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The Train Took Us There 01.14.11

January 14, 2011

Santa Fe Locomotive No. 101 crosses the Santa Fe Viaduct in Highland Park on January 1st, 1990. Photo by Steve Crise. Used with permission.

The photo above shows the Rose Bowl Special passenger train returning over Arroyo Seco Park and the Pasadena Freeway from Pasadena on New Year’s Day in 1990 . The Santa Fe Viaduct, or “The Santa Fe Arroyo Seco Railroad Bridge” (Also known as LA HCM #339) was built in 1896. In a city where demolishing structures seems like the municipal pastime, this bridge over the Arroyo Seco in Highland Park has managed to become the oldest bridge in Los Angeles. The bridge first carried steam locomotives, then diesel ones operated by Santa Fe and Amtrak, transporting freight and passengers until 1994. In 1996, thanks to efforts by the Highland Park Heritage Trust, rather than replacing the bridge with a new concrete one, The Los Angeles County MTA spent $11.5 Million retrofitting and upgrading the bridge to carry two tracks of light rail for the future Gold Line that opened in 2003. (Making this the first portion of the Gold Line built.) Today, it is simply known as the section of the Gold Line where passengers take a moment to look up from their papers, kindles, and smart phones and look out for what is probably the best view of their day.

The Metro Gold Line's Ansaldobreda train crossing the Santa Fe Viaduct today.

Because Trees Are Awesome

January 14, 2011
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A fake tree livens up Avenue 56 during filming in 2009. Imagine a world where Northeast LA Streets are so lush film companies don't need to dress them with fake trees...

While one battle to save urban trees was lost this week, another effort has begun to help young urban trees grow into big and healthy urban trees.

A new Northeast Los Angeles collaborative has been formed to assist the ever-embattled urban forest of Northeast Los Angeles. The Urban Forest Collaborative is a local DIY group in partnership with TreePeople, dedicated to maintaining and caring for the neglected street trees of 90041, 90042, 90065 and beyond. You see, it is one thing to have great city-sponsored One Million Tree campaigns where corporations and organizations come out to NELA, dig holes, plant trees, and walk drive away. It is another to do the hard work of regularly maintaining our public trees so they remain healthy and provide the shade and beauty our sidewalks need. This means weeding, pruning, adding mulch, water, and removing pavers and stakes that restrict growth.

So far the focus is centered around the Eagle Rock Centennial Year celebration, with plans to expand from there. Upcoming events are scheduled for March 26th with the planting of 10 trees on Colorado Blvd, and April 30th with the planting of 13 new trees on York Blvd.

This Sunday, January 16 at 3pm, The Urban Forest Collective is having a potluck get-together at the Monk House in Eagle Rock. If you’re interested in attending or getting involved with helping maintain our local urban forest, please contact Highland Parker extraordinaire, Jane Tsong.


Tree planting events are great for photo ops. Unfortunately, this sycamore tree planted on Figueroa Street in April 2009 later died from lack of water. (Click for after photo.)

The Tide of Commerce

January 11, 2011

Bargain Land on the last week of 2010.

Bargain Land on the first week of 2011.

Another major retailer has left Figueroa Street. This time it is the “Dollar and Up” store Bargain Land. Just like Pep Boy’s down the street, Bargain Land closed without any notice. This past week they packed up and moved out of the building where The People’s Department Store used to be (before being burned down by Glendale Fire Department Captain, turned homicidal arsonist, John Orr*).

While only a few years ago, Highland Park seemed to be the 99¢ Gateway of Los Angeles. A place where bargain stores were as abundant as corner fruit carts and where quality products were hard to find. Thanks to the prolonged Great Recession and changing demographics, few are left standing in 90042 today.

The latest to fall was my favorite place to buy cheap Chinese crap, and other inexpensive household items. Barginland, or Barginlandia (ala Disneylandia) as I liked to call it, was thee place to buy stuff you kind of wanted, but didn’t really want to spend the money for, or the place to go as an alternative to the customer-hostile CVS up the street. The place had cheap toys, stationary, paper products, soap, pregnancy tests, utensils, tools, light bulbs, ice, glue, batteries, X-mas decorations for ugly public art, bb guns, lock-picking kits, automotive supplies, knock-off designer T-shirts, both spray paint and graffiti remover (carburetor spray). It was quite the emporium. But now like much of Highland Park, it is history.

Double Savers, one of the many failed markets at Monterey Plaza in Hermon.

The new Fresco Community Market in Hermon.

While one major store in 90042 was closing, another was opening. Friday was the opening day for the much-anticipated Fresco Community Market. An upstart of a grocery store with some obviously significant financial backing, the supermarket is quite simply the nicest grocery store in 90042.

The opening is a victory for the 90042 communities of Hermon and Monterey Hills, who had petitioned to get a major retailer to take over the grocery space in Monterey Plaza at Avenue 60 and Monterey Road. Rather than just another Ranch-style, or warehouse market, Monterey Plaza now has an ambitious new grocery store that carries name brand, top-shelf items and has a Whole Foods / Bristol Farms flavor to it, but without the price.

The place looks great. The interior consists of natural woods, stainless steel, clear signage and text placed around the store that call out like a mantra to solidify the store’s marriage to the customer. Words like “Commitment, Trust, Considerate, Healthy, Honest, Purposeful, Integrity, Contribution, Responsible…” are printed throughout the store. It has bulk items, imported cheeses, a full-service deli, a bakery and cafe with free wifi. (Although, the coffee has A LOT to be desired.) The place also has a good selection of beers and wines. To shop, there are FIVE different types of shopping carts and baskets offered. (Regular, kids, min-cart, farmers market basket, and regular basket. Crazy huh?)

The store misses the mark in a few areas. Such as more vegetarian options, and abundant organic produce like the other local kick-ass market, Figueroa Produce has. I was also surprised to see such a small Asian and Latino food section. (As I’m writing this from the store, I can hear the managers ordering more Asian products.) Despite the early failings, you can see the earnestness in their attempt to give 90042 the best store possible; and that has to be commended.

Go there yourself or see more at my Fresco Community Market Flickr Set.

*H/T to EL CHAVO! for the links.


UPDATE 1.25.11: The Bargain Land is becoming another store for Fortune 500 company, Dollar Tree.

The Trolley Took Us There 01.07.11

January 7, 2011

Los Angeles Transit Lines W Streetcar at Figueroa and Meridian on February 15, 1948. Photo by Alan Weeks via The Metro Transportation Library and Archive.

One of the highlights of historic transportation photos, is the ability to show us what our neighborhoods looked like in the days of the streetcar. Here we have the “W” making its way past Luther Burbank Middle School on Figueroa and Meridian Streets in 1948. On the right is the spectacular Mayan-influenced architecture of the former three-story school building that once stood there. Just look at that stylish stairwell on the left, and the artistry of the building’s ornamentation. Even the landscaping looks inspired. (The school is named after Burbank after all. But sometime in the early 1970′s (’71 Quake?) the inspired school building was replaced with something else not so inspired, giving us what we see today.

Figueroa and Meridian with the Metro 81 Bus and Burbank Middle School today.

NELA Second Saturday Art Night Explosion

January 5, 2011

The Second Saturday NELA Art Night kicks off the year this Saturday, January 8th with an explosion of talent and creativity. It just so happens, two of the most creative people I know have shows opening Saturday in Highland Park. The first is artist, musician, and Highland Parker, Jeff Boynton.

Jeff and the HPTEGSCBMB marching in the Northeast LA Holiday Parade.

Jeff, the co-founder of The Highland Park Thursday Evening Gentlemen’s Society Circuit Bending Marching Band And Ladies Auxiliary (or HPTEGSCBMB for short) has been dabbling in intensely researching and developing electronic instruments made from discarded children’s toys in his Highland Park laboratory for nearly a decade. He will be showing off his creations and playing them in a  performance with his lovely wife, poet and dancer Mona Jean, along with musician and artist Andy Ben at Future Studio at 5558 North Figueroa Street on Saturday, starting at 7pm.

"Hot Pants" by Jason Hadley.

The second must-see artist on Saturday is Jason Hadley and his Egg Tree Egg show at MorYork Gallery.  Jason has collaborated on many artistic ventures over the past twenty-something years. You can often find him operating large scale robots whenever Survival Research Laboratories or Robochrist Industries performs in town. His performance art band, Woodpussy has played some of the most legendary shows Los Angeles has ever seen. Under the guise of Woodpussy Inc., he helped build Burning Man‘s first oil derrick and launched a rocket into space there. In recent years, he has been making smaller, assemblage sculptures that utilize electric motors, mechanization, and human forms. See and buy some of these great art pieces for yourself this Saturday at Highland Park’s most amazing art space, Clare Graham’s MorYork Gallery in the former Safeway Market at York Boulevard and Avenue 50.

90042 The Year That Was

January 5, 2011

Memorial to Jonathan Val on Avenue 57.

2010 was a good year for 90042.

First and foremost, it was the best year in decades for the living. Murders in 90042 for this year were way down. Not since the 1960′s have so few people been killed in the area. Only three people were known to have been murdered here in the past year. While the murders of 17 year-old, Jonathan Val (shot on Avenue 57), 20 year-old, Leeban Adan (shot and burned in Hermon Park), and 38-year-old Larry Samudio (stabbed to death on Avenue 56 and York Blvd.) will forever haunt the people who loved them, we as a community can be relived knowing at least they were the only ones.

After decades of killings, mostly due to gang warfare, the communities of Northeast Los Angeles are starting to see some of the hard-fought peace we have longed for. Years of work by local community members, city council members, neighborhood councils, churches, schools, police, California and Federal Departments of Justice, L.A .City Parks and Recreation, arts programs, various intervention programs, and changes in demographics have seem to turn the tide against gangs and the senseless violence that has plagued our community for decades.

Where for years, many shootings and deaths would go almost unnoticed or ignored by the media, and an understaffed police force meant perpetrators would remain free, Northeast Los Angeles is now getting the attention it has always deserved. Things have changed here. Things are changing here, and for the better. Just a few years ago, gunfire was a nightly routine. It wasn’t a matter of whether it was gunfire or not, it was more of a question of what caliber it was and was it next door. That has changed. When gunshots go off in 90042, Twitter lights up with local reports of it. Random gunfire is no longer ignored, but reported. The community is no longer willing to accept it as a fact of life, but demand a stop to it.

There is a lot of good news there. Yet, this is still not anything close to a utopia by no means, the children of 90042 are still finding all too easy to pick up the proverbial sword rather than the pen, and our vigilance towards Peace in The Northeast cannot rest until all the killings end. But for 2010 we can at least take solace and satisfaction in the progress made.

Besides the good news as far as crime is concerned, a few other things happened last year. Here is a short list of the year that was for 90042:

Juanita’s Restaurant at York Blvd. and Aldama closed.

Moda Plus closed.

Pep Boy’s closed.

Yosemite Water bottling plant was bought by Sparkletts and closed.

Sea and Space Explorations gallery closed.

This, Los Angeles opened on Figueroa.

Cycleway Cafe closed, Pantry Cafe opened in its place, then changed their name to 5526 Cafe. (Guess, Mayor Riordan didn’t appreciate them using his cafe’s name.)

Ballet comes to Highland Park

Carrow’s didn’t become a Big Boy’s again, but became a Coco’s instead.

Improvements were made to Figueroa Street for pedestrians.

Successful Neighborhood Council Elections were held.

The interior of the Craftsman Jack in The Box on Avenue 43 was poorly remodeled.

Ground was broken on the Hermon Community Garden.

A new grocery store in Hermon ALMOST opened.

Nothing happened in Monterey Hills. (Just how they like it there.)

Milagro Allegro Community Garden was awarded a City of Los Angeles Beautification Grant and built a decorative fence with it.

The Highland Park Historic Preservation Overlay Zone was expanded to become the Highland Park – GARVANZA Historic Preservation Overlay Zone!

Los Angeles City Council approves the city’s first bike corral at York Boulevard and Avenue 50. (But doesn’t fund it.)

Community workshops begin for the “new York Boulevard Vision Plan.”

York Boulevard Bike Lanes are installed.

Awesome Playground opens at York and Avenue 52.

City of Los Angeles Parks and Recreation’s gang diversion program, “Summer Night Lights” is expanded to include the Highland Park Recreation Center. (Credited with being highly influential with this past summer’s lower crime rate.)

Construction begins on the Garvanza water filtration project at Garvanza Park.

Construction begins on Burbank Middle School’s massive construction redevelopment project.

Arroyo Seco Library reduces hours by two days due to Los Angeles City budget shortfall.

Both, Franklin High School’s Academic Decathlon Team and Football Team excel in 2010.

Home Intervention Mural on Marmion Way.

New mural on Highland Theater.

Sewer replacement construction all over Northeast L.A.

New Sycamore Grove playground.

The $750,000 Hermon Park improvement project begins, including a new playground.

Zesto’s sign on York Blvd is removed.

Chicken Boy receives the Governors Award for Preservation.

The 110 gets its name changed back to Arroyo Seco Parkway from Pasadena Freeway, and two years worth of construction adding concrete to make it more like other freeways.

New Bright as Hell LED traffic signal lights are installed around 90042.

L.A. Commons completes and installs mural by local youth artists, Haramoknga – Place Where People Gather on the Glenmary Archway across from Sycamore Grove on Figueroa Street.

I discover that Eagle Rock High School and Barack Obama’s old dorm room at Oxy are technically in the 90042 zip code (but use 90041).

Martha Peña is killed when a driver crashes his car into Troy Burgers, closing it for weeks.

Woman struck and critically injured by Metro Gold Line on Avenue 60. (Goes unreported by major media, and unacknowledged by Metro.)

A guy moves from Massachusetts and now reports all things Highland Park / Mount Washington for AOL’s Patch Network.

Dawn breaks over Highland Park on New Year's Morning 2011.

new York Vision Plan Workshop Wednesday 01.05.11

January 4, 2011


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