Eastside 101: Brooklyn and Soto

Some time ago I started a series of posts at blogging.la that were meant to be a sorta crash course into Eastside life for those permanently entrenched west of the river, and mostly to combat this spreading notion amongst LA newbies that “eastside” was some new and fluid term to define neighborhoods east of the beach communities. For awhile it seemed as if Silver Lake and Echo Park were really going to become the definition of the Eastside, but thankfully, due to various voices speaking up and against this callous rewriting of history, the tide has turned. There are still a few stalwarts out there trying to justify (or ignore) their dismissal of the Eastside, but their days are numbered. Since these “fluid eastside” proponents tend to follow the flock, they will eventually join the pack and find their way to that place that no longer denies our existence, though they will never acknowledge us, cuz that just ain’t cool. Nobody likes to admit they are wrong. Instead of the army of Eastsiders I once proposed, I think we’ll be able to manage with a much more nimble force of tactical culture war snipers, since the invading hordes have yet to muster even the simplest of defense tactics to our counter offensive. Can I order a Mission Accomplished sign for my battleship?

Since major combat operation have now ended, I think it’s time to pull this series into the LAEastside fold, since that seems to be the most obvious place for posts about the Eastside. Que no? Plus, I assume that if any of the Eastside 101 readers at b.la are really interested in the Eastside they won’t be too scared to cross over the virtual river, where shootings and stabbings are at the lowest levels ever. 😉

For this next installment, I take you to a place near and dear to my heart, the neighborhood of Brooklyn and Soto! Click ahead para ver que pasa! (Warning: lots of pics ahead)

There are a few main commercial strips on the Eastside (we’ll get to those later) but the few blocks around the corner of Brooklyn and Soto make up the place I most consider my stomping grounds. It could be cuz I spent most of my after school hours here working since I was around 14. And Weekends. Working. It could be cuz my first real love interest lived near here. Or maybe it’s because I met my most significant partner on this very street. Whatever the case may be, this street is more than just an avenue of shops, it’s also a place where my tiny collection of meaningful memories reside. Uhh, I should mention that Brooklyn is now known as Cesar Chavez. But in what seems to be an example of me slowly turning into an old-timer, I refuse to call it by it’s new name: Brooklyn por Vida! Soto? That’s just a street that leads to home.

The mural isn’t as intricate as it used to be, but it still has some animals on it. I knew this place when Elias owned it, that crazy barrigon that used to love walking down Brooklyn with a 15 foot boa constrictor around his neck, scaring all the viejitas and viejitos alike. Last I saw him was on some tv news “expose” where he was trying to block the cameras, I guess he had some of those illegal little baby turtles for sale, the ones you now have to get at swap meets. I wonder where he, Rosa, and Chuy ended up?

Riding the wave of the future, this place now offers threading to remove those unwanted facial hairs. For some odd reason, there are many, many, hair shops on this street. I don’t know how one could tolerate being in that line of work, dealing with people’s vanities. I could never do that.

Mother’s Day means an opportunity for every small shop to sell some relevant items for the day. Here we see some kid being tasked to sell some of this stuff. Been there, done that. Lil’ vato, I feel your boredom.

La Princesita always has meatmen ready to serve your most fleshy desires.

Where the Brooklyn Theatre used to be, we now have a parking lot and some odd pyramid shaped benches. Even when it was an indoor swapmeet, I still liked the place. That history is now covered in dirt, at some unknown dump.

ALZA has made his way out of Northeast LA. Damn him.

Any holiday means an opportunity to make a buck. I still can’t understand the appeal of a giant stuffed teddy in plastic wrap though. Put that thing in a clear ballon and then I’m game!

I’ve seen more than a few murals in this alley way, though this one seems particularly out of place. The dude drinking his soymilk shake with wheat grass, he fits in perfectly.

Candelas is pretty well known as a place for quality handmade guitars. Though to me it’s just the place next door to where Hilda used to live, that stout older woman with the crazily huge hairdo. You know, dyed hot red? Don’t act like you don’t remember.

And a little ways down from there you have the Charro shop, where mariachis get their fancy clothing. I once inquired about buying a pair of charro pants, being that I was a young punk willing to tweak the natural order of things. The $250 price range sent me back to my humble Deseret scouring rather quickly.

What the? ALZA!!!!! (fist shakes manically in the air)

Yet another reason to love the Eastside. Whereas some places people are afraid to show or tell you their age, in this neighborhood it perfectly reasonable to take a stroll down the street as you wait for your hair dye to kick in. Fuck-Yeah.

One store front can suffice for a beauty salon, a botanica (“se leen las cartas”), a clothing shop, and a dry cleaners. I wouldn’t doubt it if they also did Income Tax forms. As the economists always say, diversify.

Oh yes, a chicken motif! Most of us come from rancho roots, might as well embrace that reality. I love chickens so I have no problems with it!

And on the other side, a skull for Dia de Muertos. Nice touch.

American style Chinese food, site for many a good meals. It seems that this place has been closed due to illness, hope it reopens soon.

On the corner of Soto y Brooklyn, Farmacia Ramirez battles it out…

…with Botica del Sol. These two shops never seem wanting for patrons.

The bus home. I’m sure it goes other places, but whatever.

Pigs squeal in delight, happy to serve the needs of a local dentist.

Ah, George’s. Where getting a cheeseburger without the meat was always an ordeal. All these years later, the same three guys are still working there. That’s some craziness.

Mother’s Day vending on the BofA sidewalk. Though I mostly hate banks, this particular one I’m okay with. Let’s just say the returns on my investment have been tremendous.

I don’t know if your shopping experience will really be a big buy, but now that Jonson’s is gone, it’ll definitely be where you make your major grocery buys.

At the other end of this rope that spells out “Bienvendios” is a poor defenseless and struggling cow. Que sad.

Always around, like the work of a tagger that really, really came up, the virgen can usually be spotted at a wall near you.

Yum, licuados de platano y choco milk. And a torta sin carne, porfas.

Brooklyn Hair Styler keeps the flame of memory burning. Well, as far as street names are concerned.

Most everyone knows of the Mariachi plaza on 1st and Boyle, but if you want to hire a Trio you head to Brooklyn and Chicago, to what I call Conjunto Corner. Here they fear no accordion!

There’s a restaurant as well, though I’ve only tried it once a long time ago. Maybe it’s time for another visit.

You’ll notice that many of the men around here still wear botas, thus the reason shoe repair shops can still make it.

Take a wild guess: what do they serve here?

If you said chicken just because of all those pics of roasted chickens above, you would be wrong. They serve a very unique Quasadilla plate, which is kinda like a quesadilla only different. Besides, you’re not supposed to eat pollos, they are our friends! 😉

More Mother’s Day trinket vending.

Mojos, mojos, mojos. “Abuelita, no quieres la ultima papa moyo?”

Y siguele con eso.

Good name, good sign. Give them a call next time those pesky kids break your windows.

Sorry for the bad angle, I was trying to avoid the sun. Get yer ranchero wear here. I’ve always liked how the dude in the sign has a hat shaped halo, like he’s either holy or just beaming with light.

I gotta remember to try the “tamale” house some time. If you want to try your hand at making your own..

..head next door to the not-so-morena La Morena to pick up some masa. Spread, fill, fold, that’s all you need to do, super cinchy.

I’m gonna get yet more hate mail but it’s gotta be said: La Parrilla is overrated y no vale la pena. Better watch my back.

Discussing the relative worth and emotional appeal of Chinese made stuffed animals vs. the Chilean grown pesticide-laden red roses that still seem “more natural”. Ultimately it was decided Mother would prefer an abrazo and a carne asada rather than more stuff to clutter the garage, and they walked away content with their well reasoned decision. (Umm, not really.)

3X5.00 Now that’s a bargain!

I remember when cholos would yell out “faggot” just because of an unconventional piercing, now they’re all sporting those said rings and studs. Haha, it never fails.

Sure you could go to the Paga Poco Discount Store and maybe save a few cents for some crappy merchandise, but if you follow my patented Paga Nada Discount Technique you can go anywhere and you’ll still save a whole lot more! Luego les cuento.

Wait, didn’t I already see this table?

Oh my god, they wrapped Guadalupe in plastic, she’s gonna suffocate! Que malvados. Maybe it helps keep the sanctity fresh?

Okay, I promise, this will be the last picture of this type. But the bears, they are just sooo cuuutttteee!

This mural has seen better days. I wonder why taggers have stopped respecting murals? Is there a shortage of wall space or just too many taggers for the neighborhood? I know of some neighborhoods where they have absolutely bare walls, maybe someone should print up a guide to help spread the tagging around. I’ll put it on my to-do list.

Under the cheap goods, the name Zellman’s, the last Jewish owned shop to leave the neighborhood, I think about 10 years ago? I just did a quick search on google and this great link showed up, check it out for an in depth look at Boyle Heights. Or just check out the book from your local library.

These two “nuns” were out on the corner selling rosarios and other religious trinkets, but I don’t think they’re part of the “real” Catholic church, probably from one of those new upstarts that are willing to marry, baptize, and handle your other religious needs at a reduced rate.

A small part of my favorite mural in the neighborhood, El Corrido de Boyle Heights. As I was taking this picture I was approached by the chicle selling homeless guy that has been walking these streets for a very long time. Back when I had to sleep at the place I worked, I would go after hours to hang out at the McDonald’s a few feet from this mural, drinking bad coffee and hearing the crazy stories of this guy that goes by the name Alejandro. At least that’s the name he used back then. He would draw all these small maps into a notepad, which he claimed were the maps to some lands he owned in Mexico, and on some of these he claimed to have hidden treasures. I would always ask him why not go and dig up said treasure, that I would help him, but then the conversation would change to something else. Back then he looked fairly clean and modestly dressed, this time around the sandals he wore showed the evidence of a long time on the street: thick skinned feet turned black by the constant exposure to dirt. Needless to say, Alejandro didn’t recognize me. I bought some chicle, thanked him, and continued on my way.

I no longer work around here and don’t have any pressing reason to come back to this area. But when I can, I try and drive by just to see que pasa in that little area that used to be my whole world. It changes all the time and it doesn’t need me, but I still recognize and love everything it represents.

Click here for a link to all the Eastside 101 posts.

Update 5/16/08 For some quality pictures of Brooklyn (err, Cesar Chavez) check out this site: www.calaverascallejeras.com

30 thoughts on “Eastside 101: Brooklyn and Soto

  1. Awesome! Thanks Chavo. And congratulations to all of us for reclaiming the Eastside flag! Yes, I love Velarde’s Fruits too, and Yes, La Parrilla is over rated & over priced! Plus, they’ve got some attitude issues. Hey, I’ve got a post coming up on Whittier Blvd. that should fit right in with this. Viva the Eastside, Cabrones!

  2. I bought my first traje charro at Arte Charro, way back in 2003. Very good quality traje, bien hecho y a la medida. Candelas, however, I don’t like so much. The instruments are too expensive, especially the lower-cost vihuelas and guitarrones. It’s way cheaper to buy Mexican imports near la plaza del mariachi.

  3. Hey guey, I helped paint that cityscape mural almost a decade ago. The bionico shop had some middle class outsiders painting it and I was walking by and decided to brush up on my can skills and help ( I also racked several of their cans as a neighborhood tax). Several years back I was approached by another muralist who told me the thing would be buffed by the city if someone did not claim responsibility for it and fix it up, so I redid the front portion that was bionico advertising with an extension of the cityscape. At the time some asshat named armando herman was trying to use the mayor’s new mural program as a way to paint over murals (instead of fund new ones, what a piche loser that guy was, especially when i punked him at a cultural affairs meeting)that he didnt like, specifically the ones that had any graffiti pieces or advertising in incorporated in them. The jerkoff was semi successful because they did buff the piston/auto shop mural on wabash that i had loved for a long time.

    Anyways, the city paid me a pretty penny to fix it up and remove the tagging, but I had forgotten the actual artists’ name. About a month ago the artist came back and taggeed his name over mine, so fuck you Noe, I had to spread the word to every cholo in the area to respect your crap for you to try and diss me because I kept the whole thing from being whitewashed. Anyways, I keep a crate of paint in my trunk (acrylic, no cans)and just buffed the whole name thing about 2 weeks ago, and you took a pic in that small window of time, how funny.

    Anyways, what is so “out of place” about the mural? Sine the last of my whittier blvd walls got buffed a few years back, this is the last of legal graff collaborations that I did in my troublemaking days that still exists. Does that make it a bit more appropriate for the area?

  4. That tagged up mural is from a photo by Graciela Iturbide called “Curación”. It was in the recent exhibit at the Getty.

    Here’s the photo.

    I did a little sleuthing and found a photo of the original mural before it got defaced. Check it out. It’s by Ernesto de la Loza.

    It caught my eye when I was going passed there recently, so seeing it in your post made me more curious. I read somewhere that there’s a mural of another of her photos, “Our Lady of the Iguanas” somewhere in Silver Lake. Anyone know about this?

  5. Agreed on La Parrilla. My friend has his b-day party there every year, and every year I dread having to go there…

  6. Speaking of The bank of america, drive by there at night, theres like 8 different taco stands set up, a bunch of people eating all kinds of good things.

  7. Thanks for a great post and reference to the Boyle Heights book. One will go nicely next to my Chavez Ravine book.

    I remember the hearings on the name change from Brooylyn to Cesar Chavez. They were really painful. Lots of older Jewish merchants torn between what they perceived as part of their history being erased and a recognition that the time had come to acknowledge a Chicano activist. They were very gracious, but I’ll never forget the tears in their eyes.

  8. I disliked the street name change as well because it smacked of post-riot appeasement. All kinds of structures started getting renamed Cesar Chavez this & Martin Luther King that. It pisses me off to think that there was an assumption that the only thing primitive brown people require to stay peaceful is for those in power to stroke their cultural pride a little, and they’ll wag their tails and heel like good puppy dogs.
    BTW, Chavez did many good things but he’s not the saint to all brown people that the media would have you believe, but I guess his name was a a little more acceptable to use than changing Brooklyn Ave. to say,…Emiliano Zapata Avenue.

  9. C.Chavez was about agricultural workers not urban agnst , calm down mijo, what you dislike and the passive aggressive movidas you feed on will be empty untill your dog shit is noticed and maybe earned.Changing names of streets and all those structures we walk among is not the pedo. What is acceptable will be your rants,the wailing and gnashing smacked up against the futile and pathetic logic spelled out untill your barking is so bad that you may earn the privilege of being silenced and then you will be named just like you never expected with some other satan complaining about you then…

  10. jhnnyv, I’m not you mijo you are mine. Can you translate your pathetic rant please? Or write back when your sober. I don’t know WTF your blabbering about. Better yet, shut the F up before I go Browne on your ass.

  11. “…go Browne on your ass.”
    OMG, LOL that is classic!!!

    Not stirring the flames nor dissing, but that is funny in an laeastside.com kind of way.

    La Parilla has good nopales and guacamole, but yes overpriced.

  12. I caught one of my first tags in that Shakey’s bathroom in 4th grade, me and Jimmy Perez.

  13. I too, have my special memories of Broadway or “Little TJ” as my grandma used to call it. Childhood trips to the rundown theaters. Seeing my Uncle David hanging out on the corner with the rest of the dapper winos. Later on when I was older, working on Broadway and getting to meet Mr. Zellman and the other Jewish store owners who were always good for some humorous anecdote or other. Meeting lots on interesting and important people. Yup, good times.

  14. Let’s not forget about the Japanese temples along 1st and 4th Streets and the Jewish synagogue on Breed. There’s even a Japanese Baptist church on Evergreen and 3rd.
    Otomisan Restaurant on 1st is the only-standing authentically Japanese restaurant in Boyle Heights, run and owned by a middle-aged Japanese woman and one cook, also from Japan. Their menu items, though modest, are cooked with delicate care.
    See my Nikkei album: http://www.discovernikkei.org/nikkeialbum/en/node/692

  15. Its nice to come across this blog that reminisces the old Boyle Heights.
    I just attended the Boyle Heights Multi Cultural Parade and met up with some of my old friends and customers. My father, grandfather and I owned Zellman’s Mens Wear. Over eight years have passed since we closed, but the warm feeling from the community will never leave us.

  16. What a great neighbor hood!!
    I will never forget this place that I called home at one time, I was born there, and lived there untill I was about 13 years old. I ran around that neighbor hood when I was about 5 years old untill We moved out of there in 1974. Brooklyn & Soto when I go take a memory drive through there it almost brings tears to My heart but it follows with laughter, with memory’s of My Friends that lost their lives there in either going to Prison or Who have Died. My Family Lived on Cornwell St, right across the Street from us was a Jewish synogue untill they Knock it down and extended Sheridan Elemantary School playground. So many triumphs have gone by in My life after I left Brooklyn & Soto,I guess alot drama come Your way as You get older, But!! I just cant remember any drama living in in Bolye Heights. I remember at a young age learning in that neighborhood that You had to Work hard if You wanted anything good in life. I started by Collecting empty orange boxes from Big Buy and in exchange get Candy from Pete from Pete’s candy store in the corner of Cornwell & Brooklyn, and I also would help Shopper”s carry their Grocery’s to their cars. I made alot of money doing that untill they banned that kind of services at Big Buy. Alot of good People in that Neighborhood. I have alot of good Memory’s there I would like to write about My Memory’s but it will take Me a couple of months. And I will probally bore anyone reading this comment. Rick Martinez (Needles’ that was the name I was Known by in that Neighborhood) From Phoenix, Az

  17. The homeless man on the Soto and Chavez corners insisted I take chicle “gratis” yesterday when I passed him on my run down Chavez.

    Rick “Needles” Martinez, I look forward to reading your memoir!

  18. im with you on that one, la parrilla sucks, my gf told me that they had really good queso fundido so we went to check it out and it was very dissappointing. wacala
    That piercing sign looks like one of those pamphlets that you get at the clinic where they show you all the stds you can get if you are not carefull.
    its crzsy that you mention that homeless guy by the mcdonalds, we saw him once and i noticed that he was writing a whole bunch of number on a notepad, i couldnt figure it out but i think he was trying to decode something, for aminute i thought he was an ccountent and even concidered taking my W2s to him next year lol
    awww, how i\’ve learned to love this place..

  19. El Chavo (and most of the other people that posted) — what a delight to see all the photos and read your comments (you made me chuckle!), as well as most of the other comments….ayyy….Brookyn and Soto…what a place. I used to go there to visit my Tio Louie & Tia Cuca (they were brother and sister) who lived in an apartment right behind a music store that was on Brooklyn just a few doors east of Soto on the North side of the street (forgot the name). We’d walk to different stores from there and catch the bus to go downtown. His girlfriend, Lily, worked at a little dress shop a few doors just west of Soto, also on the North side of the street. I remember she gave me a beautiful green mohair sweater for my birthday.

    I’m with those that would have liked Brooklyn to remain Brooklyn. I dunno, just something about the name change doesn’t sit well. They could have honored Cesar Chavez by building a statue or monument nearby or something. But, whatever…

    The neighborhood has changed alot. We lived at an apartment on Brooklyn & Boyle when I was a baby. We lived upstairs from “El Zapatero” and the apartments were owned by a man named “Don Agustine.” From there, we moved east, also off Brooklyn at the top of Fresno, corner of Folsom. Then we moved a block or so over to Concord. From there, across the way near Euclid & Whitter, ending at Whittier & Lorena (Lee St.) So, I’m an E.L.A. girl. Born 1950, moved away around ’70. Went to Malabar, Euclid & Lorena St. Schools, Stevenson & Garfield I love cruising through that part of our world and reminiscing.

    When I was growing up there, I was oblivious to any violence or ugliness. It was home and I felt safe. (except for the time a chola threatened to beat the crap out of me while I was standing at the bus stop on Spencer & Whitter!)

    Thanks for letting me share….I didn’t mean to go on and on……..I will certainly poke around more and read up on our beloved E.L.A.

  20. Hi Yolanda,

    I enjoyed reading your post.

    That music store east of Soto was called the The Phillips Music Co, owned by Bill Philips. I’m not sure which dress store you’re referring to, but there were a few near our store, Zellman’s Mens Wear.

    The street name change was a very sad day for the history of Boyle Heights. I was smack in the center of this controversy as my customer came to our business saying. “How can they do this to us? We grew up on Brooklyn, they never asked us.” Our customer looked to us, one of the oldest merchants on Brooklyn Ave (1921 to 2000), as ones with some influence. In the end, political correctness won out and Los Angeles’ oldest streets (est 1877) was history.

    Dean

  21. Hi Dean,
    Thanks for your reply. Yes! It was the Phillips Music Store!

    I do remember Zellman’s. I remember going in there with my uncle a couple of times!

    Are there any books showing photos of our East Los Angeles? I sure would love to have one to help me remember the old neighborhood which spans from the White Memorial Hospital, all the way to Atlantic Blvd.!

    And then there’s downtown L.A., which I also have some very fond memories….

  22. I’ve not lived in Boyle Heights since 1977, but the pictures posted brings back some good memories of my childhood.

  23. The homeless man’s name is Manuel and he suffers from mental illness after a severe head injury 35+ years ago. He is harmless and has been on the streets for many years because he has always refused help and authorities would not let his family take him against his will. He recently caught an infection on his foot because of bad circulation (he refused to lay down because of fear), and was taken to county hospital and after an evaluation he was committed and is now in a mental hospital. He suffers delusions and believes he has a lot of property and money and asks people to help him get a house and promises to help them out in exchange. He draws hotels, planets, numbers. He is harmless and doesn’t pan handle–instead he always sold chiclets to earn money for his meals at McDonalds or the taco place. He loves being out in that street because of the familiarity and is constantly attempting to elope from the hospital. Because of his delusions, it is not safe for him to be on the streets because he doesn’t seek medical attention when needed. Because of his gentle, friendly and non violent nature, many of the local people have looked out for him and given him help. If any of you are wondering about him, know that he is well and please pray for him that the doctors find a medicine that will help him regain some of his life back or at least for him to be able to live with a roof over his head for the remainder of his life. Thank you

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