It’s been making the rounds, The New York Times did an article on the new “culture” of Highland Park and you can guess who and what culture they are referring to. The vast majority of Highland Park residents will never read this article nor would they care about it but I can imagine the boutiques and gastropubs featured and interviewed couldn’t be more thrilled about this kind of validation.
Funny though, Highland Park has always been a place of community activity and art. Back in the 90s, it was ground zero for the Chicano cultural renaissance due to spaces like (De)Center, The Popular Resource Center (bands playing here: Quetzal, Ozomatli and Rage Against the Machine), pirate radio station Radio Clandestina, community garden La Culebra and the wonderful Arroyo Bookstore. The area was buzzing with art shows, concerts, poetry, political events and other happenings.
In the early 2000s, a new wave of community inspired spaces sprung up, most notably, Ave 50 Gallery, Rock Rose Art Gallery and Flor y Canto Centro Comunitario. And again, there continued to be ongoing and prolific examples of locally generated events and happenings. But according to media like The New York Times, Highland Park really didn’t get culture until we got places like (the poorly named) Society of the Spectacle, The York gastropub and “priced-out artists, actors and writers” moved to the neighborhood. Well, I call bullshit on this.
Here’s a small bit from the article:
But few would ever confuse Highland Park for a cultural district. Until now. What was once a sleepy strip of garish 99-cent stores and auto parts shops is turning into a thriving neighborhood of cool restaurants and boutiques that draw young trendsetters in skinny jeans, flannel shirts and Converse high tops.
You want to know what my first reaction after reading this was? It was “fuck you.” Yeah, it’s a visceral and emotional response. I’ve spent a good chunk of my adult life working on community projects in Highland Park and have watched how folks who live here for two months suddenly are considered the saviors of the neighborhood (by what? owning a boutique?) while those who have been here for the long haul are hardly recognized or are assumed to be part of the nobody masses who prefer “garish 99 cent stores” over hip cafes.
It reminds me of a much too frequent, recurring conversation that would happen when I was volunteering at Flor y Canto:
New yuppie residents walk in the door
Them: We just moved to the neighborhood from Hollywood/West LA/Silver Lake (take your pick)
Me: Great, welcome! (Still feeling friendly)
Them: Yeah this is a great neighborhood!
Me: I know
Them: It’s a shame no one knows about it
(My blood begins to boil)
Me: No one knows about it? What do you call all those people on the street outside? This is a very densely populated area.
Them: (chuckles) Oh, you know what I mean…
Them: I mean…(and then from here they’d begin rambling, stammering and back pedaling so they didn’t seem like jerks who thought brown and poor folks were nobodies)
Here’s the thing, no matter how much they may try to re-write our history and impose ideas of culture on us, Highland Park is not Silver Lake. It’s an old neighborhood of Chicanos, immigrants and working-class White folks that have some of the fiercest neighborhood pride in the Los Angeles area. This area is deep with tradition, culture and dynamic energy. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what the New York Times writes or their perception of our neighborhood. However, I would warn some of these new businesses to be more aware of the area they moved into and not be dismissive of the neighborhood created by long-time residents. Or to put it more bluntly, the way someone from Highland Park might say: They better recognize!
See El Chavo’s piece on Highland Park gentrification.
Longtime resident and artist J Michael Walker also has an interesting take on the article. (h/t LA Observed)
Excellent blog on day-to-day happenings in Highland Park: 90042
Humorous local group 8-Bit rap about scenesters invading Highland Park in HLP.