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.|
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.|