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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Boyle Heights

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 28, 2010 09:11pm | Post a Comment

This neighborhood blog is about Boyle Heights. To vote for more Los Angeles neighborhoods, go here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.


The area now known as Boyle Heights was originally inhabited by the Tongva, who lived there for centuries until their displacement by the Spaniards. When the area was still part of Mexico, it was known as Paredón Blanco. Prominent families in Paredón Blanco included the Lopez and Rubio households.

  
Pendersleigh & Sons' official maps of Boyle Heights and The Eastside

In the 1830s, a cemetery near Soto and Breed was removed and bodies displaced in order to make room for a new elementary school. Though the bodies were relocated to Evergreen Cemetery, there have been reports of various paranormal activities within the walls of Breed Street Elementary School, presumably the work of the lost souls who once rested there.

  
         Andrew Boyle                                        The Boyle House                                     William A. Workman

The neighborhood acquired its current name when Irishman Andrew Boyle moved to the area in 1858. His son-in-law, William H. Workman, was the mayor of Los Angeles and was largely responsible for developing Boyle Heights.

1941 The Flats


FROM SLUMS TO PROJECTS

Boyle Heights was traditionally viewed as being divisible into two sections, the more affluent section, The Heights, and the more downscale section, The Flats. Until the 1930s, The Flats were covered with slums that noted reformer Jacob Riis compared unfavorably to those in New York. In fact, the slums around Utah Street were widely considered to be the "most abominable in the country."

  
                      Aliso Village                                         Estrada Courts                                           Pico Gardens

In the 1940s, the slums were razed and replaced with the Aliso Village, Estrada Courts and Pico Gardens projects. By the 1970s, the neglected projects had been allowed to fall into disrepair and served as the breeding grounds for local gangs including Primera Flats, AV Fellas, AV Rockers, Varrio Nuevo Estrada and Alcapone. Village and Pico Gardens were, in turn, razed in the 1990s and replaced with the New Urbanist and Pueblo del Sol projects. The Estrada Courts project still stands and today is more recognized for its many murals and preservation efforts than gang violence. 


CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS OF BOYLE HEIGHTS 

First Annual Boyle Heights Block Party

As of 2000, Boyle Heights was 94% Latino with a very small (2.3%) Asian minority. However, in a world where the movements of even a few white people are attacked either as "white flight" or gentrification (depending on the direction of their movement), the existence of a 1.6 % white minority is threatening to nearly complete homogeneity.

As I walked along the sidewalk on behalf of this blog, a cholo bitched "Too many f---ing weddos around!" as he passed, presumably for my benefit. What this hater probably didn't know is that, in the first half of the 20th century, Boyle Heights was historically one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city, home to large numbers of Croatian, JewishJapaneseMexican and Russian immigrants. It is only in recent decades that it has become one of the least ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city.

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JAPANESE IN BOYLE HEIGHTS

 

After the 1882 passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act, many Japanese immigrated to California to fill the resultant void in the labor force. After the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, many Japanese citizens moved away from the bay, often to Boyle Heights. Faced with growing numbers of non-Chinese Asian immigrants, the Asian Exclusion Act was signed in 1924 to broaden discrimination to other Asian-Americans. By then, however, Little Tokyo (just across the river) and Boyle Heights were already home to about 30,000 Japanese-Americans, including famed artist Isamu Noguchi.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, hundreds of Japanese residents of the Japanese fishing village on Terminal Island were given 48 hours notice to evacuate their homes so that a new military base could be built there. Many of the displaced moved to the Forsythe Hostel in Boyle Heights. Not long after, however, they along with almost all Japanese-Americans were rounded up and shipped to concentration camps.

After World War II ended, few Japanese returned to the neighborhood, preferring, in many cases, to move to Gardena, Monterey Park, Torrance, Pasadena, San Pedro, Compton and Long Beach (rather than back to Boyle Heights, Little Tokyo or Little Osaka). The highly acclaimed restaurant, Otomisan, established in 1956, is one of the few reminders of a more diverse era. Other Japanese vestiges include Haru Florist, Hayashi Realty, and Tenrikyo Mission.


RUSSIANS IN BOYLE HEIGHTS


The next major wave of immigrants to Boyle Heights came with the arrival of large numbers of Russians, many whom immigrated to avoid czarist persecution. A large number were Molokans, a religious sect that refused to follow orthodox practices. By the 1930s, there were six Molokan churches in Boyle Heights. Later many Russian Jews fled to Los Angeles. In the 1940s, the nexus of Russians in Los Angeles shifted to West Hollywood, although there are today large numbers of Russians in Agoura Hills, Beverly Hills, Calabasas and Sherman Oaks.


MEXICANS IN BOYLE HEIGHTS


Texas-born pachuco Don Tosti moved to Boyle Heights

As previously mentioned, Boyle Heights used to be in Mexico. However, after the US took over, many more Mexican began to move to Boyle Heights in the 1910s, often fleeing the violence of the Mexican Revolution. In the 1930s, large numbers of Mexican-Americans were, regardless of their country of origin, deported to Mexico. When the Japanese were interred in the 1940s, however, Mexicans were actively encouraged to return to fill the void in the labor force. 

An uncharacteristically calm scene along Cesar Chavez Ave

Whereas most of the other early groups left the neighborhood, Boyle Heights' Latino population has steadily increased over the years. Reflecting the continuing Latinization of the neighborhood, in 1994, Brooklyn Avenue was renamed Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, which most nights is a bustling street, and not just by Los Angeles standards.



For many years, one prominent Mexican-American resident, Ross Valencia, was known as "Mr. Boyle Heights." Since his death last year, a small park has been dedicated to his memory.


JEWS IN BOYLE HEIGHTS


The Vladek Center (1950)


By the 1920s, Boyle Heights had the largest Jewish population west of the Mississippi. Today, one of the few visible vestiges of Boyle Heights' (particularly the Brooklyn Heights tract's) historic Jewish population is the Breed Street Shul, which, when it opened;in 1923, was the first synagogue on the west coast.

At the time, the Jewish population was centered around Brooklyn and Soto, where there were many Jewish-owned businesses. Few Angelenos likely know that the famed deli Canter's was actually started in Boyle Heights (as Canter Brother's Delicatessen) in 1931. In 1941 it moved, with much of the city's Jewish population, to the Fairfax District 


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CULTURE IN MODERN BOYLE HIGHTS


image source: KCET


Proyecto Jardín is a unique community garden and art and cultural space created in 1999 in the shadow of White Memorial Hospital. It includes a performance space, art and garden plots. It's also closely associated with Ovarian-Psycos, an all-female Eastside bicycle crew.


CAINE'S ARCADE

 
Nestled in the northwesternmost corner of Boyle Heights is Caine's Arcade. Because I still run into people who've never heard of it, Caine Monroy built this amazing, elaborate arcade out of discarded cardboard boxes in the back of his father's auto parts store. In 2012 filmmaker Nirvan Mullick made a short film about the arcade which he shared on Hidden Los Angeles and the whole, heartwarming thing went viral in a huge way.

MUSIC IN BOYLE HEIGHTS

Heritage Day at the Heritage Square Museum

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 5, 2008 03:20pm | Post a Comment
This past Sunday at the Heritage Square Museum in Highland Park it was L.A. Heritage Day, which I checked out, accompanied by the always scintillating Ngoc Nguyen. The Heritage Square Museum is a "living museum" made up of some Victorian buildings saved from impending demolition that was begun in the 1960s. All the homes were moved from their foundations and transported to their current home in Highland Park. Some of the buildings are still pretty rundown and, as money comes in, are restored. My sister and I used to play a game on road-trips where we'd try to spot rundown houses with trees poking through the roofs and cry out, "That's your honeymoon house!"  The idea is that honeymooning in a run-down house would be rather humorously outrageous. Of us siblings, only my sister has been married so far and I don't think she did end up honeymooning in a dilapidated mansion. Anyway, our parents responded by creating the "Quiet Contest."


        One of the more colorful Victorian homes.                              A Victorian teenager posing in front of the chapel.

Because of fire code, so the story goes, all of the second (and third, in the case of the hexagonal house) stories of these fine buildings are off limits except to the volunteers. One of the costumed guides complained how silly that was since there is no danger of fire in the homes. However, another guide said that two of the original buildings burned down after being moved to Heritage Square. Probably some punk kids out for kicks, but who knows?


   A docent and I in my Zodiac shirt.       It's like a giant cable-knit sweater that someone keeps knitting and knitting and...

In addition to the Victorian homes, there's a church, a carriage house, a train station and some train cars. The museum has a myspace page and activist/actor George Takei is in their top 16. I was once on Olvera Street and I recognized GeorgeTakei's distinct, pleasant voice asking, "Should I stand here?" whilst posing next to a fake donkey for some tourists.

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