Having lived at 573 S. Boyle Avenue for a year, I have driven up and down Boyle Avenue hundreds of times and walked by the buildings on both sides of the street less often; however, to me, they appeared to be wallpaper because I never had the opportunity to penetrate below the surface. On January 15, the anniversary of our arrival in Boyle Heights, Survey LA, the Los Angeles Historic
Resources Survey in association with the Los Angeles Conservancy, the office of Councilman José Huizar and the Boyle Heights Historical Society organized a walking tour of S. Boyle Avenue in which we were able to visit eight sites. There were docents at each.
For me, this was a revelation because I saw these buildings in a totally different light. After meeting some of the residents, these buildings will some degree of familiarity when I drive or walk by them.
Cities have played a major role in my life. I have lived and worked in many and am most familiar with New York, Paris and Rome. It has taken a lifetime to build my reservoir of knowledge and experience related to each of these cities. In Los Angeles and Boyle Heights, I am still at the starting point; however, this walking tour awakened a new sense of identity on which I hope to expand.
S. Boyle Avenue is the western edge of Boyle Heights which reaches into East LA housing nearly one hundred thousand people with supporting industrial, commercial, educational and recreational resources. I travel through these streets on a regular basis making excursions to a supermarket, the post office, and the cash machine hosted by the local police precinct. I need to find similar opportunities to become familiar with the rest of my neighborhood. Until then, I will remain a half citizen in my community.
Detail of a drawing of Boyle Heights, 1877. In the foreground, looking west toward the Los Angeles River is Downtown Los Angeles. In the background, looking east are the vineyard covered hills of Boyle Heights. Collection: Los Angeles Public Library.
South Boyle Avenue, 500 block, facing north toward Mariachi Plaza. 2011.
504 S. Boyle Avenue. Elmer O. Simmons House. Plant Number One of the Simons Brick Company was located in Boyle Heights; it produced many of the bricks used in the construction of Downtown Los Angeles.
432 S. Boyle Avenue. "Max Factor House." Max Factor, a Polish Jewish immigrant, lived in this house in the 1920s. He developed cosmetics for the film industry which he later transformed into commercial products for a mass market.
Hollenbeck Park, lying to the east of S. Boyle Avenue, was created in memory of John Edward Hollenbeck by his widow and Mayor William Workman in 1892.
The ubiquitous freeways have left their mark on Boyle Heights. The 101, 5 and 10 all traverse the neighborhood. Here, the 5 stradles the lake in Hollenbeck Park.
Breed Street Shul, 247 N. Breed Street. Built between 1914 and 1923, then the largest synagogue west of Chicago. It was one of many synagogues serving the large Jewish community. Currently unoccupied, there is group raising funds for its restoration and eventual conversion into a community cultural center.
Mariachi Plaza, First and S. Boyle. Boyle Heights is now a predominantly Mexican American community. According to the 2000 Census, there were 92,786 residents of whom 94.78% were Latino, 2.3% Asian, 2.0 Caucasian - Non Hispanic, 0.9% African American and 0.8% other.
St. Mary's Roman Catholic Elementary School, Boyle Heights, Third Grade, 1936.In all global cities, of which Los Angeles is one, there is a neighborhood that has traditionally served as the entry point for the uninvited. In Los Angeles, it was Boyle Heights.
While reminiscing about the past, long time residents always emphasize the fact that people of different nationalities and religions: Japanese, Jews, Italians, Russians, Mexicans and others, lived in harmony. While immigrants might have been welcomed to Boyle Heights, they were excluded in the rest of Los Angeles where restrictive covenants controlling the entrance of new residents were operative. These restrictions remained in place until the end of World War II, when all such discriminatory practices were outlawed by the U.S. Congress. As a consequence, ethnic communities emerged across Los Angeles where they had previously been excluded. In comparison with New York, London, Paris and Rome, Los Angeles is a relatively new city lacking layers of history upon which to draw. However, there is no question that Boyle Heights has been its immigrant portal comparable to those in
New York, London, Paris and Rome.
In New York, the immigrant portal was The Lower East Side.
In London, it was Brick Lane.
In Paris, it was the 20th Arrondissement.
In Rome, it was Trastevere
Throughout human history, the influx of immigrants has been seen as vital to the life of great cities. In the Ancient Near East, trading centers emerged in which multiple languages and ethnic diversity were common. In the First Century AD, Seneca The Elder, a Roman statesman of Spanish origin, estimated that foreigners constituted half of Ancient Rome's population. He said that "From their towns and colonies, from the whole world in fact they have flocked here (Rome). Every class of person swarmed into the city ..." With an estimated population of a million, imperial Rome required an influx of 10,000 immigrants annually to maintain its population density.
Better to Live in Boyle Heights or Beverly Hills?
Several weeks ago, I was invited to a Yale event in Beverly Hills. Having no familiarity with the area, I printed a Google map as my guide. Allowing myself an extra half hour to get lost, I found later that I needed at least an extra hour. My Google map indicated that my destination was in proximity to Sunset Boulevard. Having entered Beverly Hills, I moved cautiously looking for one of the street names on my map. None appeared. So, I decided to turn around. To complete this manouver, I entered a dead end street, the name of which escapes me. I thought that I had been suddenly air lifted to East Jerusaem. I was surrounded by eight to ten foot solid walls on both sides with surveillance cameras craning their necks above the top. Back on Sunset Boulevard, I headed in the opposite direction. Then, I saw a group of people playing games in what appeared to be a public park. I approached them with my request for directions. They were on an outing from East LA and had no familiarity with the area. Continuing further on Sunset, I did not see another human being from whom I might obtain information nor were there any gas stations or commercial stores. Checking my iphone for my location and comparing it with my Google map, I began to recognize names appearing on visible street signs.
Turning on to one of them, I was greeted by a "Stars Tour Bus," with the driver stopping and pointing out significant addresses. I questioned whether I should ask him for directions because he obviously knew all of the streets and decided against doing that.So, I turned my car around again. Then, this sign loomed large in my windshield. Behold, I saw:
I entered the drive and pulled up alongside a black limo with its driver leaning on the hood. When asked for assistance, he checked his iphone and said that my destination was two blocks away. I had to make a right at the end of the drive then make a left at the second street, and I would be there. He was right. I finally arrived at my destination.
The event's host lived in one of a long line of pseudo mansions of no particular architectural merit situated in this verdant paradise. No eight foot walls here, just lawns. No human beings to be seen either. Obviously, there were no stars on our host's street because the bus did not appear here. I walked up the steps entering an opulent den of bad taste: an imitation Warhol with the head of Marilyn Monroe looming from a stainless steel background caught my attention. Next, I was cofronted by a dangling piece of sculpture that looked like a stuffed cobra. Finally, the de rigueur swimming pool.
Last night, Mary and I ate street food in Mariachi Plaza while a dj plied his trade from the stage. We loved it and felt comfortable in our neighborhood where urban grit predominates.