Flashback Fridays – The Fate of Echo Park

Dial Torgerson, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 19, 1971

Both Kelly and I (on separate occasions) dug up a rather interesting article from the L.A. Times circa 1971. The article, entitled “Which Way for Echo Park – Inner City Oasis or Slum?”, describes Echo Park at the dawn of the ’70s as:

…the hilly, multiracial, multiethnic home of both the poor and better off. Echo Park is becoming a near slum and a much-in-demand middle-class community at the same time. It is going up and down simultaneously. Newcomers from from poorer areas are crowding into substandard housing and youth gangs have become active. At the same time, there is a different influx: that of the middle class. Older couples who sold homes in distant suburbs and young marrieds with college degrees are seeking homes and rentals in the hills.

From what I’ve learned about Echo Park, it seems that it’s always been home to a mixture of different cultures and incomes. It’s interesting to see proof of this and to see an argument similar to the one happening today, taking place almost forty years ago. The same racial tensions that bubble beneath the surface of today’s arguments were there in the ’70s as well and, presumably, the ’60s. For example:

‘The rapidly changing ethnic composition of the Silver Lake-Echo Park communities will soon transform Echo Park into a Mexican-American barrio,’ said a UCLA study for the city’s new general plan. ‘We strongly urge that, via the process of community organizations and related efforts, steps be taken to avoid further ghettoization.’ Many long-time residents of Echo Park, members of its Latin community, object to experts’ blaming Latins as the bringers of the slum.

Eek! Yeah, I think an objection to that study is justified. The article also brings up some interesting bits about the cultural differences between certain residents of Echo Park. Some of these descriptions sound vaguely familiar…

The Hip community calls it “The Other End,” the other end of Sunset Blvd. from the Strip. Barefoot hippies buy food with food stamps in the same supermarket lines with young deputy public defenders with mod clothes and lavish mustaches. Chicano street types dress in a uniform of neat jeans (or overalls) and clean white T-shirts; they haven’t learned, as have their Anglo contemporaries in the suburbs, to believe that dirt is somehow revolutionary.

Read the full article here (PDF download).

5 Responses to “Flashback Fridays – The Fate of Echo Park”

  1. Willow & Milo says:

    cool.

  2. henry says:

    It is not so similar then and now as you suggest. The better off people they are talking about were not at all so disparate in wealth as the Echo Park population is now. And the numbers of better off compared to poorer is the opposite now as then — many more poorer people then. There were a lot more Latinos in the area back then. And back then, the place was overrun by slumlords looking to cash in on what they expected to be big development coming to accommodate downtown and way overpay for their properties; there are not many slumlords left, but it has not helped the poorer people as they have been run out by drastically overpriced rental prices. The only surprise is that the big development has been held off but the slumlords have made their huge profits anyway.

    Now, poorer people will be hard pressed to find anything affordable in the area, so more and more are being pushed out. That is a HUGE difference to the situation back in 1971 — something you fail to recognize, and what is at the crux of the tensions now. This really has been a route of the lower classes.

  3. Caitlin says:

    Hello Henry, Thanks very much for reading and commenting. Everything that you are saying is absolutely true, and this difference between what was happening in the 70s and what is happening now is not something that we have failed to recognize. Writing extensively about the differences between Echo Park as it was then and as it is know was not our goal with this post. Our goal was to bring the article to everyone’s attention so that our readers could learn a bit about the history of Echo Park and comment and hopefully begin a discussion. There are many issues that the article addresses that we just didn’t have the space to write about (it’s a very long article) including the issue of slumlords, the building of low-rent housing (and community objections to it) and a man named Bill Garcia.

  4. henry says:

    Caitlin: OK, I was just commenting about the comments made that made it sound like you were saying it is the same now it used to be, which made it sound like you were saying the current tensions between the new and the old are no different then they were back then; but they are wildly different now.

    I note too, knowing that time very well, I can be pretty certain that the opposition to the affordable housing you mention was not the affordability but the size. Those people then had a HEAVY influence of Communism, and those times saw a lot of liberal thinkers and deep thinkers — true liberals, not the moderates and shallow thinkers who get called liberals today. That means a large part of the neighborhood — the ones you call the liberals, which was the bulk of the neighborhood — was dead set in favor of helping poorer people. What they fought time and again back then were proposals for huge developments out of scale to the neighborhood, and certainly that is what that affordable housing was. They weren’t fighting poor people or affordability; they were fighting drastic overdevelopment. Their endless fights against overdevelopment are why there is an Echo Park neighborhood today.

    Funny you highlight Bill Garcia. I knew him well. He went on after this article to join Councilman John Ferraro’s staff (alongside Tom LaBonge, now a councilman himself). Ferraro represented Echo Park at that time; unfortunately, Ferraro time and again took action on behalf of huge developments in the neighborhood, and Garcia had to try to deal with the neighborhood outcry over it. Along with everything else going on in Echo Park. Bill always showed interest in gang-diversion efforts and other things to help the children, and was a member of the Echo Park Lions Club, the one that was helpful in his days as a coach. But he was limited in what he could do on Ferraro’s staff by policymaking outside his control (Ferraro typically did not involve his few aides in policymaking, only his top aide, who was a relative) Ferraro eventually made sure he got Echo Park reapportioned out of his district. Garcia did show a preference to do things via establishment groups and thus the YMCA, the Lions, the Chamber of Commerce, work with the established neighborhood groups, etc.

    Garcia actually married a teacher at Elysian Heights Elementary school. He finally left Ferraro’s office years later after being hospitalized with diabetes, and moved up north with his wife.

  5. sal valdez says:

    having grown up in echo park during the 60′s and 70′s it always was a very diverse community. i remember the islanders as we called them, and later the hippies, a curious bunch in my young eyes back then. today gentrification appears to be the biggest threat to the character of echo park as the downtown luxury condos keep getting closer. ugh

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