Highland Park in the NY Times

These residents don’t count when the New York Times is discussing Highland Park “culture.”

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…

Me: No…

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.

123 thoughts on “Highland Park in the NY Times

  1. Wow! Thanks for sharing this with us. It does boil the blood to hear stories like this.


  2. To any of the regular blog authors or mods listed at the upper right of this page, please do let me know if my commenting here is disruptive to the blog in any way, as some of the comments above have suggested. Thank you.

  3. DQ wrote:
    “Kicking tumbleweeds out of a track home in some suburban Hades on Saturdays is not my idea of “movin on up”…”

    Seriously, one of the best lines ever and so true!

  4. It’s not my idea of movin’ on up, either, but I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to tell an immigrant family (or anyone else) what they should do with their equity or where they should move.

    In 2003, I took a break from teaching (I’ve since returned to the classroom) and tried my hand at real-estate sales in Northeast L.A. I had just returned from a stint in the Peace Corps (Cote d’Ivoire) and had fallen in love with Highland Park, and I relished the opportunity to work with first-time buyers. However, several Latinos whom I met who lived and rented in the area told me they wanted to buy in Alhambra or Monrovia or further out.

    When I asked them “What’s wrong with Highland Park or El Sereno?” they told me, “You don’t know this area like we do.” They mentioned the gangs, and I’d tell them, “How about the area north of York?” or “How about Collis in El Sereno?” But they were pretty resolute in wanting to move elsewhere.

    These were renters who had lived in Northeast L.A. for years and wanted out. Who was I to try to convince them to stay put? And if a new group comes into the area with fresh eyes and enthusiasm, who are you to discourage them or keep them out? Is your hold on Northeast L.A. so tenuous that a group of Birkenstock-wearing trustafarians are a threat? Come on; in my opinion, there are bigger fish to broil (frying isn’t healthful). 🙂

  5. Simon: You said you weren’t going to engage with Rob, yet you still do. Just drop it already. Take the high road.

    Rob: I might have missed your response, but I take it that you’re not serious. And since no one else expressed an interest and chimatli shot me down . . . OK, one last enticement. If any of you enjoy the leaf, I will bring along some fine Nicaraguan puros, which we can smoke outside the cafe while sipping our coffee. I’ve got some nice Perdomos, some Joya de Nicaraguas, etc. You all let me know what you like and I’ll see if it’s in my humi. Anyway, I hopefully established that I’m not anyone’s finger puppet by my willingness to prove it face to face.

    Jimmy: I intentionally left out liberal from my definition because liberals are the classic and natural enemies of the radical left. Modern Liberalism rose in answer to the the threat of Totalitarian Socialism, demonstrated today by Cuba and, increasingly, Venezuela. I also know the difference between New Deal style/welfare capitalism and Socialism. Don’t worry, though. I do think some of you are commie pinkos, but not because you’re left of center.

    Dave: Nice letter. I just want to point out the HLP’s tradition of being a culture district goes back over 100 years. Look up Charles Lummis, look up Judson Studios (and take note that William Lees Judson taught fine art at the USC School of Fine Arts which used to be located in . . . .Highland Park.

    Everyone: I came here because I, too, was deeply offended by the NYT article, but I became quickly offended by some people using it as an excuse to trot out tired old polemics against gentrification. I came out swinging when what I saw as personal attacks were made against an owner of one of the businesses mentioned, a business that the attacker obviously knows nothing about. And the reasoning? “She appropriated the name of my favorite book”. I think that’s lame. Add that to the fact that here we’re discussing the failure of the NYT to do basic research? Am I the only one enjoying the irony?

    Anyway, I really appreciate the comments of folks like hexodus, who doesn’t have the knee jerk reaction to new shops helping revitalizing a block or two (a revitalization that has been slowly going on for some time, mind you).

    PS: Please forgive the length of this comment. I had to get caught up.

  6. Also, I wanted to ask everyone, since we’ve exhausted the deconstruction of the article itself, how would you have written the article? One of the stupidities was the author calling York Blvd the main drag of Highland Park (obviously Fig is the mainer main drag). But if you were going to confine yourself to York Blvd, what businesses would you have highlighted? (Feel free to replicate Jonathon Gold. It’s not like he has a monopoly.) (Or don’t confine yourself to York. Do whatever.)

    Personally, I think one of the coolest and most interesting businesses that says a great deal about the neighborhood’s character is Verdugo Pet Store, which specializes in avian barnyard animals. Ducks, chickens, and geese, and not just at Easter but year round. This dusty old shop has been there for decades, and was on Vedugo Blvd in Glassell Park for decades before that. I remember them having goats and llamas back then, but I digress. Vedugo Pet Shop caters to the urban farmer, i.e., people that like their eggs REALLY fresh. (Perhaps practitioners of Santeria are also among the customers, but I don’t know anything about that.)

  7. I’d profile:
    1. Galco’s Old World Grocery on York near Avenue 57 (tons of obscure sodas and candy and hundreds of types of beer)
    2. The guitar shop on York (I think it’s called Zeppelin Guitars or something like that; I passed by one Saturday a few years ago and they had a band playing outside)
    3. The knitting store on York — I’ve only been inside once but it’s a pretty unique little place.

  8. Newbies,
    Yeah, this site can get a little rough and tumble, some thicker skin would help. But you are all welcome to stick around and see us on a less feisty day, we can be very pleasant when we are not riled up!

    Maybe we can be a bit easier on those just testing the waters? Let’s try and be respectful and understanding of others, even when they have wrong opinions about stupidly named fancy eyeglass boutiques. Well, let’s try to try. 😉

  9. @Simon,

    1. That’s been there since I was a kid! People come from all over to buy their favorite beverages there.

    2. It’s Zeppelin Guitars. Once in a while they have a band playing out front.

    3. Do you mean Pets with Fez Weaving Studio? It’s pretty awesome and Baba Ji is an interesting guy to talk to when he sits out in front of his shop to smoke a cigarette. If you ever see him out there, don’t hesitate to stop and shoot the shit. The guy is very friendly and informative. They offer classes, and Baba Ji is a master weaver. If I was interested in weaving, I’d want to train under a master like him. I’ve got an interesting story with him in it; if I ever get the chance to bend your ear, remind me.

  10. El Chavo,

    I wasn’t exactly polite with my first post in this thread, so I can take the rough and tumble and maybe deserve it. I’m glad this place isn’t completely the echo chamber I first thought it was. But thanks for your kind words.

  11. Marcos El Malo
    July 16th, 2009 | 11:26 pm wrote:

    “Simon: You said you weren’t going to engage with Rob, yet you still do. Just drop it already. Take the high road.”

    And, here’s Marcos himself, taking the high road:

    “I do think some of you are commie pinkos, but not because you’re left of center.”

    Accusing people of being totalitarians is so high road, Marcos. Got any more high road advice? Of course you do. Here’s more of Marcos taking the high road:

    “I came out swinging when what I saw as personal attacks were made against an owner of one of the businesses mentioned, a business that the attacker obviously knows nothing about. And the reasoning? “She appropriated the name of my favorite book”. I think that’s lame. Add that to the fact that here we’re discussing the failure of the NYT to do basic research? Am I the only one enjoying the irony?”

    Obviously, Marcos’s idea of the “high road” is getting one last punch in. But he’s not done. He takes the high road just one more time:

    “Anyway, I really appreciate the comments of folks like hexodus, who doesn’t have the knee jerk reaction to new shops helping revitalizing a block or two (a revitalization that has been slowly going on for some time, mind you).”

    Marcos, I can only imagine your low road…

  12. I’ve got thicker skin than a goodyear huarache. And I’ll go word to word with anybody, but I pity those that are illogical and delusional. And, so, I will not waste my time with them.
    To everyone else, thanks for sharing your thoughts. It shows to me an active community of thinkers, even if we don’t agree- it is still healthy. There is nothing more I like, than a good debate.

  13. Rob’s upset that I cock blocked him. Sorry, Rob. I just don’t think Simon’s your type.

  14. Hector, I asked if any of the mods or authors, listed at the upper right, had any problem with my comments. As soon as one of them concurs with you guys that I’m this trouble maker you’re painting me out to be, I’m all ears. It’s that simple. Until that happens, I’m left to believe that you guys are either one or two trolls from another blog targeting me, using various pseudonyms, or just real drama queens. The fact that at least two of you showed up here around the same time I did, from what I can see reviewing the blog’s archives, leans toward the former. But we’ll let the moderators and regular authors here sort it out, assuming they even feel it’s an issue. I’m respecting whatever they ask out of us. And so far, I haven’t seen where any of them agree with your guys’ opinions of me.

  15. Rob: “Marcos, I’m going to take your advice and take the high road. Later.” Noted with appreciation. No hard feelings? If there really are, I apologize.

  16. In response to Marcos El Malo July 16th, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    If I’d had the chance to write this article, I would have focused on the efforts, prior to the opening of these new businesses and retrofitting of older ones, by the LADOT to add a travel lane to York Blvd. by removing car parking.

    The LADOT has a singular focus in LA that runs counter to the interests of local businesses in old fashioned walkable neighborhoods like Highland Park: they only care about car throughput and speed. Fast cars on Figueroa and York and high volumes of cars on both street guarantee that few cars stop, few people care to walk and shop, and even fewer try to socialize and mingle in the commercial areas.

    Yes, the streets are filled with locals walking to stores, but nowhere near what it could be if the monolithic focus on cars was shifter to encourage more retail foot traffic.

    Anyway! Long story short: the LADOT’s proposal to speed up York Blvd was shot down. Instead a coalition of businesses and residents got a section of York narrowed, added signals, and slowed down car traffic and boom: the York, Grassshopper, Cafe de Leche, etc. etc. etc. right in the middle of the calmest traffic area on the block.

    Basic reporting with longtime residents would obviously reveal more, like the hard-fought liquor permit further down the street for what is now Juanita’s Restaurant that the building owner/developer pulled a coalition of neighbors together for to show that they wanted commerce on their commercial corridors – that, to me, was a moment when the baby-boom “I hate the city” voters got their asses kicked by a new generation of pro-urban residents.

  17. I dont like fighting with anyone, the attackishness and oneupmanship that has been prevalent here lately is lame and a big turnoff to me.

    I enjoy good discussion, even with those who disagree with me, but Im too old and well adjusted for pissing contests.

  18. I loved your response to the NYT article. I am a new resident to Highland Park. I recently moved into a house with my girlfriend who has lived here for three years.

    I first started coming to Highland Park to see bands at Mr. T’s. Later I started a band that played Mr. T’s. (We’ve even played with 8-bit before.)

    Since moving here, I’ve fallen in love with the staples of Highland Park. I’m constantly trying to learn more about my new neighborhood.

    As a new resident who happens to be in a band (in some people’s minds, that automatically makes you a hipster), I have a fear of being lumped in with the a-holes (as someone before dubbed them) who move here on daddy’s dime.

    So let me just say, some of the newer residents aren’t hipsters. Some of us attend Historic Highland Neighborhood Councel meetings. Some of us are full of civic price. Some of us picture living here for a long long time among the same neighbors they have now.

  19. Well, I’m glad to read that Highland Park is finally turning around and becoming a destination where people feel comfortable going to visit once again. I was born in Los Angeles in the 1950s and grew up in Highland Park in 60s. It used to be a wonderful part of Los Angeles with nice homes and familes, but just like Lincoln Park and so many other areas it really went to hell. It became a place where you couldn’t walk the streets at night, and harldy a wall, fence or store front that wasn’t marked up with graffiti and other baloney.

    Finally the place got so bad we up and moved to Alhambra, where at least at that time you didn’t have those idiot gang bangers and Chicano politicians who had a million and one excuses for their bad behavior.

    So if new people are moving in and cleaning that mess up like they did in Atwater and other areas of Los Angeles I say good! It’s about time.

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