Thursday, March 8, 2012

History of East Los Angeles, Cal.

Updates have been made February 6th, 2015 to this post and are in red font. I was inspired by an impassioned comment I received (which you can read below in the comments section).

A rich past and the colorful present of East Los Angeles has been the source for web essays including Tomas Benitez's "East L.A.:  Past and Present" and Nathan Masters' piece at KCET's SoCal Focus.  Another essay worth reading is John Arroyo's 2012 "Four Generations in East L.A.".  A recommended seminal history book is Ricardo Romo's East Los Angeles, History of a Barrio, 1983, Univ. of Texas Press.

Educators recently toured parts of this vast unincorporated area of L.A. County as part of a teachers conference called Facing History and Ourselves.  The tour was described in Marvelia Alpizar's piece in EGPnews.

About six months ago while driving through the narrow streets in search of the freeway on-ramp I spotted an unusual corner lot at Floral Drive and Humphreys Avenue.  The 710 Freeway sliced up this neighborhood years ago.

Several days ago I returned (twice), but both times there was no one to inquire about the cactus garden at this corner.

The area is Belvedere, long established as a Mexican American enclave.  The developer Janss subdivided this suburb Belvedere Heights in the 1910s.  Janss then opened Belvedere Gardens in the early 1920s further and further south beyond Whittier Boulevard.  The corner of Floral and Humphreys was quite possibly part of an earlier development (William Humphreys beginning about 1889 bought large tracts of land outside the L.A. City limits, and this area was labeled the Humphreys' Boyle Heights Addition on assessor maps).  The homes along the cactus garden were a part of the Observation Heights tract.

The Maravilla place name spills over into this area.  "Maravilla" has had negative connotations in the later decades of the 20th century, but its Spanish meaning for "wonderful" or "wonderment" provided something positive for Mexican families, most of whom were homeowners in the Maravilla Park Tract beginning about 1925.  The tract was concentrated along Mednik, Kern, Arizona and Dangler, just south of Gleason, and the tract was separate and unrelated to the Belvedere projects by Janss.  A lack of water was an early issue for the Maravilla families, and when it was sorted out they got their water from the Belvedere Water Company.  The Belvedere place name was used more widely in the early to mid-20th century by the newspaper and map makers; the area was also a part of the Belvedere Judicial Township.

The growth within the security bars is a commodity. The "nopal" or prickly pear, is widely used as a delicious vegetable in Mexican dishes.
What was contained in this garden commanded reverence, but I left this thought out of the original posting.  I wanted the images to speak for themselves.  Let me state that I think the plants are a metaphor for the long, rooted history of the neighborhood's Mexican culture.  My omission of my personal commentaries led me to be viewed an egotist intent to exploit the community's "cultural treasures and identities".

A short drive south on Humphreys down to First Street would lead me to the Chinese Cemetery of Los Angeles, where my great-grandfather is buried, as well as my paternal grandfather, and my two grandmothers.

The cemetery butts up against the onramp to the 60 Pomona Freeway westbound.  Shown are the backsides of some of the headstones from the early 1930s - note all were mended - about ten to twenty years ago no-good vandals smashed all of them in halves.

This view by the corner of 1st and Eastern shows the modern headstones - these facing east, whereas the previous picture shows the older headstones facing west.


  1. I am sure you are a nice person, and please do not take this too personal but this must be said. It really bothers me when people from the suburbs and other outside communities, who normally avoid places like my home town of East Los Angeles, come here and take pictures of our unique neighborhood treasures and post them on social media and other websites acting like they made some kind of discovery for the rest of the world. This attitude is analogous to the European settler's attitude toward the indigenous people when they first came here and acted as if they discovered a "New World" with new foods, peoples and cultures for the first time. Like if they were culturally superior to those who had "discovered".
    The bars around the garden also contain another "commodity" besides the tunas or "prickly pears" as you had referred to them as. A cultural commodity that is uniquely East Los Angeles. When people come to our neighborhoods and communities, writing blogs about the inhabitants and taking pictures of how we live to feed their own egos and self-righteous attitudes, it cheapens what we have built and for the lack of a better word, rapes our culture, East Los Angeles' unique way of doing things.
    Further, there is no historical subject matter in the captions of the pictures that you has posted. You could have mentioned the Carmalita chorizo plant that is just on the other side of the underpass across from that garden and it's historical significance in East Los Angeles or the fact that Humphreys ave is prominently mentioned throughout Richards Romo's book East Los Angeles: History of a Barrio. Also, that intersection is not in the neighborhood that was formally referred to as Belvedere, which would have been a little south of that intersection. That neighborhood would have been in the Maravilla neighborhood even though everyone just calls that area East L.A, it even says East Los Angeles on the street signs in your photos.

    Please be a little more mindful and respectful of the communities that you visit and how you treat their cultural treasures and identities. And please do not post pictures for egocentric reasons, this is not facebook.

    1. Thanks for reading my blog. In response, just exploring my southern California and writing about it. I found the garden visually lovely; have eaten nopales - delicious; I was born in Boyle Heights; if you read my last paragraph of the post, down the street at the cemetery I have many relatives buried there dating back to the 1930s; I belong in East Los Angeles. :)

    2. Mr. Preciado, about the only thing you got right about Ms. Uyeda in your comments is that she is a nice person.

  2. Politics and personal issues aside, thank you ALL for the history and background of the area. My birth certificate states that I was born in Belvedere Township and I had no idea where that was. I lived most of my childhood in Lynwood.

  3. Thank you for a wonderful read! I was born in Boyle Heights and I found the article well researched, considered and informative. Great pics!

  4. Thank you, Sean, for reading, and for commenting. I just looked again at this posting - the photos I took of the field of cacti - against the field of headstones in the cemetery.

  5. Does anybody know what happened to the government housing in Belvedere in particular what happened to Rodena St.?