people's fear in going there) on Visiting...With Huell Howser, Episode #109.

California Fool's Gold -- Exploring South Central

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 6, 2014 11:10am | Post a Comment


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of South Central

South Central means different things to different people. To some it refers to a vast, amorphous collection of neighborhoods and cities between the Santa Monica Bay and the San Gabriel River, north of the San Pedro Bay and south of the 10 Freeway. To others its less of a geographical space than a metaphor -- that's surely the sense in which Ice Cube used it to refer to Compton -- which is of course it's own city and thus not any part of "LA."

A widely-accepted story tells that the South Central brand became so loaded with negative connotations of gang violence and riots that a neologism, South Los Angeles, was devised to "officially" replace it. But South Los Angeles is a geographic concept that goes back at least to the 1930s, as does South Central -- when it was coined to refer to the then-mostly-black neighborhood that arose just south of Downtown along South Central Avenue (hence the name) that is now sometimes referred to as “Historic South Central.”

As stated above, South Central is located immediately south of Downtown Los Angeles. Its other neighbors are Central-Alameda to the east, South Park to the south (the original, more than a century old South Park – not the part of Downtown which has only attempted to co-opt that name in the last decade), Vermont Square to the southeast, Exposition Park and University Park to the east, and Pico-Union to the northwest. On an alternately cool and balmy January day (yesterday in fact) I set about exploring the neighborhood with frequent traveling companion Tim Shimbles (aka DJ Modernbrit).

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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring North Hollywood, The Gateway to the Valley

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 31, 2014 10:57am | Post a Comment

After focusing on eight Eastside neighborhoods whilst house-sitting in El Sereno, I've returned to the polls to determine where to explore. I've heard the vox populi and therefore visited North Hollywood -- only my fourth piece on a San Fernando Valley community thus far. It was a hot, somewhat hazy, and thankfully breezy January day when I decided to visit the cultural capital of the Valley.




It's important to note that, unlike East Hollywood, North Hollywood is not actually part of the Hollywood district. Neither, for that matter, is West Hollywood, but unlike that city it doesn't even border Hollywood. North Hollywood is actually on the other side of the Hollywood Hills in the San Fernando Valley

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of North Hollywood

North Hollywood is neighbored by Sun Valley to the north; Valley Glen and Valley Village to the west; Studio City and West Toluca Lake to the south; Toluca Terrace and Toluca Woods to the southeast; and Burbank to the east. It contains the well-known subdistrict of the NoHo Arts District and, although I haven't heard it referred to as such, it's also home to what might as well be known as the North Hollywood Auto District (although that area is notably also home to a significant number of printing facilities and party supply shops).

If you know anything about Hollywood (the film industry) then you no doubt are aware that most of the film manufacturing has occurred in the Valley for many decades so you might assume that North Hollywood is a sort of filmmaking outpost -- but it's not so much (at least not on the level of BurbankStudio City, or Universal City.

All kinds of fake rocks for rent in North Hollywood

Film production does take place in North Hollywood although most of the facilities are production houses, prop rentals and the like. There are no major studios with back lots there. Smut fans will likely be disappointed that even given the Valley's associations with that industry, North Hollywood also isn't where most of that is being manufactured... although I did see a place called Adult Warehouse Outlet -- that had something for sale called "sex shoes." Though North Hollywood might not have much to do with film, it is the San Fernando Valley's primary center for performing and visual arts.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of the NoHo Arts District


Today North Hollywood is moderately diverse, home to a population that was, as of 2010, roughly 66%Latino of any race (primarily of Mexican and Salvadoran origin), 34% white Anglo (primarily Armenian), 6% Asian, and 3% black. Although at the time of writing North Hollywood has the fourth highest violent crime rate in the valley (after Panorama CityVan Nuys, and North Hills) it's worth noting that its crime rate is consistently lower than those of HollywoodEast Hollywood or West Hollywood



The earliest known inhabitants of the area arrived at least as early as 13,000 years ago and were likely the ancestors of the modern Chumash people. Somewhere in the range of 3,500 years ago a Shoshone-speaking people arrived from the Sonoran Desert to the east, the Tongva, arrived. They established about twelve villages in the San Fernando Valley including the nearby Siutcanga and Cabuenga, to the west and east respectively.


Spaniard Gaspar de Portolà led an overland expedition in 1769 that set the stage for the subsequent Spanish Conquest. Mission San Fernando Rey de España was built in modern day municipality of San Fernando in 1797 – about fifteen miles north of modern North Hollywood. In 1781, El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles was founded about twenty kilometers to the southeast of North Hollywood.

Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821. In 1834, the missions' lands were secularized. Mexico's reign proved short – ended in 1848 by the US' victory in the Mexican-American War. California became the US' newest state in 1850 and the vast, San Fernando Valley came to be known as “Rancho Ex-Mission San Fernando.


In 1871, the a group of investors lead by farmer Isaac Lankersham took control of the southern half of the San Fernando Valley. A ploughman dug a line across the valley to demarcate and differentiate the northern and southern halves. Lankershim grazed sheep on his vast holdings but a long drought soon destroyed his flock. In 1873, Lankershim's son, James Boon Lankershim, and the elder's future son-in-law, Isaac Newton Van Nuys, assumed control of the property and were much more successful with agriculture – turning the southern half of the Valley into wheat fields. In a short time, their wheat empire was the world's largest. 


Lankershim Ranch Land and Water Company founded an agricultural town on 12,000 subdivided acres centered around San Fernando and Central Avenues (later renamed Lankershim and Burbank Boulevards) in 1887. They named their town Toluca, after the Mexican municipality of Toluca de Lerdo. Lots included pre-planted walnut and fruit trees – mostly apricots, peaches, and pears. In 1894 local farmers formed the Toluca Fruit Growers Association. Soon Toluca was promoted as “The Home of the Peach” -- California is still the US's dominant peach-producer. 


Southern Pacific Railroad, who first arrived in the San Fernando Valley in 1874, opened a branch line connecting to Chatsworth in 1895. The Chatsworth Limited made one daily stop at a depot that bore the Lankershim name. In 1896 Toluca was thus renamed Lankershim although that name wasn't officially recognized until 1905. The train depot, featured in the 1927 Pathé film, The Country Doctor, still exists today and is presently undergoing restoration.

Peeking through an unlocked gate -- The depot in its current state

One of the most prominent families in Lankershim was the Weddington clan. The Weddington Boys opened Weddington Bros. General Merchandise, also known as Pioneer Store. The store included a post office and later donated land for a free-standing one. In 1907 Guy Weddington bought Bonner Fruit Company and transformed it into Lankershim's largest employer. The Weddington's house, built by Wilson C. Weddington, still stands today although it's been moved at least three times to different North Hollywood locations. In 2007 it was designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #883.


Pacific Electric Railway's red cars arrived at North Hollywood Park and Station in 1911 – although I'm not sure if that was actually the park and station's name back then since the town as still known as Lankershim. Regardless, the park and station were by most accounts the center of Lankershim social life for years and it was there that many concerts and other cultural events took place.


The Universal Film Manufacturing Company was founded in New York City in 1912. The same year they opened facilities in Hollywood's Gower Gulch area. In 1914, studio founder Carl Laemmle bough a large piece of land in Lankershim and in 1915 opened the world's largest production facility in what became its own municipality -- Universal City.

Clarence Y. “Fat” Jones opened the Fat Jones Stables in 1912. The company rented horses and western gear to the studios until Fat Jones's death in 1963. The location is now occupied by a FedEx Shipping Center.


Despite Universal and Fat Jones, in 1912 Lankershim was still dominated by fruit production and canning rather than filmmaking. After the Los Angeles Aqueduct opened in 1913, Valley farmers were eager to buy the newly available water; however, federal legislation prevented its being sold outside of Los Angeles. After droughts again hit the valley, West Lankershim was annexed by Los Angeles in 1919. Lankershim proper followed in 1923, in part lured by Los Angeles's water. To put it bluntly, most of the farmers got screwed and the real estate developers won and immediately began undertaking a massive campaign to rebrand and sell the area to homebuyers.


Valhalla Memorial Park

Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery opened in 1923 and overlaps the city of Burbank and neighborhood of North Hollywood. It was created by the Osborne-Fitzpatrick Finance Company, a company run by two scam artists, C.C. Fitzpatrick and John R. Osborne. The swindlers made millions of dollars each, selling lots to multiple parties (sometimes selling one lot to sixteen buyers) and lots located outside the cemetery, underwater, &c – largely to widows, first-time investors, and other easy marks. In 1925, the two were each sentenced to ten years in the pen. Osborne's father shot himself to death not long after and is buried there.

Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery war memorial

The original gateway to the cemetery was redesigned to the the Portal of Folded Wings - a shrine to aviation, is located on the Burbank side and was meant to capitalize on Burbank's importance in industry. In an example of irony (in the Alanis Morissette sense of the word), a small plane crashed into the shrine to aviation in 1969.

The fountain at Valhalla Memorial Park

The North Hollywood side of the cemetery has a rather nice fountain which is home to minnows, Mallard Ducks, and terrapins. Otherwise the graveyard is mostly characterized by invariably flat tombstones, big mausoleums, and a few monuments.

A few warnings to would-be visitors: Google maps depicts a nonexistent entrance on the cemetery's western side where there is in fact a solid (if fairly low) wall. Also, unlike most cemeteries where there are few visitors besides goths, gravestone rubbers, and the like, at Valhalla there are regular burials and visitors to the graves of loved ones. 

To read a much more detailed story about the cemetery on KCET's website, click here.


El Portal Theatre and the Federal Bar

The 1,346 seat, Spanish Renaissance Revival-style El Portal Theatre opened in 1926 with a film screening, live performance from Chinese actors, and a “Chinese jazz orchestra.” It may be the final theater designed by prolific theater, architect Lewis A. Smith, who died the same year. Much later it screened Spanish language theaters. It was purchased by the Actors Alley stage company in 1996 and re-opened it as El Portal Center for the Arts in 2000.

El Portal has been featured on such television programs, films, and many comedy specials including Brothers & Sisters, Dov Davidoff: Filthy Operation (2010), Harland Williams: What a Treat (2005), Kevin Nealon: Now Hear Me Out! (2009), Kims of Comedy (2005), Last Comic Standing, Live Nude Comedy, Maz Jobrani: Brown & Friendly (2009), The Sarah Silverman Program, Scrubs, Wendy Liebman: Taller on TV (2011) and quite a few others.  


Arial view of North Hollywood High School and surrounding groves in 1927

In an attempt to sell the newly-annexed community, Lankershim was renamed/re-branded North Hollywood in 1927. Even with a new name, the community was a farm town with both little involvement in the film industry and little connection to the Hollywood neighborhood. It's biggest claim to fame, in fact, was that it was home to what was believed to be the world's largest apricot tree. If that weren't enough, advertisements  for the suburb promised “No saloons – no mud.”


The Post Office on Chandler Boulevard was constructed in 1936 by Brunzell & Jacobson Company. The contract was awarded to them in January and the building opened in October. Unfortunately, my picture of it didn't come out and I couldn't find any online (which is why I haven't included a photo). 


Damage to the partially-channelized Tujunga Wash

Heavy rains fell on Los Angeles in February of 1938 and the floodgates were opened in order to save Big Tujunga Dam, an act which caused great damage to the communities below. In North Hollywood, the Lankershim Boulevard Bridge collapsed killing five people. One family, the Fujiharas, lost five members. After the damage was done, Hansen Dam was built in 1940 and the Sepulveda Dam in 1941.

Click here to read a KCET piece about the flood.

The Tujunga Wash, a major tributary to the Los Angeles River that passes through North Hollywood, was completely entombed in concrete in the 1950s. In recent years, sections of the 21 kilometer waterway have begun to be rehabilitated, creating more green space and restoring the riparian environment a few meters at a time. As far as I could tell, however, none of that revitalization has yet come to North Hollywood's central channel. As I explored it I did encounter an old man with a guitar on sitting near its banks and apparently doing his best to dream of the Delta.


Although it may seem curious to modern Angelenos (or tourists who still associate the Hollywood brand name with glitz and glamor) but when North Hollywood was barely a decade old, a group of citizens decided to again change their community's name and thus distance themselves from their neighbors -- if not physically, associatively. As a result, they seceded from North Hollywood and renamed their neighborhood “Valley Village,” in 1939. Although this sort of maneuver is by no means unique to the Valley or even to Los Angeles it does seem like the spirit of secession and reorganization typifies the Valley more than other Los Angeles regions.


The Idle Hour Café and better days

The barrel-shaped bit of programatic architecture at 4824 Vineland originally opened in 1941 as The idle Hour Café. It was owned and operated by Michael and Irene Connolly. It closed in 1984 after Irene's passing and became a flamenco club called La Caña. After that closed it sat vacant for several years.

It was designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #977 in 2010. When I stopped by I found that it's currently stripped down to the frame as part of its restoration process. The building was recently purchased by the 1933 Group -- the bar mafia behind The Bigfoot Lodge, La Cuevita, Oldfield's, Sassafras, the widely-loathed hipster concept bar Stinkers, and The Thirsty Crow -- so don't be surprised if when it re-opens it's all mixological, Edison bulb-lit,  and patronized by the waxed handlebar mustache mob. 


On 6 August 1945, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. That same day, Richard Ira “Dick” Bong, the US's highest “scoring” air ace (having shot down at least forty Japanese planes), crashed an early jet, the P-80 Shooting Star, into a field in North Hollywood, shortly after take off.

World War II ended when Japan surrendered on 15 August, 1945 and the post-war era would see most of North Hollywood's empty fields transformed into suburbs and many of the houses of which became home to returning veterans.

Although today the the complexion of most of the residents may have changed, most of North Hollywood outside the NoHo Arts District retains the feel of a sleepy, mid-century, residential suburb -- albeit one whose quiet is regularly disturbed by the arrival and departure of huge jets at nearby Bob Hope Airport.


Television Hall of Fame

1946 was the first network television season in the US with the launch of the NBC and DuMont networks. That same year, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences was founded. It only took until 1949 for the Emmys to be instituted, allowing the industry thereafter to celebrate itself annually. In its first year, Louis McManus was given an award for his design of the Emmy statuette, and Pantomime Quiz and Your Show of Shows were the big winners.

In all honesty, why the collection of sculptures (which includes Bea Arthur, Bob Newhart, Gene Roddenberry, and others) isn't more of a tourist destination than the completely lame Walk of Fame is beyond me... nevertheless, I dutifully helped a couple of Chinese tourists get to the latter via the Red Line and kept my opinion to myself.

Mr. Rogers memorialized


Fire Station No. 60 

Engine Company 60 originally operated out of a firehouse at 11222 Weddington Street, constructed in 1924. In 1949 it moved into its current location on Tujunga Avenue.


Masonic Temple Lodge 542

An even more impressive piece of North Hollywood architecture from 1949 is the North Hollywood Masonic Temple Lodge 542. It was designed (in collaboration with lodge member John Aleck Murrey) by British architect, Robert Stacy-Judd, who'd earlier designed the amazing Aztec Hotel in Monrovia. Famous members of the local chapter included Audie Murphy, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Laurel & Hardy, and the Warner Brothers.


The Palomino opened in 1949 at 6907 Lankershim and was, by some folks' reckoning, the most important Country music venue on the west coast. Among the greats who performed there were Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Hoyt Axton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Lefty FrizzellLinda Ronstadt, The Long Ryders, Patsy Cline, Rosie Flores, and Willie Nelson.  Jerry Lee Lewis (who in my reckoning is seriously underrated as a County performer because he was so important as a Rock 'n' Roller) performed at the Palomino every year from 1957 until 1987.

In a 1974 episode of Adam-12 titled "Routine Patrol: The Drug Store Cowboys," officers Reed and Malloy cruise by the Palomino in search of some felonious cowboys from Albuquerque. The Palomino Club was featured prominently (as Club Interiors) in the Clint Eastwood vehicles Every Which Way But Loose (1978) and Any Which Way You Can (1980). In the 1980s and '90s the Palomino became more associated with the rock acts on SST -- fIREHOSE recorded their Live Totem Pole EP there. The Palomino Club finally called it a day in 1995. Nowadays it's operating as Le Monge Banquet Hall – a dining hall catering primarily to Armenians, Mexicans, Persians, and Russians.


The fuchsia-accented cottages of Cahuenga Villas

The northeast corner of North Hollywood, near Burbank and Sun Valley, feels more remote than the rest of the neighborhood -- country even. Dusty pick-up trucks sit on crumbling curbs along sidewalk-less streets. Sandy yards are patrolled by barking dogs -- and then there's a cluster of whimsical cottages built in 1951, Cahuenga Villas. Their walls are molded into shapes meant to resemble logs and stones (although the fuschia paint job doesn't help sell the illusion). 


St. Paul's Lutheran Church

The congregation of St. Paul's First Lutheran Church was founded in the 1920s. In 1946, they opened a church. In 1954, a new church was built on the location and, while modest, is a fine-looking house of worship (judging solely on exterior appearances).


Lonely Macy's 

Laurel Plaza was built in 1955. At the time it was the regional headquarters for St. Louis, Missouri's May Company department store. The plaza damaged so severely by the 1994 Northridge Earthquake that most of the mall was demolished, leaving the free-standing department store alone and surrounded by acres of (mostly empty when I visited) parking lot. In 2005 it became a Macy's. I popped in to use their facilities and found it eerily quiet. Maybe it was a mix of the old building smell and old lady perfume but there was something haunting about the place.

Then again it could be the area. Many of the businesses along that stretch of Laurel Canyon Boulevard either are abandoned or look abandoned and northwest NoHo seems further from the Arts District than it really is. Someone coated part of the median with astroturf and stuck some potted plants upon it -- probably to spruce it up but in fact underscoring it's bleakness. The 25 acre site, which also includes the North Hollywood campus of Kaplan College, sold about a week ago so we'll hopefully see some sort of change come to the area.


Circus Liquor with its John Wayne Gacy-esque clown

One of North Hollywood's most widely-recognized icons is the ten-meter neon-lit clown at Circus Liquor, which may have been the tallest human-made structure in the San Fernando Valley at the time.

It was famously featured in the Snoop Doggy Dogg short film Murder Was the Case (1994) and the film Clueless (1995) as the site where the character Cher was mugged. Maybe both films were drawn to the location on account of the clown's undeniable creepiness. Maybe too they were both signs that the neo-noirification of the Valley was well underway by the time Paul Thomas Anderson made Boogie Nights (1997) and filmed Magnolia (1998) and Punch-Drunk Love (2002) in the neighborhood.

The liquor store was also featured in Blue Thunder (1983), Spun (2002), and Alpha Dog (2006) but I haven't seen any of those. 


Valley Plaza Tower (aka Los Angeles Federal Savings and Loan Tower)

In 1957, the 150 foot height limit on Los Angeles skyscrapers was repealed and the San Fernando Valley – still today usually characterized as a low-profile, sprawling, residential suburb – began to grow upward. Today there are mid-rise skyscrapers in BurbankCanoga ParkEncinoSherman Oaks, Studio CityUniversal City, and Warner Center, in addition to those in North Hollywood

Valley Plaza Tower , at 12160 Victory Boulevard, was designed by prominent local architects Douglas Honnold and John Rex. The Corporate International-style building (also known as Los Angeles Federal Savings and Loan Tower) was completed in 1960. It was both part of Valley Plaza Shopping Center (which opened in 1951) and, at twelve stories and fifty meters tall, the tallest human-made structure in San Fernando Valley at the time. Another skyscraper, the Gerald Bense-designed Commonwealth Savings & Loan Building (formerly located at 5077 Lankershim Boulevard) was built in 1961 and torn down in 2013. 


Clanton 14 gang placa

A less-welcome sign of North Hollywood's urbanization arrived in the 1970s in the form of gangs. The first to form was part of Clanton 14, an old gang which originally formed on Clanton Street (later renamed 14th Place) in what's now the Fashion District back in the 1920s.

In 1975, brothers Ernie “Big Cuate” and Ricky (no family names available) moved to North Hollywood and established the gang's presence there, eventually growing and splintering into at least three distinct crews: Tiny Locos, Tiara Street Locos, and Crazy Alley Gangsters. They were followed by the establishment of more gangs: Alley Locos, Boyz from the Hood, 18th Street Northside, North Hollywood Boyz, North Hollywood Locos, Mara Salvatrucha Northside, Radford Street, and Vineland Boyz among them.

A shrine for José Mendoza, age 18 -- recently killed in an officer involved shooting


NoHo Arts District entrance

The gangs were both contributors to and symptoms of North Hollywood's decline. The Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) first adopted an area of North Hollywood in 1979 for targeted redevelopment. The target area corresponded closely with the area that ultimately became the NoHo Arts District in 1992  -- although the driving force in that designation was also contributed to by theater (and other business) owners in the Universal City/North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce as well as the L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs. The NoHo Arts District today is undoubtedly the cultural capital of the San Fernando Valley – home to numerous theaters, art galleries, dance studios, cafés, &c.

Lindsay William-Ross wrote a great, detailed piece about the NoHo Arts District as part of LAist's much-missed Neighborhood Project back in 2007 (click here to read it). 


In one horrific reminder that even in good times there are bad times just around the corner, on 28 February, 1997 Larry Eugene Phillips, Jr. and Emil Dechebal Matasareanu attempted to rob the Bank of America on Laurel Canyon Boulevard. The two heavily-armed-and-armored men engaged in a shootout in which fourteen people were injured and the two would-be robbers died from their injuries. It was widely suggested that the criminals were inspired by Michael Mann's 1995 film, Heat, which seems believable. Their own escapade inspired 44 Minutes: The North Hollywood Shoot-Out (2003).


North Hollywood Station

North Hollywood Station
As transformative as the establishment of the NoHo Arts District might have been to North Hollywood, the return of passenger rail after half a century of car dependency may have been equally if not more so (and affected the entire Valley). Metro's Red Line first opened in 1993 but until 1999 terminated at Hollywood/Vine Station on the other side of the hills. In 2000 the Universal City/Studio City Station and North Hollywood Station opened, extending the subway to the San Fernando Valley.

The Orange Line Busway

The Metro Orange Line was originally envisioned as a light rail line but a group of San Fernando Valley homeowners banded together to block its construction, hoping to drive it underground, like the Red Line. Instead Metro went with a bus Transitway – an articulated bus that runs on a dedicated right-of-way that in many ways feels like a train although, due to its popularity and comparatively small capacity, gets rather cramped (like a bus).

Ghost Bike memorial for José Heredia, age 64, hit by a car

Running parallel to the Orange Line for most of its length is the Metro Orange Line Busway Bike Path which allows for an arguably more comfortable transit alternative. Unfortunately, its current eastern terminus is located some four kilometers west of the Orange Line Busway's which means sharing Chandler with cars.


Santa Clarita Transit and Metro at North Hollywood Station

Today North Hollywood is also well-served by other transit options. Metro's 52, 154, 156, 162, 163, 164, 165, 183, 224, 230 and 656 bus lines serve the area. So too do Burbank Bus's Noho Media District and Noho Airport Area routes, Greyhound (which operates a station in North Hollywood), LADOT Commuter Express's 549 line, and Santa Clarita Transit's 757 line. 

Transit mural in North Hollywood

Metrolink's Ventura County Line and Amtrak's Pacific Surfliner trains pass through North Hollywood although the nearest stop, at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, is less than a kilometer east of North Hollywood.

Fourteen-story NoHo 14

As it grows denser and taller (the new NoHo 14 is the tallest residential structure in the San Fernando Valley, the 15-story NoHo Tower, under construction, will be the tallest structure in the neighborhood, and NoHo Art Wave is on the slow, troubled course to becoming the largest transit-oriented development in the city) and greener, walking through North Hollywood is bound to become more pleasant. As it is, North Hollywood is rather flat but there are some streets that offer little shade or beauty and make walking on hot day – of which there are many -- more unpleasant than need be. Walkscore gives North Hollywood a walk score of 69 (tied with neighboring Toluca Lake for the highest score in the San Fernando Valley), a transit score of 49, and a bike score of 59.


There are several motels in North Hollywood: Colony Inn, Comfort Inn North Hollywood, Econo Inn & Suites, Pepper Tree Motel, Ritz Motel, and Silver Saddle Motel. Colony Inn's sign says (in quotes) "Hotel by Universal Studios," which although uncredited, means that someone actually uttered that phrase, right?
There's also a hostel, Timen's House. Airbnb lists a lot of places to stay in the area although their definition of North Hollywood includes parts of Sun Valley, Valley Glen, Valley Village, and West Toluca Lake.


Lonny Chapman Theatre - The Group Repertory Theatre

The area around North Hollywood is a hub of live theater, boasting (according to one source) 31 playhouses including the aforementioned El Portal Theatre as well as the following theaters and acting companies: Academy for New Musical Theatre, Actors Forum Theatre, Actors Workout Studio, Antaeus Company, Avery Schreiber Theatre, Cre8tive Differences, Crown City Theater, Deaf West Theatre, Elate's Lincoln Stegman Theatre, The Group Repertory at the Lonny Chapman Theatre, Ha Ha's Comedy Club & Café, The Magic Mirror Theater, NoHo London Music Hall, Puppet Studio, The Raven Playhouse, The Road Theatre Company, Secret Rose Theatre, The Sherry Theater, Smoke and Mirrors, 3 of a Kind Theatre Company, Whitmore Lindley Theatere Center, and Zombie Joe's Underground Theatre. That's fewer than 31 (I'm sure that I'm both missing some and that the count includes theaters in other neighborhoods) but it's still an impressive collection of theaters that even surpasses the number of theaters in the Hollywood Theater District.


North Hollywood is supposedly home to the largest concentration of music studios west of the Mississippi River and because of that fact, I'm not going to bother trying to here name them all. I will mention that the neighborhood has been referenced in several album titles: Blues Traveler's North Hollywood Shootout, Slush's North Hollywood, and Revolutionary Side Effects' album, also titled North Hollywood. Laurindo Almeida, Van Hunt, and Yokodeathray all have songs titled “North Hollywood.” Brady Harris has a song called “North Hollywood Skyline,Brandon Jenkins has a song called “Streets of North Hollywood,” and (my favorite), Brazil's Cansei de Ser Sexy have a song titled “Frankie Goest to North Hollywood.”

Two of my favorite music acts from North Hollywood are The Weirdos – one of the greatest punk bands from all of Los Angeles – and Shelby Flint, a pre-British Invasion performer who had a hit with “Angel on My Shoulder” in 1961. 

Shelby Flint's "Angel on my Shoulder"


Lankershim Arts Center

The Lankershim Arts Center was designed by the great architect, S. Charles Lee and built in 1939 for the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power. Around 1991 it became home to the Road Theatre Company and 800 Gallery. Other art galleries, frame shops, supply stores, studios, &c include The Art Castle, Art Institute Califonia - Hollywood, Art Pic, Betty Collins Art Studios, Biija Fine Art, Cella Gallery, Doran Designs, The Industrial Gallery of Art, L'imagerie Gallery, Magnolia Arts HOA, NoHo Gallery LA, NoHo2 Studio, Satsuma Gallery, and Sunny Meyer Fine Art Restoration.

As far as public art goes, there's a statue by Stephen Schubert at the northern entrance to the NoHo Arts District called Phoenix Rising. There's a nice statue of Amelia Earhart sculpted by Ernest Shelton in front of the library. There's a collection of sculptures at the Television Hall of Fame Plaza of celebrated figures important in the history of American television. Pierce Brothers Valhalla Memorial Park & Mortuary is home to some nice monuments too.

Chandler Bikeway and murals

Chandler murals


Some of the Chandler Murals

Along a stretch of the Chandler Bikeway, there's a collection of murals known to most as the Chandler Murals. The Chandler Bikeway is a three kilometer trail which opened in 2004 along a former railroad right-of-way. Less well-known are a couple of murals on Colfax Avenue, under the 170. One, painted by Ernie Realegeno, is called Latinos Unidos and dates back to 1996.

One of the murals under the 170

Finally, North Hollywood is even home to the NoHo Senior Arts Colony -- a residence for Angelenos over the age of 62 which contains a visual arts studio, literay studio, digital arts center... and billiards room and swimming pool.


As far as film is concerned, North Hollywood is mostly home to prop rental stores, costume companies, and other peripheral businesses of that sort. The list includes one of Walt Disney Imagineering's facilities, History for Hire, Pinacoteca Picture Props, and Western Costume Company – established (on the other side of the hills) in 1912.

Movie theaters in North Hollywood include the Valley Plaza 6 and Laemmle NoHo 7. Valley Plaza 6 shows typical, commercial American multiplex fare (you know, Hollywood films). Laemmle NoHo 7, like most films in the Laemmle Theatre chain, bills itself as an arthouse although the North Hollywood location's films seem to be more commercial than those at other locations.

North Hollywood was (or is) a filming location for many television shows, including Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Alias, Beverly Hills, 90210, Children's Hospital, CSI, Desperate Housewives, Dallas, Dexter, Falcon Crest, Hill Street Blues, The Incredible Hulk, Knight Rider, Leave it to Beaver, Malcolm in the Middle, Melrose Place, Moonlighting, Parks & Recreation, The Rockford Files, Scrubs, 7th Heaven, The Six Million Dollar Man, Wagon Train, Weeds, The X-Files, and more. A couple of my favorite shows, Dragnet and Adam-12, occasionally filmed on the streets of NoHo and someone took it upon themselves to make these cool, adjustable before and after pictures of a couple of locations -- click here to see. In fact, there was even a 1974 episode of Adam-12 titled "North Hollywood Division."

Films set or shot (in part or in whole) in North Hollywood include (in addition to the aforementioned ones) Accepted (2006), After Porn Ends (2010), The Big Lebowski (1998), Dude, Where's My Car? (2000), Erin Brockovich (2000), The 40-Year-Old Virgin (2005), Halloween (1978), I Love You, Man (2009), Indecent Proposal (1993), The Jane Austen Book Club (2007), Lethal Weapon (1987), Lethal Weapon 3 (1992), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985), Pineapple Express (2008), Psycho (1960), Pulp Fiction (1994), Terminator 3 (2003), Wild at Heart (1990) and many more.

There are a couple of video stores of note in North Hollywood. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I used to rent silent films on VHS from Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee. After I snapped the photo above, I had to step aside as one of Amoeba's regular customers barreled into the store to ask about whether or not any new movies with teenage girls had recently been released.

Inside Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee

There's also Odyssey Video and Video Citi. I tried to pop into Citi to see what I could see but they were closed while the staff was on a "ten minute" break.

NoHo natives (left to right) Corbin Bernsen, Edmund Druihet, Marc Handler, Merna Aodisho, Tina Marie Jordan

Actors and filmmakers born in North Hollywood include Abigail BeMiller, Ann Matthews, Brandon Rogers, Corbin Bernsen, Cuban Bee, Edmund Druilhet, Joseph Pozo, Kaye Borneman, Lincoln Kilpatrick Jr., Marc Handler, Mark Voland, Merna Aodisho, Nikki Wall, Noah Casper, Richard Pérez, Ricky Wittman, Tina Marie Jordan, Victor Vu, and Victorine Anne Greenwood.


Madilyn Clark Studios (pictured because of the rooftop horse and carriage)

Dance studios and schools of North Hollywood are many and include Art of the Dance Academy, At One Fitness, The Basement Dance Center, The Choreography House, Dance Fantasy, Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio, Halau Hula O Uluwehilaukoa, Island Groove, Liv'art Dance Studio, Luscious Maven Pole Dancing, Madilyn Clark Studios, Millennium Dance Complex, The Movement Lifestyle, NoHo Performing Arts Center, PinkPoleParty, Salseros-LA, Shiva's Dance & Fitness, Step It Up, Studio 21 Dance, and World Salsa and Bachata Academy.


Martial Arts studio on Chandler

In the past I haven't delved into a neighborhood's martial arts culture but the NoHo Arts District's name doesn't play favorites with types of art whether performing, visual, or martial. Besides, there are a surprising number of martial arts studios in the neighborhood, including Academy of Arms, All About Kickboxing, Bujinkan Los Angeles, Dartanian Jiu-Jitsu, Karate 4 Kids USA, Kuk Sool Won Martial Art Fitness Center, Muay Thai Academy of America, Muay Thai School USA, Noho Dojo, North Hollywood Kenpo Karate School, Shaolin American Self Defense Academy, Shoto Jutsu Martial Arts, Systema Spetsnaz - Russian Arts, Taoist Institute, Valley Martial Arts CenterValley Martial Arts Supply, and XMA World Headquarters.

Jun Chong Tae Kwon Do was featured in The Karate Kid (1984) but the doors of that dojo have closed. One of the Karate Kid's sequels, Karate Kid, Part III (1989) was also partially filmed in North Hollywood. Look for them both, as well as The Karate Kid, Part II (1986), The Next Karate Kid (1994), and The Karate Kid (2010), in Amoeba's Martial Arts section.


Amelia Earhart Statue and Library

North Hollywood is home to the Valley Plaza Libary and North Hollywood Regional Library. The latter library is usually known as Amelia M. Earhart Library, which it was renamed in 1981, 100 years after the death of poet Sidney Lanier. When the library opened in 1928 it was known as Sidney Lanier Library, although he was primarily chosen as the library's namesake simply because he shared initials with the Sepulveda Library, the North Hollywood Branch's predecessor and reason that the collection were stamped "SL."

There are also several bookstores in North Hollywood. J&B Books and Jasons II Adult Book Store are what are known as adult book stores. I honestly don't know what sort of books they might sell although J&B also boasts an arcade and rents movies.

The Iliad Bookshop
Inside the Iliad Bookshop

The Iliad Bookshop sells regular, erm, non-adult books. The Iliad was formerly located next to Odyssey Video, which is cute, especially for fans of Homer. North Hollywood is also home to Blastoff Comics.


North Hollywood Recreation Center at the magic hour

There are several parks to enjoy in North Hollywood. The oldest park is North Hollywood Recreation Center (also known as North Hollywood Park), established in 1927 and which includes the Dave Potell Memorial Rink, North Hollywood Skate Plaza, a swimming pool, and the North Hollywood Regional Library. When I explored it I encountered a group of sign twirlers conditioned and trained to stand on street corners and spin giant arrows. 

North Hollywood Skate Plaza

Valley Plaza Recreation Center includes a community room and Whitsett Fields, fifteen soccer/football pitches and baseball diamonds. There are also basketball courts, a playground, tennis courts, volleyball courts, picnic tables, indoor and outdoor gyms, and an American football field. When I visited, the soccer pitches were full, a basketball court was in use, and the tennis courts and baseball diamond were utterly abandoned except by a few squirrels and a homeless woman eating nearby. 

Looking southeast down Whitnall Highway (toward the dog park)

Whilst not one of the largest parks, Whitnall Highway Park North (and Whitnall Highway Park South in Burbank) have an interesting story behind them. To be brief, they are part of an abandoned highway meant to have passed through the Hollywood Hills but which never came to be -- looking down on the valley from above one can still make out the outline of the never-realized highway's route from Forest Lawn all the way up to the 210 near where it meets the 5. The route includes wide swathes of broken glass-strewn dirt but also parts that have been developed as park.. like the Whitnall Off-Leash Dog Park or the weird, fenced off area containing a motley assortment of bird feeders. 

To read a much more in depth account on KCET's website, click here

Other parks include Alexandria Park and Victory Vineland Recreation Center, which includes a gym, auditorium, playground, tennis courts, and basketball court. 


Phil's Diner -- built in the 1920s but currently closed
North Hollywood restaurants include Amazing Thai Cafe, Andrew's North Hollywood Diner, Antojitos de la Abuelita, Antojitos Guatemala & Bakery, Artizan Pizza Kitchen, Assam Indian Kitchen, Barn Rau Thai Halal Cuisine, Best Tacos & Burger House, Big Mama's & Papa's Pizza, Bow & Truss, Cafe Noho Grill & Lounge, Cafe Villa, Cahuenga General Store, Cake Monkey Bakery, Casita Taco de Carbon, The Chef and I, Chinese Deli T & D, Chinese Delight, Coley's Caribbean American Cuisine,

The Cook House Cafe & Bakery, Crown Burger, Daniel's Tacos food truck, Don Felix Restaurant, Don Zarape Restaurant #2, Dragon Street, EAT, Eat That Burger, Eclectic Fine Food & Spirits, Edy's Burgers, El Carbonero, El Picapica, Envy Nutrition, Falafel Hut, Fantastic Donuts Croissants, The Fat Dog, Fifty 2 Fifty, Fish Dish Grilled Seafood, The Flame Broiler, Flor de Izote, Flor de Michoacan, Food Fetish, Freshy's International Grill, Golden Palace Chinese, Good China Express,  

Hayat's Kitchen, Hot & Cold Bowls, House Of Wings, Hy Mart Sandwiches, In-N-Out Burger, Izalco Restaurant, J & J Wok, Jaltepeque 3, Jarin Thai Cuisine, Juval Kitchen, The Kansas City BBQ Company, Katina Bakery, Kim Thai Food - Song Fung Khong, King Express Chinese Food, La Cabañita de Don Chepe, La Colmenita Restaurant, La Costa del Sol, La Fonda de Don Cuper, La Kantuta, La Maria, La Ramadita, 

Marisco's Colima

Las Cuatro Milpas Numbero 2, Lenzini's Pizza, Leonor's Vegetarian Mexican, Los Burritos, Los Super Tacos 99, Lotus Vegan, Luna, Maggie's Bakery, The Magnolia Grille, Mariscos Colima, Mediterranean Best Food, Mi Carbonero, Mis Burritos, Miyako Sushi, Mofongos Comida Caribena, MP's Soul Food Eatery, Mucho Mas, Nica's Kitchen, Nick's Hot Wings & Grill House, Nobel Bakery, Noho Pizza & Grill, 
NoHo Thai Food & Noodle, Nora's Place, North Hollywood Diner, Olympus Greek Tavern

101 Korean BBQ, Original Thai Restaurant, P Gators Southern Grill, Pacific Coast Food, Pan Guatemalteca, Panaderia La Colmena #2, Philadelphia Steak & Hoagie, Pita Grill, Pitfire Artisan Pizza, Pizza Man, Poquito Mas, Pyramido Greek & Mediterranean Grill, Quesadillas Lupita, Raspados NOHO, Republic of Pie, Restaurante Mi Tierra, Roma Deli, Rigos Taco 6, Robina's Indian Cuisine, Salomi Indian & BangladeshSam's Charbroiled Burgers, Serrano Mexican Grill, Siam Victory,

Skynny Kitchen, Spumante Restaurant, Sunlight Restaurant, Sushi Park, Swingin' Door Texas BBQ, Taco Zone taco truck, Taco's Manzano, Tacos Mariscos taco truck, Taqueria La Chispita, Teriyaki House, Thai Victory, Tokyo Delve's Sushi Bar,  Tom's Famous Family Restaurant 7, Tortas Ahogadas, Tutti Frutti, 2 for 1 Pizza, Universal Kebab, Vicious Dogs, Victorio's RistoranteViva Italia! Pronto, Wola Crepes,
and Yerevan Steak House

City Market -- a somewhat interesting structure built in 1959

Come drink the friendly skies!
 - aviation-themed liquor store sign

Local markets include Alex Meat Market Carniceria Argentina, Armenia Meat Market & Produce, Azteca Market, City Market, Cleon Market, El Chalateco Market, El Matador Market, Envy Nutrition, Epicure Imports, Gigi Liquor 2, Gourmand Meat and Fish Market, Jet Stream LiquorKaly Market, Ladd Liquor MarketLarry Marciano Grocery, Lo Carb-U Foods, Magnolia Market, Martik's Market, Noho Halal Meat & Grocery, North Hollywood Market, Norwood Market, Pacific Coast Food, Skyline Market, Superior Warehouse, and Vallarta Supermarket, Value + Express Market, and Yuca's Market.

North Hollywood also has a Noho Farmer's Market on Saturdays from 9:30 am - 3 pm.

Monaco Hall (photographed mainly because I like the sign) and a Metro bus

And because I feel like it needs to be mentioned somewhere, there are several banquet halls in North Hollywood in addition to the aforementioned Le Monge: Bellezza Banquet HallElegante Banquet HallKriestel Banquet HallLe Foyer Ballroom by LA Banquets, Mirage Banquet Hall, Monaco Hall, and Pearl Banquet Hall.


II've grabbed drinks at NoBar a couple of times. NoBar is run by the Vintage Bar Group -- the bar mafia behind El Bar, The Fifth, The Parlour Room, The Well, and The Woods -- all of which are pretty interchangeable.

North Hollywood also has a Big Wang's, which despite its name, is not a gay Hooters. It's a Tapout-and-Affliction crowd-catering sports bar that's so un-Los Angeles that it's kind of magical. They also boast of having the most television sets of any bar in the city... which is one more reason I passed on it. 

This time I stopped at the Federal Bar. They have live music and comedy upstairs. The ambiance is nice, and a couple of strangers chatted me up (so the clientele seem friendly), service was good and after walking about 20 kilometers or so, the two beers hit me hard! Luckily I was able to lurch across the street to the Metro station and head home. It's also where the cast of Stephen Merchant's underrated and sadly under-seen series, Hello Ladies, get drinks in the final episode (although it's barely seen on-screen).

Other places to get drinks include Amsterdam Cafe, The Brickyard Pub, The Bullet Bar, The Captain's Cabin, District Pub NoHoEclectic Wine Bar & Grille, El Merengue, The Good Nite, Hot Box Cafe, Java Smoothies, La Costa del Sol, Las Torres Bar, Moby's Corree & Tea CompanyThe Other Door, Smoke Lounge, Studs Lounge, Supreme Bean Coffee Roasters, and Sweat Shoppe


There are a few dance clubs and gentlemen's clubs in North Hollywood including Blue Zebra, Club Cobra, Hacienda Corona, Star Garden, VIP Showgirls Gentleman's Club, and The Where?House. I haven't been to it but it seems that the CIA - The California Institute of Abnormalarts is perhaps a sort-of cabaret-like performance arts/live music venue.


North Hollywood hosts several regularly-scheduled cultural events. Twice a month the Museum of the San Fernando Valley leads an historic North Hollywood “NoHo” Historic Walking Tour. Every may there's a NoHo Theatre and Arts Festival. There's also the Experience NoHo Arts Festival and in the fall, the NoHo Scene Festival.


If you'd like to read more history about North Hollywood (and Lankershim), in the 1910s and '20s the community was served by a newspaper called The Lankershim Laconic. Online there's the North Hollywood-Toluca Lake Patch. For a broader look at the San Fernando Valley that has some good stuff about North Hollywood, check out Kevin Roderick's The San Fernando Valley: America's Suburb (2001) and Marc Wanamaker's San Fernando Valley (2011), part of the Images of America series. 


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


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