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The Trolley Took Us There 01.21.11

January 21, 2011

The Pacific Electric Red Car heads east towards Baldwin Park out of Downtown Los Angeles through Boyle Heights on October 31, 1943. (Note the once omnipresent gas tanks along the LA River in the background.) Photo via the Metro Transportation Library and Archive.

It was my father’s generation that rode the Big Red Car to and from downtown. Around the time the photo above was taken things were quickly changing. In 1940 the world’s first true freeway, The Ramona Freeway began with the rebuilding of the Aliso Street bridge over the L.A. River. Seen in the photo above is some of the tunnel-work being done to bypass the Pacific Electric tracks. Eventually the tracks themselves would be removed and replaced with the Ramona Freeway, later the name would change to the San Bernardino Freeway. It would be that freeway my father and his peers traded their seats on the trolley for, it would be that freeway, that ribbon of congested concrete connected in grid-like form that would be their legacy. A legacy we in 2011 are trying to replace with the lost rail lines from their past.

The San Bernardino & Hollywood Freeway transition. Where the Big Red Car was, is where lots of little cars are today.

Jacked Up Jack In The Box

January 20, 2011

Have you seen the interior our renowned Craftsman-style Jack In The Box on Avenue 43 lately? Well, it is not what it used to be.

In 1997 the Jack In The Box corporation wanted to build one of their conventional drive-through fast food stucco boxes where a muffler shop once stood on Figueroa Street. Local preservationists successfully lobbied the company to build their fast food restaurant to tastefully compliment the surrounding historic community by using a craftsman design for the exterior AND INTERIOR. Initially, Jack balked such demands from the community. But thanks to determined pressure from neighbors, activists, and the City, Jack agreed to build a very unique and attractive restaurant just down the Avenue from Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument Number 68 (AKA Lummis House, El Alisal) complimenting the neighborhood while creating a new outlet for their products. The stylish stone and wood building received awards and accolades from preservationists, designers, and the public, and became a model for what was possible in other historic communities.

That was 13 years ago. As part of Jack In The Box’s chain-wide design update that includes their newest logo, the store at 4228 North Figueroa Street was gutted a few months ago and given this new minimalist interior. Gone are the interior matching craftsman elements along with the historic photos that honored our local heritage. Instead, just an ironic statement on the homogeneity of fast food.

What sets us apart now?

Thanks to Adam Bray-Ali for the tip.

Time To Sow

January 19, 2011

The Milagro Allegro Community Garden is NOW accepting new gardener applications until early February for the 2011-2013 Term that begins this March.

Anyone with an interest in organic gardening in a communal setting is encouraged to apply. Lucky gardeners are chosen by lottery with preference given to those that live closest to the garden located behind the Highland Theater at 115 South Avenue 56. (Closer potential gardeners get extra tickets in the plot drawing, kind of like being scored on the Huizar Scale.) If you are lucky enough to get one out of the 29 6′X12′ plots, there is an annual fee of $60 that includes daily access to the garden, its tools, and unlimited water to grow what you wish. (Surprisingly, no one has yet grown anything the DEA frowns upon or abused the unlimited water to grow water-hungry crops like cotton or rice!)

Please see the Milagro Allegro “Garden With Us” page to download an application and get more information on the wonderful world of community gardening in Highland Park. Good Luck!

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.


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