Eastside 101: Hollenbeck Park

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Ed Fuentes of View from a Loft pointed out a new publication to hit LA, a monthly that imagines itself as “a meaningful upscale magazine” for the Eastside. A quick look at their site and it suddenly feels more like a slap; their Eastside is nowhere near to the one I grew up in, that vast expanse of mostly Latino humanity on the other side of the river. Ugg. Here we go again, the re-imagining of our city in a historical vacuum. A cultural demarcation by terms. Just have a damn flag planting ceremony already, make a few decrees about the new Easternmost territories held by the Westsider Cultural Empire, declare East LA to be inconsequential (until further notice) and call this vision the new LA. At least that way we will have something to work with, or something to fight against.

I’m tired of this “debate” since it mostly consists of Eastsiders fighting to preserve a semblance of place, informing newcomers from the far off West or beyond that we, on the other side of the river, do exist, and that (at least to ourselves) we do matter. Before I raise my army for the coming culture wars, and before the divide between the two LA’s gets even wider, I figured I’d do some preliminary bridge building: I’m going to embark on an occasional series of posts to highlight aspects of the Eastside that I know. Mostly it’ll be about places you can visit but sometimes there’ll be posts that are based on the map of memory. Maybe it’ll help some out there to take us seriously. (Ha, ha!) But even if it has no effect, and people still insist on erasing our identity, it’ll be a record of the Eastside that actually means something to me, the place I call home.

For our first lesson, turn to the page marked Hollenbeck Park!

Built in the past (how’s that for relative historicism?) Hollenbeck Park came to be around the same time some of the other major city parks began to dot the LA landscape: Central Park (now known as Pershing Square), Eastlake Park (now known as Lincoln Park), and Westlake Park (now known as MacArthur Park). Central, East, West, seems quite simple to me.Click here to see some old postcards of how the park used to look.

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Unfortunately, Hollenbeck has been reduced from its original size, since a freeway was built right over it in the 60’s. If you could see thru concrete, you might recognize this park: it’s the one you drive over when you’re switching from Interstate 5 to the Santa Ana Freeway, or vice versa. What a coincidence that freeways were often built over or through the neighborhoods of working class Mexicans, a truly remarkable case of hilarious bad luck!

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Underneath the freeway, the trees.

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I was baffled and disgusted to see the famous lake bridge cordoned off by a huge black gate. That’s just fucking shitty. This was THE site for many a quince√±era or wedding photo shoot, what numbskull ordered this closure? Whoever they were, a big F U to them.

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I caught my first and only fish underneath that now inaccessible walkway bridge. My cousin dropped the tiny fish back in the water when he was taking the hook off, que menso.

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You can see that the lake has lots of ducks. Be warned, they only speak Belizean Spanish.

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And sometimes you can spot some not-so-ordinary birds.

Here’s a short clip of that crane doing it’s thing.

Yes, a very unremarkable park (except for that lovely hum of the Interstate overhead) but I’ve heard (ahem) that’s it’s been the choice spot for many a school ditcher or young lover to get away from the prying eyes of the city. And really, what can beat the tranquil roar of the freeway while you laze away the day?

Hollenbeck Park 415 Saint Louis Street. 323.261.0113 Over the river, corner of 4th and St. Louis. You can’t miss it.

14 Replies to “Eastside 101: Hollenbeck Park”

  1. Biking past Hollenbeck Park for the first time about a year ago I was appalled at how the freeway was built right over the water. To me this stands as perfect evidence for the total lack of respect, regard and recognition the city has for the real eastside, its history and its residents.

    At least back when the 101 was built they filled in the south end of Echo Park Lake rather than hang concrete roadway over it.

  2. One of your best posts.

  3. When you write about the “re-imagining of our city in a historical vacuum” please make sure to remember the entire history of the city. Boyle Heights spent more time as a predominantly Jewish enclave than a Latino community. The current makeup of the area is a post WW2 event.

    Los Angeles is the remix capitol of the world … and I’m not referring to music. And that’s part of the city’s greatness.

    On another note (hideous pun intended) I’m looking forward to reading (and seeing) more about the eastern side of the city. Perhaps the series will help people to realize that one of the things that makes Los Angeles so great is that the entire world is available for the sampling in our front yard. And the two things that cause the greatest divides between Angelenos are our insistence that we are all not really the same (and must be looked at differently) and the food that we eat. Hopefully we will be smart enough to realize that the former is divisive and counterproductive and the latter is a missed opportunity to stimulate our taste buds. BTW, isn’t it great that onions are cheap again?

  4. Someone who knows far more of Echo Park’s history than me pointed out in my first comment that Echo Park’s lake wasn’t touched when the 101 was built, rather the freeway eliminated a playground and baseball field.

  5. I remember hearing about that publication. It just seemed lame. Hopefully it’ll fold soon.

    At least the cool kids know what “the Eastside” really means.

    Thanks for the history lesson on Hollenbeck Park. I’ve never really been to East LA parks, despite spending most Sundays there visiting family.

  6. Michael,
    Yeah, I agree with you. But whether they were Jewish, Italian, Japanese, or Mexican they were all part of the Eastside. Erasure of history effects everyone equally.

    3 cheers for affordable onions! Onion Price Watch 2007 is officially over.

  7. Give him some credit for even mentioning the Jewish past of Boyle Heights in past posts. Jews left. Japanese left. Italians left. Russians left. Even Mexicans left, but were replaced by new ones. They went west and east in the 1960s. (The ones who went east became my suburban neighbors.) Some were forced to leave because freeways cut up the area.

    What’s interesting is how there has been a local cottage business in Boyle Heights remembrance, via the JANM’s exhibits, and efforts by the Jewish community to invest in fixing up old historic buildings, as well as a number of websites. It seems to coincide or precede large-scale gentrification efforts (the Sears tower, some hopistal-to-loft conversion near the park, tearing up the Aliso Village projects to make condos, and lofts in eastern Little Tokyo).

  8. Cool post dude… and thanks for giving my old ‘hood some respeto necesidado.

    I have a special affinity for the “real Eastside”. 15 years ago I was living in Boyle Heights near St. Louis & Michigan and I believe I was the only, or one of a very few, “gueros”, “gringos”, “anglos”, “white boys”, etc, etc… in the ‘hood. Never was a problem. I had a greattime… walking to El Serenata or Ciro’s, occasionally fattening up at El Tepayac (still losing that…LOL), and enjoying being in one of the few places in LA that didn’t, and still doesn’t, feel “commodified”.

    What is it about the areas east of the river? Well, there’s quite a marked lack of “the industry”, and that’s a very good thing. They already lay claim to 80% of the rest of the city, let ’em have it. The Eastside has the best food in LA, and not just Mex. It’s the easiest part of the city to get in and out of, as long as one isn’t driving at rush hour. Mostly, for me, it is a place with a strongly developed sense of itself. Yeah, there are too few parks (and WTF – I hate that gate as well) – those few parks are filled to bursting with families and bbqs on weekends, it’s not all prettied up like Hancock Park and such, and there’s no Grove or Hollywood & Highland pseudo-city experience to be had. The well (and over) documented gang and crime issues are no bueno, but most of LA partakes in that insanity, whether they believe it or not.

    Viva la taquerias, el comidors, la cultura familia y la musica Latina de East LA y Boyle Heights!!!

  9. Gracias, CHAVO!, for this post. Even an idiot OC’er like me has always known that East Los Angeles was where Whittier Boulevard and Cesar Chavez (or, as my aunts and uncles remember it, la brook-leen) reigned. Other geographic boundaries: the LA River, school boundaries for Roosevelt, Garfield and Schurr, and some others I can’t remember–but definitely NOT Echo Park or Silver Lake.

  10. It’s much too simple to say that freeways were built over Mexican neighborhoods. Freeways were often paired with “slum-clearance,” based on FHA determinations about what constituted slums. This was most arguably based on race, but the freeways were not built just to make life harder for Mexicans. The real purpose was to surgically remove the integrated aspect from neighborhoods that were extremely integrated, and NOT exclusively Mexican. There wouldn’t really be a purpose to just building through an ethnic neighborhood if you were trying to restrict them. It would make more sense to build around them instead, closing them in.

    The freeways were used to destroy neighborhoods that had ethnic heterogeneity, so the people who could move out (whites, jews, italians, germans…) would do so, leaving the poorer minorities, often blacks and central americans in an increasingly small, enclosed neighborhood that could be more easily ignored by the powers that be.

    Making claims about how the city just has it out for Mexicans is just as short-sighted and shallow (as far as history is concerned) as making arbitrary claims to a new eastside. It’s sort of a shame that blogs are all editorial. The research yields some interesting histories, if you’re willing to put in the time to find them.

  11. Great post CHAVO! I suggest you also do a post on the Hole, the park behind Salesian High School, and another one on how East Los Angeles College ended up in Monterey Park.

    By the way, my personal opinion (yes this is a blog) is that freeways were not used to destory neighborhoods tht had ethnic heterogeneity (whatever that is), leaving minorities in small enclosed neighborhoods. If so, how do you explain the 405 Fwy cutting through the Westide, or the 101 through the Valley?

    The probable truth is that Freeways fueled growth in the suburbs, and growth in the suburbs fueled more freeways. LA’s growth as a metropolis is uniquely tied to the automobile and the Freeway. Freeways are Quintessential LA!! It is our unique gift to the world–suburban sprawl via the automobile.

  12. East L.A. has some many wonderful wonderful freeways! It is so unique and special! What a gift they are!

    The 5!

    The 10!

    The 101!

    The 710!

    I love it! Thank you city fathers, for turning our town into a polluted, car-stuffed, mess!

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