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A People's Guide to Los Angeles
By Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, Wendy Cheng
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2012 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
North Los Angeles
An Introduction to North Los Angeles
For hundreds of years the region we will call North L.A. in this book has been the historic core of Los Angeles. When the Tongva, the local indigenous people, dominated the region, one of their largest settlements was Yang-Na (near the current L.A. City Hall). Spanish and Mexican settlers also concentrated nearby, at the plaza. In the U.S. period, the central business district and political infrastructure, too, developed in this area. Starting in the 1900s, however, following the rail, Los Angeles grew in a leapfrog fashion, with multiple urban centers spread across the landscape. Since then, many observers have claimed that L.A. has no "real" downtown. This claim, however, is untrue. This part of the metropolis continues to be crucially important in structuring relationships of power and inequality that affect life not only here but also across the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area and beyond.
The linked processes of urban development, displacement, and resistance have fundamentally shaped life and landscape in North L.A. These dynamics began when Yang-Na was sold to a German investor who evicted the native residents. During the twentieth century, city leaders and capitalists consistently tried to lure people and investors downtown through a range of cultural, political, and economic inducements. Often they used eminent domain and other techniques to eradicate "blighted" areas (and their inhabitants), thereby making way for development projects. Episodes of displacement include the eviction of Chinese residents from Chinatown in the early 1930s to accommodate Union Station; the forced evacuation of Japanese Americans from Little Tokyo during World War II; the eviction of Mexican residents from Chavez Ravine in the early 1950s to acquire land for public housing that was never constructed, land on which Dodger Stadium was later built; and the complete destruction of Bunker Hill, beginning in the 1950s and continuing in the present (thus constituting the longest redevelopment project in L.A. history), to make way for upscale office buildings as well as a music and performance complex intended, according to city boosters, to turn Los Angeles into a "world class city."
Nowadays, it is in North L.A. that the most concrete efforts to reinvent the central city as an engine of growth, an investment opportunity, and a playground for the rich and upwardly mobile are occurring; all of these processes are part of a neoliberal economic regime that rests on largely unregulated (and therefore often exploitative) private market forces to generate urban growth and provide services. The development projects that have been changing the southern edge of downtown in recent years—for example, the Staples Center, the L.A. Live entertainment complex, and countless loft apartments—continue the linked trends of urban development and displacement into the twenty-first century. Although the area is experiencing higher and higher densities, there is less and less space for the poor and working class, who struggle to make a life amid the visions and decisions of the metropolis's political and social elite. These conflicts are apparent in the area's contemporary landscapes. Here are the governmental buildings and informal social settings where political and economic leaders plan the region's future. The sleek, postmodern skyscrapers where they work cast a shadow on tenement buildings owned by absentee landlords who refuse to make repairs while anxiously awaiting the condemnation of their properties for urban redevelopment. Garment factories–cum–sweatshops, which constitute a major part of L.A.'s manufacturing economy, are clustered in downtown industrial buildings, discreet except for the telltale clatter of sewing machines emanating from small windows. Skid Row and Pershing Square, two (forced) gathering places of the homeless, are also in this area.
Yet the tradition of resistance to displacement and exploitation is as strong and old in this part of the city as the history of urban development. This region's neighborhoods have long been a cultural and political crossroads, where people from different backgrounds have converged, shared, and created new ideas and movements. Some of the region's most vital and groundbreaking progressive social movements were formed in North L.A.'s neighborhoods, often led by immigrants and oriented to the needs and demands of the working class and poor. For example, a revitalized labor movement, led by Justice for Janitors and the former Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, has demanded workers' rights to unionize and to be paid a living wage; the Bus Riders Union has mobilized for an efficient, clean, and affordable mass transit system; and immigrants, homeless people, and LGBT people have organized against harassment and police brutality. Indeed, the very diversity of North L.A., as well as the leftist traditions that have developed within it, have made this part of the city particularly attractive to all kinds of marginalized people. Notably, in this part of the city there has always been a large cluster of sites important to LGBT people, who have found in the bookstores, bars, and clubs a safe place for the expression of their identities and the formation of queer communities. In these same places, people have often developed politicized gay identities and worked collectively for sexual justice. Through all of these struggles, marginalized people have consistently demanded their "right to the city" while articulating alternative visions of urban life and community that we find inspiring.
As any Angeleno knows, there is no such place actually called "North L.A." Instead, mainstream tour guides and other purveyors of cultural representation, as well as many inhabitants, identify and celebrate the area's distinct neighborhoods associated with past and present immigrant ethnic groups—Koreatown, Thai Town, Little Tokyo, Chinatown, the Greek-Byzantine Corridor, Olvera Street—often presenting these neighborhoods as worthwhile places to consume food, art, and other cultural artifacts of "exotic" people and distant lands. Absent a structural analysis, such patterns of geographic representation feed into dominant ideologies of immigrant upward mobility, including the "model minority" myth, while pathologizing Black people and the poor. Furthermore, such representations reinforce damaging stereotypes of immigrants (particularly Asians) as "perpetually foreign." Since one of our goals in the People's Guide is to encourage reflection on the power of place-names and the ideological "work" they do, we felt it was useful to name this broad area "North L.A.," partly in recognition of the shared structural and ideological processes that have shaped all of these neighborhoods precisely because of their immigrant and ethnic origins, and partly as a response to the highly politicized and racialized place-name "South L.A.," which glosses over and ignores the distinctiveness of individual neighborhoods as well as the diversity of the people who live there.
The other reason we felt the need to name this collection of places in broader terms is the tremendous influence this area has on the larger metropolitan region. This is where the power of the state—local and national—is wielded: L.A. City Hall, L.A. County Hall of Administration, and numerous federal buildings, courthouses, and jails are located in this sector. In addition, many corporations and key cultural and political institutions have their headquarters here. And just as power is not distributed equally among people, the same is true of places. North L.A. exercises a disproportionate influence over the entire region. In sum, it is here where the aspirations of the city's power brokers meet and collide most visibly with its laborers, poor, and homeless.
North Los Angeles Sites
1.1 Biddy Mason Park
333 S. Spring St., Los Angeles 90013 (between W. 3rd St. and W. 4th St.)
Bridget "Biddy" Mason was born a slave in Georgia in 1818. In 1836, she was purchased by Robert and Rebecca Smith, who later became Mormons and moved to Utah. In 1851, the Smiths relocated to San Bernardino, California, to start a new Mormon community. Fortunately for Mason, California had been admitted to the union as a free state in 1850. Technically speaking, this meant that all the Smith slaves were free. However, a few years later, when Mason's owner tried to convince her and the other slaves that moving to Texas—a slave state—would not imperil their freedom, she sought assistance from free African Americans. A lawsuit ensued, and the judge affirmed that Mason was a free person. The ruling was just in time, because the very next year, in 1857, the Dred Scott decision would have affirmed her status as property.
Mason was a skilled midwife, and as a free woman, she invested all her savings in real estate, beginning with her first house at 331 South Spring Street. Her home eventually became the site of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, which she helped found, as well as Los Angeles' first child care center. Mason used much of her wealth to assist other African Americans, particularly recent arrivals, and the poor of all races. Mason died in 1891 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.
Biddy Mason Park features a mural dedicated to Mason and a time line tracing key events in her life. The park itself was developed in 1989 as part of a project called The Power of Place, spearheaded by Dolores Hayden, which was an effort to begin documenting and preserving important sites in Los Angeles that were not associated with great white men and their buildings.
NEARBY SITE OF INTEREST
304 S. Broadway, Los Angeles 90013 (213) 626-1893
Architecturally significant office building designed by George Wyman and built in 1893. Featured in many films, including Blade Runner. Visitors welcome.
FAVORITE NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANTS
130 W. Bruno St., Los Angeles 90012 (213) 617-0380 (homegirlcafe.org and www.homeboy-industries.org)
A project of Father Greg Boyle's Homeboy Industries, which provides youth with an alternative to gangs, the Homegirl Café is staffed by young women who receive training in the food service industry. Boasting "Latina flavors with a contemporary twist," the café's menu includes roasted pineapple guacamole and carne asada tacos with peanut chipotle sauce. Recipes are made with ingredients grown in Homegirl's own organic garden.
Philippe's the Original
1001 N. Alameda St., Los Angeles 90012 (213) 628-3781 (www.philippes.com)
Established in 1908, Philippe's is an L.A. landmark and the original home of the French-dip sandwich, which remains the house specialty.
1.2 Black Cat Bar
3909 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90029 (between Sanborn Ave. and Hyperion Ave.)
In 1967, a police conflict at the Black Cat Bar led to Los Angeles' first known public protest for LGBT rights—two years before New York's better-known Stonewall Riot. A few minutes into New Year's Day 1967, after seeing customers kiss at midnight, undercover LAPD officers began beating patrons of two gay bars on Sunset Boulevard. Raiding first the Black Cat and then New Faces, police severely injured several people and arrested sixteen (for more on police abuse of LGBT folk, see entry 1.28 Pershing Square). Officers charged thirteen people with lewd conduct, two with drunkenness, and one with assault on an officer. Six weeks later, on February 11, approximately 200 people gathered in front of the Black Cat to protest police harassment of queer people. The event helped to mark Silver Lake as a gay neighborhood and establish connections between the emerging gay liberation movement and other radical movements at the time, including the antiwar, Black liberation, and Chicana/o movements. It was coordinated to coincide with similar protests planned in Watts by African American activists, in East Los Angeles and Pacoima by Chicana/o activists, and in Venice and on the Sunset Strip by hippies. Collectively, these protests challenged police abuse and drew links between racial and sexual oppression and the development of radical activism. Unfortunately, the Black Cat's proposed alliances between Black, Chicana/o, and gay liberation implicitly designated "gay" as white. Subsequently, neighborhood activists attempted to counter this assumption, for example by organizing the Sunset Junction street festival and forming Gay and Lesbian Latinos Unidos. This address is currently the site of Le Barcito, a gay bar. (Courtesy of Emily Hobson)
NEARBY SITE OF INTEREST
Metropolitan Community Church
4953 Franklin Ave., Los Angeles 90027 (323) 669-3434 (www.mccla.org)
The founding MCC church, which explicitly welcomes LGBT people.
FAVORITE NEIGHBORHOOD RESTAURANTS
Alegria on Sunset
3510 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90026 (323) 913-1422 (www.alegriaonsunset.com)
Popular Mexican restaurant in a Silver Lake strip mall. Try the dobladitas de mole (corn tortillas folded around melted cheese and smothered in rich mole sauce) or pollo en mole.
2900 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles 90026 (323) 661-8391
Cuban bakery. Customer favorites include fresh-pressed café con leche and guava cheese pie.
TO LEARN MORE
Moira Kenney, Mapping Gay L.A.: The Intersection of Place and Politics (Temple University Press, 2001).
1.3 Bus Riders Union and Labor/Community Strategy Center
3780 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1200, Los Angeles 90010 (at Western Ave.) (213) 387-2800 (www.thestrategycenter.org)
Despite Los Angeles' reputation as an autopia, it also has the largest mass transit system in the United States and therefore has become a prime site for struggles over transit equity. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) became locked in a fierce battle over how best to meet the city's public transportation needs—should it expand and empower its old, run-down bus fleet, or build a new light rail system? Political and transit leaders clearly favored rail, and their decisions to fund massive, expensive light rail projects that catered to suburbanites ignited protests among working-class bus riders, who saw the issue as a matter of transportation equity. At the time, 88 percent of Los Angeles bus riders were people of color, more than 50 percent had annual family incomes under $12,000, and 57 percent were women. Although buses carried 94 percent of the system's ridership, they received only 30 percent of MTA subsidies. Conversely, MTA rail projects served only about 6 percent of all riders (a disproportionate percentage of whom were white), but received more than 70 percent of public transit dollars.
The Bus Riders Union (BRU), a project of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, emerged in the early 1990s to challenge these conditions (for more on the origins of the Labor/Community Strategy Center, see entry 6.4 General Motors Van Nuys). The BRU is a good example of what has been called the "new organizing" in Los Angeles. Unlike traditional labor unions that organize workers within a specific workplace or industry, the Bus Riders Union organizes literally on the city's buses, where a broad spectrum of the working class converges daily. The Bus Riders Union embraces an explicitly multicultural, multilingual approach, bringing together Black, white, Latina/o, and Asian (especially Korean) transit users. The BRU recognizes that, despite their ethnic, linguistic, and national differences, bus riders are linked by their dependence on a public transit system that is inadequate, undependable, and expensive.
Pairing up with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the BRU charged the MTA with establishing a separate and unequal mass transit system in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits agencies that receive federal funds from spending those funds in a racially discriminatory way. In 1996, the BRU won a consent decree that obligated the MTA to reduce overcrowding, maintain equitable fares, expand bus service, replace old diesel buses with cleaner ones, and generate a plan to dismantle the city's two-tier system of transit segregation. During the next ten years, implementation of the decree was uneven and the BRU had to fight the MTA at every step. The consent decree was not renewed when it expired in 2006, even though the MTA had not carried out the court's mandates. However, the BRU has continued its organizing work on the buses, leading people in resisting the MTA's persistent proposals to cut bus service and increase fares even while it approves millions of dollars for light rail. The BRU is now the nation's largest grassroots mass transit advocacy group and has been a model for transit organizing work in other cities. The Labor/ Community Strategy Center and the BRU are housed in the Wiltern Theatre, a beautiful art deco concert venue.
Excerpted from A People's Guide to Los Angeles by Laura Pulido, Laura Barraclough, Wendy Cheng. Copyright © 2012 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of ContentsList of Maps An Introduction to A People’s Guide to Los Angeles Los Angeles County Map Chapter One: North Los Angeles An Introduction to North Los Angeles Map of North Los Angeles North Los Angeles Sites 1.1 Biddy Mason Park • 1.2 Black Cat Bar • 1.3 Bus Riders Union and Labor/Community Strategy Center • 1.4 Caballeros de Dimas-Alang and Philippines Review • 1.5 California Club • 1.6 Calle de Los Negros • 1.7 Chavez Ravine • 1.8 Chinatowns • 1.9 ChoSun Galbee Restaurant • 1.10 Downey Block • 1.11 El Congreso del Pueblo de Habla Española • 1.12 Embassy Hotel and Auditorium • 1.13 Fernando’s Hideaway and Sisters of GABRIELA, Awaken! • 1.14 Gay Liberation Front (1969–1972)/Former Home of Morris Kight • 1.15 Gay Women’s Service Center • 1.16 If Café and Open Door • 1.17 Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA) and Villa Park • 1.18 Kyoto Grand Hotel • 1.19 L.A. Live • 1.20 La Placita and Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels • 1.21 League of Southern California Japanese Gardeners • 1.22 Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters and Parker Center • 1.23 Los Angeles River Center and Gardens • 1.24 Los Angeles Times Building (Former) • 1.25 Musicians Union Hall (Local 47) • 1.26 Orpheum Theatre, Sleepy Lagoon Murder, and Ventura School for Girls • 1.27 Partido Liberal Mexicano • 1.28 Pershing Square • 1.29 Roosevelt Hotelthe Cinegrill • 1.30 Tropical America Mural • 1.31 Yang-NaChapter Two: The Greater Eastside and San Gabriel Valley An Introduction to the Greater Eastside and San Gabriel Valley Map of the Greater Eastside and San Gabriel Valley Greater Eastside and San Gabriel Valley Sites 2.1 Alma AvenueResidential Discrimination Site • 2.2 Altadena Open Housing Covenant • 2.3 AMVAC Chemical Corporation • 2.4 Atlantic Square • 2.5 Cathay Bank • 2.6 East Los Angeles Prison (Proposed) and Vernon Incinerator (Proposed) • 2.7 El Espectador • 2.8 El Monte Sweatshop • 2.9 Haramokngna American Indian Cultural Center • 2.10 Hicks Camp/Rio Vista Park • 2.11 Lacy Park • 2.12 Llano del Rio • 2.13 Mariachi Plaza • 2.14 Mount Sinai Home Care Agency • 2.15 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Richard Chambers Courthouse) • 2.16 Owen Brown’s Gravesite • 2.17 Quemetco, Incorporated • 2.18 Ruben Salazar Park and Silver Dollar Café • 2.19 San Gabriel Mission • 2.20 Santa Anita Park and Pomona Fairgrounds • 2.21 Self-Help Graphics and Art • 2.22 Upton Sinclair’s House • 2.23 Whittier State SchoolChapter Three: South Los Angeles An Introduction to South Los Angeles Map of South Los Angeles South Los Angeles Sites 3.1 Alameda Boulevard • 3.2 Alondra Park • 3.3 American Indian Movement, Los Angeles Chapter • 3.4 Bicycle Club Casino • 3.5 Black Panther Party Headquarters • 3.6 California Eagle • 3.7 Chuco’s Justice Center and FREE L.A. High School • 3.8 Compton Communicative Arts Academy • 3.9 Dorothy Ray Healey’s House • 3.10 Duke Brothers’ Automotive Shop • 3.11 Dunbar Hotel • 3.12 Eso Won Bookstore and Leimert Park • 3.13 Firestone Tire and Rubber • 3.14 Holiday Bowl • 3.15 Holman United Methodist Church • 3.16 Indian Revival Center • 3.17 Kashu Realty and Thirty-sixth Street Residential Discrimination Site • 3.18 Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum • 3.19 Maywood City Hall • 3.20 Mercado La Paloma • 3.21 Peace and Freedom Party, Los Angeles Chapter • 3.22 Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research • 3.23 Trianon Ballroom • 3.24 USC McDonald’s Olympic Swim StadiumChapter Four: The Harbor and South Bay An Introduction to the Harbor and South Bay Map of the Harbor and South Bay Harbor and South Bay Sites 4.1 Baypoint Avenue Residential Discrimination Site • 4.2 Bixby Park • 4.3 Lakewood City Hall • 4.4 Mark Twain Library and Cambodia Town • 4.5 Miramar Park • 4.6 Port of Los Angeles and Liberty Hill • 4.7 Puvungna • 4.8 Terminal Island • 4.9 White Point Preserve and Education Center • 4.10 Ziba Beauty CenterChapter Five: The Westside An Introduction to the Westside Map of the Westside Westside Sites 5.1 Ballona Wetlands • 5.2 Campbell Hall, UCLA • 5.3 Century City • 5.4 Federal Buildings • 5.5 Highways Performance Space • 5.6 The Ink Well • 5.7 Los Angeles International Airport • 5.8 Malibu Public Beaches • 5.9 Midnight Special and Sisterhood Bookstores • 5.10 West Hollywood City Hall • 5.11 Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter RingChapter Six: The San Fernando Valley and North Los Angeles County An Introduction to the San Fernando Valley and North Los Angeles County Map of the San Fernando Valley and North Los Angeles County San Fernando Valley and North Los Angeles County Sites 6.1 BUSTOP • 6.2 Chicana and Chicano Studies and Pan African Studies Departments, California State University, Northridge • 6.3 Everywoman’s Village • 6.4 General Motors Van Nuys • 6.5 The Great Wall and Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) • 6.6 KPFK Radio Station and Pacifica Archives • 6.7 Lang Station • 6.8 Saint Francis Dam • 6.9 Santa Susana Field Laboratory • 6.10 Simi Valley Courthouse and Site of Rodney King Beating • 6.11 Siutcanga/Village of Los Encinos • 6.12 Tarzana • 6.13 Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants • 6.14 Val Verde Park • 6.15 Wat Thai of Los AngelesChapter Seven: Thematic Tours First Peoples Tour • Radical People-of-Color Movements of the 1960s and '70s Tour • Queer Politics and Culture Tour • Independent and Alternative Media Tour • Economic Restructuring and Globalization Tour • New Organizing Tour • Environmental Justice TourRecommended Reading Acknowledgments Credits Index
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"Imagine Howard Zinn, the late renegade professor who gave us 'A People's History of the United States,' kidnapping Huell Howser and rewriting your Auto Club TourBook. . . . But you don't have to agree with the authors' politics to be intrigued by their work. Even though I've been working on an L.A. guidebook myself for the last 18 months, this 'People's Guide' taught me plenty."Los Angeles Times
"High Gas Prices make staycations more inviting, so start planning with 'A People's Guide to Los Angeles." The focus here is on the people, places, struggles and triumphs that make our area unique."Pasadena Star-News
"A beautiful collection of short essays, maps, stories, photographs, directions and secret histories."Oc Weekly: Orange County News, Arts & Ent
"An intriguing and important book of alternative tourism."Chicago Tribune
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