Resolving Conflict and Preventing Racial Violence, in the Classic Eastside

How the Jewish and Latino Communities Resolved Conflict in Post-War Boyle Heights (1940s-1950s)

How can we revolve conflict and prevent violence in our changing eastside communities? What can we learn from history regarding this? What should the community keep in mind as we see the demographics changing here once again? What should we consider as we see an uneasy integration taking place here?

fredross_CSO-voter-registration-1948

Voter registration, during the historic 1948 voter drive in which 15,000 new voters from the barrios were registered by the efforts of the Community Service Organization (CSO). This is what really provided the democratic muscle to help Edward Roybal, our first Mexican-American local representative, get elected to the LA City Council. The CSO received its essential funding and mentoring in organizing from Saul Alinsky, and his Industrial Areas Foundation, under the guidance of his local representative Fred Ross Sr. (see photo,far left). As well as financial support directly from the local Jewish Community Relations Committee (CRC), today known as the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

The reality is that this type of turbulent change, it has happened all before. Community change being met with racial conflicts and classist fears, this has all come around before.

However, it’s important to remember that the people of this community have a profound history of forging inter-community partnerships to conquer prejudice and racial tension.

This was especially true in the late-1940s through the mid-1950s, in the partnerships between the shrinking Jewish community of the area and the growing Mexican American community of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles.

Recently when discussing notable history of the area I had talked with people a lot about the cooperation of Jews and the minority community in the fight against the Nazi fascism during the 1930s and through the 1940s. Of the Jewish and non-sectarian organizations which they founded to fight fascism, and how many went on to be essential backers of minority empowered organizations in the fight against Jim Crow. [see “The Anti-Nazi Parade, Boyle Heights 1938: How Our Multi-Ethnic Community Responded to the Jewish Refugee Crisis.”]

During the years leading up to and then through World War II many Jewish people and minorities had a lot in common still, because the nature of prejudice and the persistence of segregation in that age. In those days their partnerships were essential and seemed quite natural.

Though I believe that history clearly shows us that the partnerships between Jews and Latinos becomes most interesting in the post-war years. Though sadly, most people write off the history of the Jewish eastside after the war. During a time when such partnerships could be considered counterintuitive to many.

The reality is that telling the story of inter-community relations becomes much more complicated after the war, so many just avoid it at all cost. As Jews and Latinos begin to have less in common with each other, which does result in increased friction. Frictions which were not uncommon before the war, and the specter of which fearfully hung over the Jewish community with even greater concern following the war.

In the decade following the wartime riots, the general population was genuinely afraid of a resurgence of riots. And the larger population even fearful of Mexican residents taking vengeance on them, expecting an eminent explosion of Mexican rage in the form of riots.

So what did the Jewish leaders of the area do post-war to fight racial conflict and prevent violence in the changing community? How did they overcome the issues of having to deal with the communal bitterness felt by the growing racial minority groups regarding housing and job market inequity? How did Jews react with even being perceived as exploiters and absentee landlords controlling these older neighborhoods?

The fact is scape-goating of Jews in the eastside has existed as far back as any of us remember. And it is something that the Jewish community out of necessity realized they had to address more assertively when they found themselves in the role of being the smaller minority here after the war.

We need to more honestly tell the story of the communal challenges of that era. Instead of avoiding the hard truths which culminate at this point in history. We need to recognize the reality that even in the “good old days” of the historic interracial community of Boyle Heights of yesteryear which many are prone to idealize today, even then the established community of Jews of the area had to put a great deal of work and invest a lot of money into dispelling racism, classism, antisemitism and preventing misdirected violence.

The reality is that inter-cultural and inter-faith respect of classic Boyle Heights was not just a given. Living next to people of other races and cultures, it did not necessarily integrate people to one another, nor effortlessly create mixing and understanding.

Again, it took real effort and true intention to accomplish this sense of community cohesion with a diverse population of residents here. Which begs me to ask: So why is it that today people expect it to just happen all by itself? Why is the current establishment of our community federations really doing nothing to support direct inter-community cooperation and inter-racial socialization? How is that today they do not see fit to really contribute anything to mitigate a long history of tensions which are revisiting us here?

I dare say that my fellow community, cultural, religious and interfaith leaders of today really need to learn some pages from our local history. And reflect on how to help our community of today resolve the currently rising tensions, in tried and true ways.

I ask us to consider these selected pages of history here:


“RESOLVING CONFLICT, PREVENTING VIOLENCE”

from Bridges of Reform: Interracial Civil Rights Activism in Twentieth-Century

By Shana Bernstein

The Zoot Suit Riots’ legacy factored prominently into postwar calculations about the value of cooperating across community divides, especially as the mounting housing crunch and employment discrimination escalated racial tensions in minority areas. As tensions threatened Angelenos’ safety, they stirred Jews’ and Mexicans’ — along with the rest of Los Angeles’ fears that violence would once again erupt in their city. The American Council on Race Relations’ 1945 study titled The Problem of Violence: Observations on Race Conflict in Los Angeles: explained: “There was general apprehension on the part of many who had seen the evidences of friction increasing and apparently cumulating, who had lived through the ‘zoot-suit’ riots.” These people, the study reported, “feared that post-war Los Angeles with its restricted employment opportunities for Negroes and Mexicans, its wretchedly inadequate housing facilities and its greatly increased population would become a battle ground on which Americans battled each other.” The threat of violence forced Angelenos to realize that wartime attempts to improve race relations in the city had fallen short.

Sometimes the tensions and competition for resources did result in violence, both between whites and minorities and among minority groups. Much of the violence was perpetrated against minorities, especially African and Mexican Americans, by whites….

[pg. 151-152; continuing selection with, pg. 154-156.]

These were the living conditions of the Mexican families, living in the settlements of FIckett Hollow, Boyle Heights. (1950)

These were the terrible living conditions of the Mexican families, living in the settlements of Fickett Hollow, Boyle Heights. (1950)

East Los Angeles Jewish and Mexican community, among whom relations were particularly strained as the two groups’ financial, social, and geographic distance increased, viewed potential violence as an especially salient issue. As Jews in Los Angeles, as elsewhere, confronted housing restrictions and employment discrimination, they, unlike Mexican Americans, also made economic strides, became increasingly integrated, and gradually moved toward the more affluent west side. The Mexican origin population, on the other hand, was “Southern California’s largest and, in many ways, most disadvantaged minority,” according to a 1949 report by Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation. The group’s poverty, lack of networks to other communities, low voter turnout, and high percentage of non-citizens, according, to reports like these, impeded attempts at securing financial backing to pressure politicians to improve their conditions. A 1946 investigation of racial minorities’ conditions by the ACRR concluded that the Mexican-American community was in even more dire straits other than poor Los Angeles minorities.

Increasingly different class status distanced Jewish and Mexican Americans from one another. In the schools, the ACRR’s report The Problem of Violence observed, “The great barrier to the acceptance of Mexican children by Jewish children is the middle-class bias of the Jewish parents expressed in excessive concern over dirt and disease.” Divergent police actions towards the two groups also, it explained, served to “contribute to the increase of community tensions between middle-class Jews and lower-class Mexicans. The “class bias” was intertwined with a racial bias, too, as Jewish Americans were becoming increasingly integrated into American society and accepted as white, while Mexicans increasingly faced categorization as brown “others.”

Mexican-Americans saw their Jewish neighbors moving to nicer neighborhoods while their own conditions stagnated or deteriorated, breeding “frustration and bitterness.” Alinsky’s Industrial Area’s Foundation reported, “These, in tern, found expression in intergroup hostility and scape-goating with particular reference on the Eastside to the adjacent Jewish community.” Jews who moved west frequently kept east side businesses and retail properties, which sometimes provoked charges of exploitation from their former neighbors. Associating Jews with exploitation stemmed in some cases from anti-Semitic assumptions, since many non-Jews also became absentee landlords.

This growing divide between two communities that seemingly had little in common after the war counter intuitively helps explain their interest in collaboration. Because Mexican Americans’ daily struggle for survival left little money to fund organizations such as the CSO, they sought support from other Los Angeles ethnic communities, including Jews. The Jewish community’s motives for assisting a group increasingly distant from its own population seem less apparent. CRC [the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish community; the predecessor to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles] leaders, discussing the Mexican, American community, justified support for the CSO by explaining that it “deflects the hostility which exists in that community against the Jews, to constructive social issues of benefit to the Mexican-American and the Jew alike.” The CSO could “by its very existence, prevent race riots such as have happened before in this city.” CRC leaders claimed it already had “no doubt prevented serious repercussions which might have otherwise happened on the East Side.” CRC executive director Herzberg countered a member’s protest that the CRC should stop funding the CSO, since it was not “closely related enough to the activities of the Jewish community,” by explaining that its “prophylactic value” was “a relatively cheap investment” for the Jewish community. Herzberg’s comment that the CSO would help prevent “gang fights and similar anti-social acts” also reveals underlying assumptions about Mexican Americans’ violent potential. Fears of violence also shaped Jewish community interest in the African-American community. The CRC reported Jewish concern about the implications of demographic transformations in the Watts neighborhood, specifically the increasing African-American and Mexican-American populations. Mounting unemployment created a situation of “increasing problems of social relations” that “could be explosive as far as the Jewish community is concerned.” Many of the retail stores on the main street of Watts were owned and run by Jews, it reported, explaining that the year before, “a vigorous anti-Semitic campaign” arose as unemployed residents demonstrated their frustration about limited job opportunities. The report also identified mounting tensions between the African-American and Mexican-American communities in the neighborhood. In response to such tensions, the CRC expressed to the director of planning of the City Planning Commission that it was “deeply concerned about some of the conditions of living in the Watts area of our city.”

A colony on Fickett St. showing a number of bungalows built in a canyon in Boyle Heights. This was one of the poorest barrios in the neighborhood.

A colony on Fickett St. showing a number of bungalows built in a canyon in Boyle Heights. This was one of the poorest barrios, which impoverished Mexicans were relegated to; out of sight and concern to even people of good conscience.

Amidst these complex attitudes, which reflect some degree of prejudice and misunderstanding of each other, both Mexican-American and Jewish-American communities viewed bridge-building projects as critical for their mutual survival. The CSO particularly hoped to secure Jews’ participation since, as Ross explained, “this is the other large group on the East Side and Jewish-Mexican American relations have left a good deal to be desired for some time.” Ross attempted to obtain Jewish community support by emphasizing to the CRC how the CSO’S work improved “deplorable” East Los Angeles neighborhood conditions that “had been reflected in a history of hostility between Spanish speaking colonies and the Jewish Community surrounding the Jewish Community surrounding Temple Street.” The CSO reported in 1949 that two years of efforts had redirected the “scape-goating” of nearby “disadvantaged groups” (specifically the “adjacent” Jews) and had “pav[ed the way] for cooperation with other groups particularly with those in the Jewish Community.”

In short, memories of World War II-era violence and fears of its recurrence helped inspire postwar collaboration. In cases like the CSO, such fears even resulted in important new postwar civil rights initiatives which continued the earlier thrust of reform and demonstrate the continuity between 1935 and World War II era collaboration and its later Cold War incarnation.


In a previous post I actually went into great detail about the CSO, when talking about the connection between the early garment worker’s movement of the 1930s-1940s, and the rise of the CSO in 1940s-1950s, and the continuity of these social justice aims which eventually gave rise to the United Farm Workers in the 1950s-1960s.

However, I think it is import to revisit this important chapter in history:

The Importance of the Community Service Organization (CSO)

The historic influence of the Community Service Organization (CSO) in Latino civil rights and politics cannot be overstated.

Founded in 1947 in the Los Angeles eastside, CSO was envisioned by Fred Ross Sr., while inspired and funded greatly by Saul Alinsky. As well as later receiving essential financial backing from allied Jewish organizations – most notably the Community Relations Committee (CRC) – a Jewish organization founded originally in the early 1930s as an anti-fascist organization; dedicated to fighting antisemitism, pro-Nazi outreach and organized racism. [it would later become know as the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; also see, “Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles. Community Relations Committee (1933-), Special Collections & Archives”]

The Community Service Organization (CSO) was uniquely created to be a “Mexican NAACP.” Ross and Alinsky took notice that Mexicans were by far the largest and yet most ill-treated minority. Mexicans still being the only minority group to not be widely organized. And also standing alone in having no political power or decision-making, with less than 10% of Latino citizens being registered to vote. [see “The Color of America Has Changed: How Racial Diversity Shaped Civil Rights.”]

In the words of Scott Washburn of CSO:

“In 1947, in direct response to rampant police abuse, a lack of educational opportunities, widespread discrimination in government services, a strong culture of bigotry that allowed even people of good conscience to turn a blind eye to the suffering of their neighbors, and ultimately, to the Zoot Suit Riots and Bloody Christmas, the Community Service Organization was founded by Antonio Rios, Edward Roybal, and Fred Ross, Sr. Quickly, the CSO became a training ground for the first generation of Latino leaders, including Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Gilbert Padilla. Recognizing the need for a unified Latino voice and for some semblance of political representation, the CSO initially concentrated on organizing voter registration drives in Latino communities all across California. In 1949, the CSO’s efforts culminated in the election of Edward Roybal, the first Latino to serve on the Los Angeles City Council.”

Elect Roybal, LA CIty CouncilRoyball would ride a wave of crucial Yiddish speaking political support in Boyle Heights, backing his ascent to City Hall and further still. The future Congressman Edward Royball would later take his social causes to the halls of the US Congress with him as well.

Fred Ross would continue to expand CSO at the behest of Alinsky, helping establish their presence first in Oxnard and later in San Jose. Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, trained by CSO in Alinsky style protest, would then take the cause directly into the local fields; thus founding the United Farm Workers, which is widely considered the most influential and visible Latino organization to date. The UFW is the primary historical and still active model for Latino activism to this day.

[Learn more about the discipleship of Cesar Chavez under the tutelage of Saul Alinsky’s, and the rise UFW as an outgrowth of CSO. See “Cesar Chavez: Autobiography of La Causa.”]

Again, historian Shana Bernstein notes:

“While the CSO is represented as a Mexican-American activist group in much Chicano scholarship, it was an interracial endeavor from its very beginning and its membership was diverse well into the 1950s. The grassroots CSO drew its main support from a combination of older Mexican-American activist groups who had participated in the 1930s-era movement and newer ones who emerged out of the war as veterans. It also received significant support from other Angelenos, most importantly Jewish Americans. Its early organizers encouraged multiracial membership. “Although they great majority of CSO members are Mexican-Americans, we have gradually had members of other groups come in,” Ross Reported of its 1948 meetings. “At the last meeting, for instance, we had 15 reps from the adjacent Jewish community, 4 Negros and around 18 so called ‘Protestant Anglos’” In 1949 Ross reported to the CRC that “Orientals, Negroes, Jews and Christians” compose the approximately 12 percent of membership that was not Spanish-speaking. In the early to mid-1950s, the organization’s chairman Tony Rios reported that 15 percent of its more than 3,500 members (approximately 3,000 from three L.A. County branches and 500 from San Jose) were “from the Negro, Jewish, and the so-called Anglo-American communities.”

Community Service Organization meeting in 1955. Photo: www.fredrosssr.com.

Community Service Organization (CSO) meeting in 1955. Photo: http://www.fredrosssr.com.

The contributions in civil rights organizing which began here in Boyle Heights with inter-racial cooperation in establishing the CSO, it would bear fruit even beyond this community. Inspiring the pursuit of even larger gains of empowerment of working-class Mexican-Americans. Though it was a multi-ethnic endeavor. And their achievements of this era, they were attributed to their inter-community cooperation.

 Interracial Programming of the Eastside Jewish Community Centers

While Bernstein and I tend to often focus on the labor and political organizing history of this area, it is very important to note the more well known cultural and social activities which contributed to better race relations and for strengthening community cohesion.

The eastside Jewish Community Centers most notably provided programming for all of the community; it was open to Jewish and non-Jewish people alike. Indeed as much as 15% of the members of the Soto-Michigan Jewish Community Center were not Jewish, as well as about 3% membership of the more Orthodox Zionist-based Menorah Center in City Terrace. While these centers offered programming for the members of the local Jewish community, it also sought to meet the needs of all their neighbors as well.

“Students arrive for after-school activities at the Eastside Jewish Community Center on Soto Street, c. 195-. Formerly the Soto-Michigan Jewish Community Center… sponsored integrated sporting leagues as well as programs designed to introduce cross-cultural understanding, In the 1950s, center director Joseph Esquith was removed because his policy of keeping the facilities available to anyone, regardless of politics, was considered subversive. (Los Angeles Daily News Photographic Archive, Department for Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA)”

“Students arrive for after-school activities at the Eastside Jewish Community Center on Soto Street, c. 1950. Formerly the Soto-Michigan Jewish Community Center, the Eastside Jewish Community Center sponsored integrated sporting leagues as well as programs designed to introduce cross-cultural understanding, In the 1950s, center director Joseph Esquith was removed because his policy of keeping the facilities available to anyone, regardless of politics, was considered subversive. (Los Angeles Daily News Photographic Archive, Department for Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA)”

Though these numbers might seem modest, this did make a major impact in forging the community’s sense of interracial fellowship; offering after-school programs, sports and swimming. In an atmosphere free from the racial segregation which was common in most other neighborhoods and at many public facilities.

After the war, and after the steep decline of the Jewish population of the area in the decade to follow, these Jewish community centers began to refocus their efforts to further bring the causes of the current non-Jewish residents into their walls. And also giving space to socially progressive causes of the area’s working-class immigrants.

As we will further explore, this progressive stance eventually came with major consequence and persecution for the remaining Jewish community leaders here on the eastside. During the McCarthy era Red Scare which was feverishly consumed with the weeding out of communists. In a political atmosphere where promoting socialism, internationalism and labor progressivism made many people targets for being labeled communists enemies of the state.

Inevitably, their open door policy to people of all backgrounds and political persuasions which would in the end doom these Jewish community centers towards the later half of the 1950s.

To be continued…..

Related articles:

Revisiting the Groundbreaking for the New Sixth Street Bridge

Memoirs from February 20, 2015; one year ago.

The story of how we protested the groundbreaking event

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“The New Bridge Sucks!!!” – With sign in hand, Jessie (Illyria Exene) Elliot came out to protest the groundbreaking.

When I arrived at the underside of the Sixth Street Bridge at Santa Fe Road a crowd was already arriving. And there in the expanse of the underside of the viaduct stood a John Deere machine for show, and row of golden ceremonial shovels.

This was the groundbreaking for the new Sixth Street Bridge Project. Though there was no real breaking of ground, just soil held by plastic sheeting for the officials to play with for show.

I had actually noticed this all start to come together the day before, when I found there was already a brand new excavator tractor to be found here; partially wrapped in black protective plastic, just sleeping like a beast.

This was the first vivid and tangible symbols of the destruction which was to come.

It actually took everything in me to resist the crazy impulse and uncharacteristic desire to deface this shiny little prop for the upcoming regalia.

Only two days before had it been announced that the city was planned a ceremonial groundbreaking and press conference. Which was announced only listed in the Los Angeles DT News website.

Though there was no real outreach to eastside residents to be part of this milestone event.

For this reason the event was filled with officials, developers and Art’s District businessmen. While from the Boyle Heights neighborhood there were just a few officials, and an assortment of high school kids also present for show. All of us lingering through the huge model of the bridge.

Just then I heard someone call out to me.

“You’re here! I was hoping to see some familiar faces from Boyle Heights.” It was our journalist friend Sahra Sulaiman, who I had met the year before at the unveiling of the new Sixth Street Bridge Project. [See the “The Inequity of the New Sixth Street Bridge Plan.”]

If there was one thing I have been good at, it has been keeping myself and my friends up to date on the news regarding the viaduct. Ever since I had learned about the reality of the upcoming demolition and reconstruction of the viaduct.

I had full intent of continuing to be there for every major step of this project. And at my side was my buddy Squared. Though knowing most of our neighbors had to work at that hour and how time impoverished our locals are, we were worried that we would be pretty much alone this day.

When just then the crowd of cheap blue suits seemed to part, like a shark was coming through, As Jessie came marching in, sporting a Mohawk and a protest sign saying, “The new bridge sucks!” Direct and to the point.

We embraced in the thick of the growing crowd. We actually hadn’t seen each other in some time because of a huge conflict in our circle a while back, but today we came together almost instinctively.

And so here we were waiting for the presentation and press conference, almost directly under the spot which we had occupied on the Sixth Street Bridge for years. In the cavernous underside of the bridge, where the curves of the bridge and the afternoon shadows came together to grace the light golden expanses. Just in view of the graceful steel arches, which had long been painted and repainted in a thick, faux blue resembling a copper patina.

Long had I swore that I would be present on this day to bark at some gutless bastards for selling out our community with this new bridge project.

And here in view off all of this which we were losing, the sense of righteous indignation rose as these smug developers patted themselves on the back.

This entire event was a farce. It wasn’t any sort of community event.

It was simply an opportunity for politicians like the city council members, to use a media covered event for self-promotion during an election season. And also get their name attached permanently to this project before the termed-out left office or i case those who were running might fail to get re-elected. Just a few steps away from the bridge model, Jose Huizars people had placed a table and were campaigning for him.

It was not long before the press conference was called to order. And well, we were pretty orderly… at first.

Until our city councilman Jose Huizar took to the podium.

At that moment Jessie turned around the protest sign. The other crudely mocking his inept leadership in this redevelopment, “No way José (Huizar).” With a mocking picture on it of one of the Olsen twins giving a raspberry. As Huizar looked up from the podium to take notice, he actually started to laugh and was momentarily distracted.

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As for me, while he spoke I responded to his trite remarks and platitudes. Responding back to his speech, rebuking him in a regular tone of voice, just up until his shtick became too much to tolerate. I yelled out, “You gutless thugs! You sold us out in the end!”

In response, you could see some of the people in suits turn around to voice and give thumbs up in support. For some people, it seemed like we were preaching to the choir. And it was only one person who in the end had a spasm; just one uppity young, property investor whining, “But I’m trying to listen!”

Though we would not be silent this day. Not by a long-shot.

Then everything erupted with my full on exacerbation and rage, following the very telling and completely shameful comments of Congressman Xavier Becerra. (House Dem, 34th Dist.)

He first tried to make his whole speech about boasting how some people in the federal government actually make things work, taking pride in this pork-barrel project they secured here. Saying that in the end this was all about creating jobs; even though we are already aware that the jobs he’s talking about account to about a week of work at most as part of a 4.5-year rebuild project, translating into no real job gains for our local working-class residents.

Then Congressman Becerra just couldn’t resist and thus showed his true colors, when he made the following statement to the crowd of suits and developers in front of him. He gushed that he had a secret “tip” for the crowd. As quoted by Sahra in StreetsBlog LA:

““Buy property real quick here” before the area changes and values go up. “This is going to be a great place! Buy now!””

[See: “The 6th St. Viaduct Replacement Project Officially Breaks Ground; Actual Breaking of Ground Is Yet to Come.” Streetblog LA]

And that point my frustration could not be muzzled. I cried out, “You bastards! You aren’t even bashful that your selling us out to developers!”

Now by that point the media had already begun to surround us. ABC, NBC and media writers from KCET (PBS).

What they expected to find was just a few punk rockers with off the wall things to say. Though once we explains what we meant, we noticeably effected the journalists. And each of them walking away focusing on a different aspect of the issues we had with this redevelopment, and focusing on the realities and sentiments they were unaware of.

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“A protestor from Boyle Heights | Photo: Carren Jao” (KCET)

Journalist Carren Joa from KCET – a PBS affiliate in here in Los Angeles – spoke to us most about the inequity of the new Sixth Street Bridge Project. Staking how offended we are that our neighborhood is getting none of the cultural and artistic redevelopment that we were promised us when this rebuild set out and to appease the residents. Though now we are find out that in the end they are giving an amphitheater, art park and other impressive features to the newly gentrified Arts District. While leaving the Boyle Heights side of this bridge project – of which the majority is on our side – a barren corridor, vulnerable to aggressive redevelopment. All while displacing jobs and heaving hardship on respectable businesses in the Boyle Heights Flats.

We also made the case the Boyle Heights neighborhood has always been expected to take the brunt of aggressive and unpopular redevelopment. As often stated by Lucy Delgado and Gloria Molina, Boyle Heights has always suffered as the dumping ground for the public projects not wanted in other communities. That this minority, working-class community is once again being disregarded and disrespected in pursuit of Los Angeles’ notoriously unfair road works which have been imposed on us for generations.

She titled her article “Sixth Street Bridge Replacement Project Breaks Ground; Surfaces a Tale of Two Neighborhoods.” She wrote:

“Boyle Heights resident, tour guide, and writer Shmuel Gonzales takes an even more confrontational stance. As his friend holds up a sign that says “The new bridge sucks,” Gonzales explains, “Every day people on the other side [Boyle Heights] are wondering what’s going to happen. Businesses are anxious. We don’t know what the future is and the city didn’t give us any information.”

“Gonzales says that even today, residents of Boyle Heights still don’t understand that the Sixth Street Bridge, a “symbol of the Golden Age of Boyle Heights,” according to Gonzales, will eventually disappear. He adds that his neighborhood seems to be getting short shrift, receiving less that the amenities being planned for the Arts District side. He even notes that during the groundbreaking only about a dozen people from Boyle Heights were present. “We’re hopeful,” says Gonzeles, “but there has to be a dialog.”

“A bridge is always used to connect one place to another, but in the case of the future Sixth Street bridge, it seems that it’s ironically becoming a divisive symbol that needs to be addressed.”

When we spoke to KABC news we mostly spoke about the important role that these viaducts play in the narrative of the people of Boyle Heights.

I began to relate that their role has always been symbolic of our sense of place as people of Boyle Heights and the greater Los Angeles eastside. How these bridges are not just connectors, as they are also symbols of the complex relationship minorities have long had with this city of Los Angeles. To our eastside minorities who find much symbolism in our daily crossing over to fulfill the needs of a bustling city, to a westside we have long been segregated away from on the other end of these viaducts. They become symbols of our sense of place. While at the same time these viaducts have also been symbolic points by which we could challenge the boundaries set before us.

For years I've promised you all that i would be there to bitch at some gutless people for not preserving the historical integrity of the area with a complimentary redesign.

For years I’ve promised you all that i would be there to bitch at some gutless people for not preserving the historical integrity of the area with a complimentary redesign.

I insisted that the viaducts have become both symbols of the historic eastside which we regard as our cultural heritage. For this reason they have long have been destinations for longtime resident and even the local classic car club movement, because of the classical style.

I also insisted that the Sixth Street Bridge which is neo-classical modernist in style in actually part of a progressive theme demonstrated by the various eastside viaducts over the Los Angeles River; demonstrating different neo-classical, deco, moderne, as well as gothic styles. Each one of the bridges following a theme, designed to be complimentary and to play off the style each other. I maintained my stance that to lose the Sixth Street Bridge as the glory of these bridges, for an ultra-modern monstrosity, takes away from the historical integrity of the rest of our gorgeous and time-honored viaducts.

In the end, I would get just a few words in to the nightly news on KABC evening news. When they reported that not everyone was thrilled about the rebuild. I was quoted as saying:

“It would have been nicer if they had taken account the viaducts around it and planned something that fit more close to us, that had a little bit more of those golden memories.”

And so we stood there for a while being interviewed, almost directly under the spot we had occupied as friends for years.

[See: “6th Street Viaduct Replacement Breaks Ground” (KABC)]

And so it was that we defending the honor of the classic Sixth Street Bridge and the historical legacy of Boyle Heights. Representing the local demands for respect of our heritage and for equity in this redevelopment. Insistent upon not letting the passing of this bridge go by without people understanding what we are losing here.

That evening I would be bombarded with messages from many friends who were excited that they had seen us on television! For weeks to come I was flooded with calls from so many different people sharing their own precious memories of the classic Sixth Street Bridge – some of them good and some of them bad, but all remarkably significant in their life stories.


Personal Reflections:

The memories of this day are very precious to me. Though this protest almost never happened. Not just because our circle of friends had already pretty much disbanded at that point. And not simply because this event came as such a surprise when announced last-minute, making it hard to schedule.

Other complications also hung over that day, both painful and ironic.

Immediately after the groundbreaking and press-conference at the Sixth Street Viaduct concerning our bridge being replaced because of “concrete cancer” and bad bones, I was scheduled for an appointment with a specialist surgeon in Long Beach. For him to take a look at my left hand that had been fractured for some weeks and to identify a large tumor in the bone; initially with the fear of cancer.

At first I was afraid I would be forced to sacrifice the groundbreaking, in order to make it all the way across the county for this urgent doctors appointment. But knowing how much it meant to meant to me, Squared offered to wildly drive me to both the event and the doctor.

So immediately after the groundbreaking ended, we rushed our way out to Long Beach. My head up against the window, heavy in thought and pained on so many levels.

The surgeon I consulted with was confident that it to be a most likely a benign tumor which has been growing outward from inside the bones in my hand nearest to my index finger. It has grown until the pressure of it was enough that it fractured the bones in my left hand, breaking it two places as it broke its way outward from the bone marrow.

It was determined that tumor needed to be removed, and the bone cleaned and rebuilt with bone shavings taken from a long bone near my elbow.

The surgery would be a success in the end.

However, the next year would be painful both emotionally and physically. As I tried to keep up with documenting the harsh changes coming to our classic eastside; all well nursing my arm in a huge cast. With my body and this bridge, seemingly locked in painful tragedy together.

[Read more about my recovery in my inspirational blog entry here.]


Pictures related to this post:

The Day the Sixth Street Bridge Closed

The emotions that hung in the air the morning after

01-27-2016-sixth-street-bridge-workers-2We awoke to the next day, hung-over in our bitterness from the events of the night before. The morning was met with gloom, yet the breaking day felt harsh. Like someone had turned the white up way up on a TV screen.

Nonetheless, we got our asses up to make our way back to the site of the Sixth Street Bridge. We had lost our chance to return to the bridge that last night because of the disruption and the resulting police sweep. Though there was the promise of a final walk with our city council member planned for the morning.

As we made our way off the block and on to Whittier Blvd, the reality of how complex this day was going to be really set in. The morning traffic we immediately noticeable.

Traffic stayed pretty much stalled as far back as Euclid. We rushed as we walked passed the frustrated commuters heading east towards downtown. It seemed that we made down the boulevard by foot faster than the people in their cars.

I was expecting this. All this traffic.

And was the city, because they called in traffic guards to direct the traffic at Boyle Ave. Diverting traffic that would usually pass over the Sixth Street Bridge to the other adjacent viaducts, the Seventh Street and the Fourth Street viaducts.

What I wasn’t necessarily expecting was to see the pedestrian senior citizens staring eastward. Staring at the newly erected concrete barriers and chain link fences, placed just before the art deco pillars of the bridge entrance and the on-ramp to the 101-freeway’s northbound entrance.

I don’t know why it hadn’t really occurred to me that the final walk on the Sixth Street Bridge would be only be allowed from the Art’s District end.

Though when I saw the awe and confusion on the faces of elders here on the Boyle Heights end, that really captured my attention and concern. And I really forgot about everything else. I just wanted to be there with my people as they expressed both their awe and their disappointment.

So for a while I stood around talking to the other residents.

Some just stared towards the barriers. Others stood about complaining about a community that was changing far quicker than any of them had ever imagined.

And as we lingered there the corner of Whittier and Boyle seemed to attract even more people to the site like the aftermath of some calamity. And that’s exactly how it felt at this intersection, In the shadow the charred debris of the laundromat and Domino’s pizza.

An older lady sat at a bus stop for which a bus would never come. And the old guys chatted amongst each other and shook their heads in disappointment.

Emotions had already been high at this corner ever since the strip-mall went up in flames.

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The corner of Whittier Blvd and Boyle was already up like and open wound, after a fire ripped through the strip-mall just a few weeks before the bridge closure.

Given the long history of property investors wanting to redevelop this corner and the fact that this fire happened just coincidently right before the bridge was closed for years.

These businesses had promised to stay open through the construction, even though many wondered how this was sustainable considering that they would be loosing vital traffic for years. Then this happened less than three weeks before the bridge closure.

So hanging in the air there were wild rumors of transa; conspiracy. Some throughly convinced the businesses were torched for insurance money, while others insisted it was to make a clean slate for development around the area of new bridge project.

I just listened as people as they let out their fears and anxieties, over what was happening to a town which had been pretty much unchanged for so long.

“You know, they have been trying to develop that corner with condos for years,” one of the older men tells me. Explaining that ever since the late 1970s developers hoped to take advantage of various propositions and ballot initiatives in order to change that whole side of the street, Starting with eliminating that retail strip. He wondered if this would now open the way for huge housing changes at this corner, at the entrance to the new Sixth Street bridge.

Now this corner was as ripped-up as an open wound. It’s hard to just dismiss the panic and confusion about. And the bitterness.

The television news media had set up in the middle of the street and began reporting.

The locals tried to get me to talk to the media. Which I had lost patience with, as they mostly wanted to just talk about the sense of excitement over a new bridge that wasn’t widely felt here among us here.

At one point I actually had a cold interview with the Univision reporter. When I began to speak about how the eastside was still being neglected in the plans for cultural and artistic redevelopment features in this new project. She insisted such features would certainly be included. I asked her to cite her sources and point in the plans to plan where these items were being represented. She said that she had heard and “just knew it was going to be done,” then ended the interview abruptly with a bitter face.

From that point on, I had enough of the media for the day. And for that reason did everything to avoid them as I continued to linger about the viaduct.

As everyone else made their way to work or back to their homes, I continued to explore. And eventually made my way over to the westside of the river, and over into the downtown Arts District.

Now you can come along with me for that experience in this video here:

The barriers were just as imposing on the western side of the bridge. And their presence was just as stark. Just as shocking to behold at first.

I was glad to at least run into some of our homeless friends, people we have met who have lived on and around the bridge for years. We have been really worried about what is going to happen to them.

As I made my way around the underside of the bridge I happened to stumble upon a press conference with the city and project officials, which was closed to the public.

Just then someone had motioned for me to follow her in, wanting to help me pass myself off as part of the junket. Though I resisted the urge, knowing I was the last guy these suits wanted in there for their exciting milestone media spread (especially after my last appearance at their press conference).

As you see in the video, I ended up talking to one of the photographers as I made my way over to the riverbed.

Notice the conversation we had. Why does the eastside need anything additional planned for our side? Why is the development in the Arts District not enough and why can’t we just go there instead? So I do find that I have to make the case that we have our own cultural identity and local heritage.

Though when I point to how many of the plans for redevelopment and in the end never fully follow through. Leaving whole areas in blight. Now that he could agree with, you could hear him reply in the background, as we parted ways.

As the press conference dispersed, I found that a few of the artistic and cultural community liaisons connected to city hall were out and about to capture some pictures on the riverbed.

So interestingly, after grabbing their attention I spent the rest of the afternoon and into the evening trying to push the idea of a Boyle Heights heritage and cultural arts corridor to these very establishment people, who just didn’t know what the facts and sentiments were of the everyday people in the barrio.

Sixth Street Bridge: The Last Day at the Bridge

The events of the final day on the bridge

There are certain days which come with excitement, and some approach with dread. And this day came with a great sense of both. Long had we been awaiting the final closure of traffic to the historic Sixth Street Bridge, and these were our few and precious final hours.

When I arrived at the viaduct the morning was already turning to bright noon. Without a hint of winter, the sun as strong and warm as a summer day.

The crew was already at the bridge, standing at Nowhere when I arrived. Along with them they had brought the silly plastic mascot of Boyle Henge, “Hedgie the Snowman.”

The bridge was already starting to buzz with photographers and news media. And people walking back and forth in order to capture a few final memories and connect with history. Many people coming out to pay their respects to this glorious landmark.

As we were standing there just communing with the bridge we were cheerfully approached by Merrill Butler III and his wife, he is the grandson of the designer and builder of the viaducts; including this very bridge here.

Merrill and his lovely wife spent a great deal of time hanging out on the bridge with us, and sharing their family stories regarding this place. It was a rare moment to receive and share some deep personal history. We also got to toss around ideas on how to preserve the history of this place.

One of his finest ideas on how to maintain our connection to the old bridge we all love so much, was when he personally suggested to the city planners that they preserve one of the original metal arches and some of the decorative light posts from the classic Sixth Street Bridge. For setting down in the area of a future park below the future bridge.

As we spoke you could actually see work crews all around us painting primer on the items which were being selected for later removal. For which he also noted that the two bridge dedication plaques had already been removed. The eastside plaque being stolen by vandals. Something which stings for Merrill, as his grandfather’s name was honored on that piece of the old landmark. While luckily the westside plaque was then removed for safe keeping, and is now kept in storage for future display.

[Also, it should be noted that he was totally amused to hear that it was our crew who were responsible for placing the photocopy of the plaque in its vacant spot after it was removed! He and his wife had noticed it when they passed by and were touched we remembered it.]

Merrill then explained how he is also going to be opening up his own art gallery in the Boyle Heights flats below, on the eastside of the river near Mission and Jessie streets. Re-purposing the buildings of old food and cold storage facilities which have recently called it quits. In an area where several notable and trendy art galleries have already opened up. [More about that later; as I hope to get to interview him soon and let him tell you in his words about his plans and vision.]

He also carefully listened to my concerns about how the vicinity of the bridge corridor in Boyle Heights is being carved apart for the new viaduct project, while in the end getting really none of the programmable cultural and artistic space which they had promised for both sides of the bridge, and thus far only delivering on the newly gentrified Art’s District side of this bridge project. And he offered us some great ideas for future programmable space, while making inspiring use of historically reclaimed materials as he does. And how to possibly attract interest in historic and cultural preservation here.

To say the least, the meeting was something which awed me both as local geek and as a historian! And also gave me a lot to think about, as I face these tides of community change and try to secure the best outcome for our homegrown eastsiders.

Now in the span of our hanging out the steady increase in the number of sightseers and brought out an unusually tense presence of the LAPD. Which at one point started to get all snappy with our crew for no reason, for which Merrill asked the cops to take it easy and leave us be because we were cool, before departing himself.

Though as the crowd grew it became clear that the police, which normally ignored this area and shirk at patrolling the top of this bridge, were today going to be relentless. As their sense of cautiousness became soured by their bitter resentment of being tasked with maintain order here.

Sadly, the repeating theme of the day was that of the police making a huge scene all for one person.

The following video I took about two hours before the sweep and posted to Facebook on a shaky mobile connection:

No doubt there was a party-like atmosphere to the entire afternoon and evening. And there most certainly was an ecstatic sense of festivity and also chaos. As a mass of locals and tourists descended on the entire viaduct.

The bridge became covered with a steady stream of car cruising and pedestrians. Taggers and photographers. Cars racing and spinning in the riverbed. The sky overhead constantly buzzing with helicopters.

And in these final evening rays spent at this most important spot to us, everything seemed to culminate into one overwhelming sense of how special this moment was. And also triggering this cruel sense of imminent loss and gnawing uncertainty for the future.

As the day turned to night, we continued to congregate. With each minute the excitement rising.

So how did it end? How did we end our final night on the bridge?

After all these years of dedication to maintaining our spot on the bridge and also being the fiercest demonstrators for the historical preservation of the viaduct, people wondered how we would walk away from this. I certainly know that most people expected me to chain myself to the bridge, refusing to leave.

In reality we ended up leaving the bridge just an hour and a half before the police sweep, of our own accord.

With crowds of people swarming in from both east and west, the atmosphere quickly became unruly. Sometime after sunset my parka jacket had caught on fire, a casualty of the ruckus of people and fire-spinning (don’t worry Chris, I patched it up buddy!). And still it seemed like nothing would put a damper on our closing night celebrations.

So it was a total shocker to me when in the middle of me doing some broadcast interviews, my friends picked-up from our spot and started walking back home towards the eastside. Startled to see them go, I quickly broke away and followed after them in concern.

When I caught up with them they explained that some westside hipsters started getting aggressive, with some outside revelers wanting to pick fights with them. Instead of resorting to violence, they had decided to leave.

So it was decided to regroup and grab more beer, and come back.

Though I was very reluctant to leave, I wanted us to be together for this last night. I began leaving the bridge while vowing to return when things had slowed down a bit. Wanting to have a more intimate farewell. Though it was clear to everyone that I was nervous this might actually be my last chance on the bridge.

As we walked back towards Boyle Heights, there was a sense of numb shock that came over me. And a painful grating felt inside caused by the rising sounds of both tense crowds and swarming police which rose from all round the viaduct.

And then for moment I stopped and took a moment to step back a few steps, and like Lot’s wife I looked back and stood their just paralyzed in my desperate attempt to take it all in one more time.

These are the final image taken from the bridge. One of my final moment of awe being captured by Zero. And the other, my last photo taken from the entrance of the bridge.

As we walked back home via Whittier Blvd my agitation grew, as something was very wrong at the bridge. I had never seen anything like it. And a few times I stopped and contemplated going back immediately.

Though by the time we arrived at the house, it was already all over the TV news. And people were messaging me to make sure that I was safe. Because something was already going down at the bridge.

It turned out that the crowds were stopping traffic on the bridge near the eastern set of the arches. The crowd was being asked to disperse by a police officer. At some point one police officer inexplicably grabs for the skateboard of a girl named Lydia. She grabs her skateboard and pulls it back to keep hold of it, with the officer lunging to grab it from her. She began to resist, and was taken down to the grown and arrested. All of which resulted in the crowd crying foul over this and groaning.

It was reported that the LAPD police officer felt threatened by the crowd and called for back-up. The backup arrive with the police coming in shoulder to shoulder, and both from the top and streets under the bridge, my local friends who did linger were dispersed by police holding the position of a skirmish line; brandishing batons and rifles.

The bridge was thus officially closed to all traffic at around 9pm on January 26th, 2016 by police in riot formation.

So I never did make it back to the top of the bridge to actually pay my final respects; something which left many unresolved feelings for me.

The Final Days of Gatherings at the Sixth Street Bridge

The crowds start to grow around the viaduct

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Car clubs. photographers and fanatics at the Sixth Street Bridge to capture some memories.

The bridge was supposed to have closed right after the New Year’s holiday weekend. Luckily for us, the project has still been lagging. Giving us a few more weeks with our condemned landmark.

As the project has been pushing dates back and back, no one is exactly sure when the demolition process will really start. Though with the date quickly approaching for the bridge’s permanent closure to traffic, people have been coming out in large numbers to capture a few final pictures. With the largest crowds coming around sunset.

Though the daytime exploits have also been really exciting too. Watching as many classic cars and lowriders have been coming out for some final rides. Though to be honest, many of them are just here for some final pictures too. With many guys even bringing out their absolutely finest cars on flatbeds, and not even riding them. Just to get a few good shots from this classic bridge.

And as the evenings turns to dusk it has even become common for everyday motorists to stop their car in the middle of the bridge and start snapping off pictures, standing halfway from their doors to capture the downtown horizon.

This is what can upset the police the most, the stopping of traffic. That is right up there with people climbing the arches.

Now climbing the arches was a pretty rare thing until the past year or two. It all started happening a while back after people started posting their arch-top pictures on Instagram, which went viral. After that a steady stream of urban explorers and hipsters started coming to capture the experience for themselves.

The problem is that people do get stuck up there occasionally and have been found stuck hanging on top of this main traffic artery. So the police do sometimes come and shut down traffic in both directions while they get them down and ticket them.

All of the while for our the locals, who are trying to get to and from the places of their busy lives, are they stopped dead in traffic on the bridge. Tired, exacerbated and cursing motorists stuck behind the wheel.

However, for the most part it has been pretty orderly around here. With car clubs and scooter crews having their fun on the bridge, with their presence well-coordinated and not really impacting traffic too much.

The car clubs have been pretty good about coordinating their rides and directing traffic, even if they are stopping traffic. Often the clubs having members temporarily get out and stop traffic for both lanes in order to get their make their procession and grab their photo ops. Then quickly restoring the flow of traffic without incident.

It has been wonderful seeing how the Whittier Blvd cruise clubs, which was only really revived the old classic cruise route last year, have been coming out in full force.

Even the scoots come out for a lasts ride

Also most interestingly, during our last days we also encountered the Hive Crew scooter club of East Los Angeles. This local scoot club was also started just last year in 2015.

Hive Crew Los Angeles, Sixth Street Bridge (Photo credit by: Zero Renton)

Hive Crew Los Angeles, Sixth Street Bridge (Photo credit by: Zero Renton)

As I approached the bridge I just had to put down my six-pack of Guinness and start to record these guys riding their Vespas together in group, riding back and forth over the bridge. And occasional stopping to line up at the arches.

As the day grew later and as the lowriders started coming out in larger numbers, it became harder for both the lowriders and the scooter club to keep flow.

Now as both a big fan of both the scooter and the lowrider subcultures, it was amazing to see both of these worlds collide for me, and to see them rub elbows with each other!


Update: Recently I was checking out the Hive Crew website and saw this amazing picture captured from this same event as the video above. Right between their helmets and the words Los Angeles here, you can see my skinny ass in the distance!

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Screen capture from the Hive Crew website.

I encourage everyone to support this local club and encourage scoot culture in our area, by coming out for their Swarm LA Scooter Rally the weekend of July 15-17, 2016 and by 0rdering one of their rally packs.


The spot called “Nowhere” on the Sixth Street Bridge

In the video featured in the last post you hear Squared telling me “they are up there” during the recording, referring to some of our friends who up at our spot on top of the bridge. All while he and I are still lingering below, before going up to the topside of the bridge ourselves. So let me tell you a little bit about it.

The choicest spot on the classic Sixth Street Bridge has always been the northwest observation point: a spot called “Nowhere.” For the past few years it the favorite spot for my circle of friends to hang out at.

The spot we call "Nowhere."

The spot we call “Nowhere.”

You can follow several paths to how the name came to be… and Zero most certainly does. Though the name has stuck because of one reality; the bridge is nether here nor there. It’s nowhere.

You see this spot where we congregate, high upon the bridge and just to side of it’s western arches is the exact point were this classic bridge transitions from downtown’s Sixth Street to the eastside’s Whittier Blvd. So this spot, it seems nether here nor there.

And this is especially true in the way that this spot has long been regarded by the city and police. Being located right in between to LAPD stations, Downtown Central and Hollenbeck, with the midpoint of the bridge being considered the division. Resulting in the top of this bridge being generally neglected by both. Each insisting they shouldn’t have to cross.

20160124_203549A reality which know all too well after often finding it near impossible to describe this place to the 911 emergency responders after accidents and crashes, because of the lack of a defining address.

This spot is nowhere.

And I guess some of these reasons also explain as to why my friends and I have gone mostly undisturbed in our years of occupying this spot.

And so day after day, evening after evening, we have made this place our destination. Here telling stories, listening to music, drink beer and blazing the hours away. Observing how the bridge seems to have a culture all of its own.

Now we really don’t know what we are going to do without it.


Here are some old videos we have taken at this place which is most special to us.

Believe it or not, I don’t have as many videos with them on camera as you would expect. They seem to be camera shy. Or more precisely, they shy away from a camera which they aren’t holding. Very Penelope Spheeris of them. LOL


See a related blog by my friend Zero-Renton Prefect, titled “Tales from Nowhere.

Related Articles about our bridge exploits:

The Cruising Culture of East Los Angeles

The last Cruise Sunday of Whittier Blvd, from the Sixth Street Bridge

Classic Cars going over classic Sixth Street Bridge by Zero Renton PrefectOn Sunday, December 27, 2015 the Sixth Street Bridge attracted every local car cruiser, classic car enthusiast and lowrider for one last showy ride.

For as long as any of us remember the viaduct has been the local focal point of the car clubs, and has also served as the starting point for cruising in our area. From all around car enthusiasts have been drawn to race in the riverbed, show off their cars in the expansive underside of the bridge, and finally ascending it to cruise eastward into the evening.

The cruising culture is one of the least understood manifestations of working-class subcultures. One which would be long be maintained by successive generations of local Mexican American, working-class, young people and car club veteranos.

Today they were all out in force. As we approached the Sixth Street Bridge the traffic approaching from the east over the various viaducts was intense. Followed by every car making their way to the parade, starting at Santa Fe Road which runs directly under the bridge and in front of the river access tunnel.

And as each car arrives in procession, for a moment each car has it’s moment to shine as it briefly makes its pause. Before taking to the riverbed for a ride, or rolling in for parking under the bridge for exhibition.

This day the parade route is more packed than I’ve seen it in years. As each car comes around, the scene is buzzing as the crowd admire and cameras click. Each spectator trying to visually and capture a memory of this teeming stream of chrome, curves and also classic streamline bodies. Some faithful restorations, others kustom modifications, and still others yet with bold lowrider customizations.

This day the underbelly of the bridge is packed with cars; lined up and basking in the golden rays of a Sunday afternoon. The cars of yesteryear properly vested in the atmosphere of the bridge’s deco-streamline modernist setting.

We spend a while mingling with the crowd. As the scene turns into the site of car-side parties. With everyone sharing details about their car builds, and ladies proudly showing off their own flawless pachuca style and others their rockabilly flair.

For a while we just take in the scene and the vivid nature of the site. Pensively considering the history of the car culture which is synonymous with this spot.

This has long been the chosen site for the start of the East LA cruising strip, which begins precisely above us at the point of the slight curve of the classic bridge marks the transition from downtown’s 6th Street to the eastsider’s main drag of Whittier Blvd.

But how long has the East Los Angeles cruising subculture existed here? What is the significance of car cruising movement? And more specifically, what role does this play in the local working-class community and the Latino youth culture of East Los Angeles?

The birth of the local youth car club culture

It is not possible to overstate that the city of Los Angeles has been uniquely shaped and its character defined by its reputation for having a car culture; to many this means that there is a pervasive sense of car dependency among Angelinos. The modern city we know today was very much shaped by the car.

However, it is also equally important to note that the car also uniquely influenced cultural expression itself. Especially the youth culture of the city, which with the aid of the car gave birth to various subcultures with distinct forms of self-expression here.

Though to explain why the car culture became ubiquitous to this area, it should first be stated that this specific side of town had developed a car enthusiast spirit quite early on.

The car enthusiast energy of the area stretches all the back the beginning of the 20th century.

Ford Motor Factory; opened 1912; production started 1913.

Ford Motor Factory in Los Angeles; built at Santa Fe and 7th Street in 1912; production started 1913. It is currently being gentrified.

It all began when Ford Motor Motor Company establishing their first Los Angeles plant at 7th St. and Santa Fe in 1912, from there pushing hundreds of cars off the production lines daily in order to feed the need for commuting speed across an increasingly sprawling city.

The early car owners often brought these cars to to the edges of the city to show off these new cars. Drawing crowds of people for spectacles of motor enabled brawn. To witness races between cars and horses, hill climbs and early speed trial races held by the early car owners at the seams of the city.

Though initially car ownership was something which was primarily held by the affluent.

However, that all began to change in the 1920’s – when the Ford Model-T gave way to the Ford A-Model roadsters – the technology of car making would greatly improve in bringing production cost down. Making it possible for a broader section of middle-class people to afford these newer cars.

So by the mid-1920s there were tons of used cars being tossed aside, which thereby enabled car ownership for eager young people who were more than willing to snap them up and fix them up for themselves. And other’s who were willing to strip them down for something even more exciting yet.

When young people eventually got their hands on cars, they were also naturally drawn to the outskirts of residential Los Angeles to try it out themselves. But their exhibitions were purely for the trill of the car. Often removing the fenders and stripping the vehicles down to lessen their weight, to further push the limits of their vehicles for a thrilling ride.

In our area these anxious young people and their autos often converged around the Los Angeles River and the surrounding train yards off Santa Fe Road (which was the west coast railroad terminus in those days; before Union Station); which has always been known as a dicey playground for locals kids and loitering spot for young people with nowhere else to congregate.

However, the old auto spectacles would soon give way to a more defined form of car exhibition.

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In the early days from the 1930s through the 1950s car clubs were encouraged and sponsored by civic leaders; as a way of steering people away from youth delinquency. However, in the 1960s sociologists began to attack this group form of re-socialization as building cohesion among urban youth they perceived as gangsters.

In the late-1920s the first car clubs in Los Angeles were born. And by the 1930s the youth club culture was something which was already being accepted by civic leaders, who began to support the transformation of these car clubs into officially sanctioned associations; all in the aims of steering young people away from the dangers of street-racing and youth delinquency.

And thus were born the early cruising clubs. Most people don’t appreciate that the car culture, which would give birth to the hot rod and the roadster car craze, dates all the way back to these early days.

While all this vibrancy surrounding the car culture would lay the groundwork for the popularization of the hot rod and the car club’s acceptance into mainstream culture, it would remain as a small subculture, being challenged by the rise of World War II.

The active growth of the modern car enthusiast culture is believed to have been curtailed during the war, on account of the limitations of resources and materials during wartime. And also more critically by the military deployment of the young men who embodied this cultural phenomenon.

However, these wartime setbacks would translate into gains for the movement after the end of World War II. As many of these returning men came back from war with advanced technical skill which would advance their automotive works.

As described by historical scholars regarding this presumed lull:

“The cessation of hot rodding during World War II promoted an apprentice culture in which hot rod enthusiasts from the prewar period tutored new teenaged participants. While ‘old timers’ provided the technical knowledge to sustain the development of the culture, teenagers became the mass participants who encouraged its growth and continuing evolution.”

To this day the car culture is something which still very much benefits from the direct apprenticeship of old timers, and the energy of the youth.

How the car culture challenged racial boundaries

The rise of the personal automobile in Los Angles for youth also coincided with the rise of widespread racial segregation which began in the late 1920s.

Racially restrictive covenants in housing became common after 1926 following the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Corrigan v. Buckley, which validated their use. And then in 1934 discrimination in home loans began. Pushing minority communities to live on the edges of the city, and relegating them to the crumbling communities left being left behind by the white middle-class.

Here in Los Angeles these minority designated “red lined” areas became the neighborhoods east of the Los Angeles River and South of Adams Blvd; this applied to all types of minorities including Jews, Latinos, Blacks and Asians.

Most often white historians talk about about how the car enabled segregation in Los Angeles at this time, and it certainly did. However, it needs to be understood that the car is also what enabled youth to challenge those boundaries.

It is for this very reason the cruisers were often seen as a direct challenge to the Jim Crow system which was being was being more tightly woven into the social fabric of the city at that time. With their cars and clubs, these youth were exerting their freedom over these societal barriers and the urban geography of segregation.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that youth of East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights quickly became enthusiasts and were often at the forefront of this cruising culture.

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1940s Mexican-American Pachucos in their Zoot Suits

One of the biggest influences upon these working-class youth of our community at the time was the energetic jazz nightlife found in the areas around Central Ave., in historic South Central. This area was then at the forefront of a jazz renaissance since the late-1920s. With many jukejoints in the blocks around the Dubar Hotel. And also huge jazz venues like the Lincoln Theater, which was in those days considered the “West Coast Apollo.”

This vibrancy of South Central Los Angeles attracted various minority groups, including the white minorities and working-class. And it was there that most of our locals became familiar with both the sound and style of jazz. As Filipinos, Latinos and Jews, along with their African-Americans friends developed a unique form of cross-over jitterbug style of their own: the Zoot Suit.

I’m told by old timers that for the Zoot Suiters from the eastside there was almost no greater joy than throwing on their “drapes” and riding on over in glorious procession together to Central Ave. And that tall feeling of walking into the clubs in all their glory for a night of dancing.

However, on account of the circumstances and traumas of history, the only Zoot Suiters people seem to remember today are the pachucos. It is upon these Mexican-American working-class youth that the ever growing paranoia of youth delinquency and racial disdain of there era would be directed against.

As cited by historian Bob Frost:

“Mexicans in L.A., writes historian James D. Hart, got low wages, were crowded into barrios (ghetto neighborhoods), and were generally scorned by whites. Young people were stigmatized as pachucos (juvenile hoodlums). The “pachuco generation” was a term used by historian Carey McWilliams to describe these American-born [Mexican-American] kids who reached maturity in the early 1940s.

“The parents of the pachuco generation, McWilliams writes, generally stayed close to home, seldom venturing from East L.A. into the downtown sector. By contrast, the new generation was “by no means so docile and tractable as their parents” and was lured to the “downtown shopping districts, to the beaches, and, above all, to the glamour of Hollywood.” They made their journeys by car, and they liked to drive in style. Police harassed them but cruising continued – a bold assertion of freedom in the land of the free. They were “laying a claim,” writes scholar Ben Chappell – “this is my city, my street, as much as anyone else’s.””

Naturally what these young people with their first taste of American success wanted to spend their hard earned money on was their clothes, cars and the nightlife. Their obsession with American boogie-woogie and it’s lifestyle not only came with ire from the larger white society, who felt this was an affront to social decorum and distastefully encouraged mixed-raced dancing.

Though the ire also came from their own families. As described by historian Eduardo Pagan:

“These kids spoke to each other in English. And it was an English that was punctuated by jazz phrases: ‘cool,’ ‘hip’, ‘on time.’ …They didn’t speak Spanish,” describes historian Eduardo Pagan. As young Mexican Americans stepped out in their zoot suits, their parents saw their children disappearing into a different world, and they feared their kids would become ill-mannered “pachucos” — a word they used to mean “punks.””

On this side of history, what is hard for people to understand is that the pachucos and zoot suiters, that they were not hyper-ethnic hipsters. What they were was an emerging group of ethnic young people who lunged at the style and pace of American life.

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Young people being stopped by the authorities; looks like they’re on the classic Sixth Street Viaduct just east of the Arches; looking west. towards downtown.

And had this been understood, and these young pachucos not been vilified, othered and racialized they would have continued to fully assimilate into American culture. Instead they were violently persecuted and criminalized, by a public which felt these pachucos didn’t understand their place in society.

And this really came to a head amidst World War II. At that time many Mexican manual laborers – the braceros – started coming to United States to fill wartime jobs left vacant as American men went off to war. The population of Mexicans increasing significantly during this time.

Also with the interment of the Japanese of Little Tokyo, the neighborhood there would begin to swell with African-Americans and Mexicans; and would at this time come to hold the title of “Bronzeville.” The nightlife would thus move more closely downtown, and naturally brought these young people into direct and uneasy contact with downtown society.

In addition, these complications of wartime also exposed them to hostility from US servicemen who had flooded into the area during wartime. And the attacks of newly arriving mid-westerners who were often unfamiliar with and intolerant of ethnic minorities.

Servicemen of the day were regularly incensed by the appearance of the lack of support in uniform by Mexicans during WWII, all the while accusing Mexicans of making out well financially in industrial jobs they were called up to fill as the war raged.

It only took the rumor of a “gang” stabbing and petty crimes to set in motion a brutal wave of violence against these young Latinos. (see “Fighting over the American Standard of Living, 1943-1945: Zoot Suit Riots, Wildcar Strikes, and the Supremacy of the Soldier.”)

This precipitated into the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943. Which was not any one event, but a series of riots throughout the city directed against this youth subculture, especially the Mexican-American Zoots.

Servicemen undressed and beat their victims. Defrocking these youth of their infamous baggy dress suits in public and tearing them to shreds as a protest to the supposed appearance of excess and opportunism during the lean times of war. An orgy of violence against those they perceived as draft-dodging and disloyal, which spilled into all the minority communities of Los Angeles. [Note: At the time there where actually as many as half-a-million Hispanics serving in the armed forces, making up almost 5% of the the US armed forces. Which adds insult to injury.]

Though during this time many cars were mostly parked because of gas rationing limitations, servicemen would still drive up from as far as San Diego by the carload in order to beat the hell out of Zoot Suiters in Los Angeles. All with the instigation of the media, and the tactic approval and even repeated assistance of the police.

In the aftermath of the riots which raged for a week, many Latino young were arrested and thrown into the criminal system.

And in the panic of what the county saw not as mob beatings but instead as race riots, the Los Angeles civic leaders called in East Coast sociologists to help them address this crisis they saw on their hands. Quickly, these sociologists came to define our youth clubs as “gangs” and their members “gangsters.” Projecting on to our local youth their mobster problems of Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia. And through criminal institutionalization, made this a self-fulfilling prophecy; Mexicans Americans forming their own mafia only later, while incarcerated.

Even though during the span of WWII was considered a lull for the advancement of the car culture, the events of this period had a dramatic effect on how it emerged post-war. The public and law enforcement would for decades be gripped with fear of new riots. And in the shadow of looming fear of dark skinned people imminently rising up in vengeance, which never really happened.

Nonetheless, because of these traumatic events the civic leaders and law enforcement would become further obsessed with youth delinquency, gang violence, and protecting youth from intermingling with adults. And were now more than ever intent on keeping youth clubs in their own neighborhoods.

And this is how the perception of our cruising Latino youth as rolling gangsters came to be; both an insult, and a historical blunder.

The Rise of Modern Car Cruising

After the end of World War II and the Korean war, many people returned from war to pick-up their car enthusiasm again. Aside from the technical skill which many gained during their wartime service, these veterans also come home with the benefit of the GI Bill. Which gave them the ability to buy new cars, and the money to invest into their cars.

Whittier Blvd cruisers stopped by cops in East LA ; 1950s

Cruisers stopped by cops on Whittier Blvd for sobriety check, in East LA; 1950s

However, in the years after the war the older pre-war car parts became much more expensive to produce. And new cars became much more costly as well, as the hot rods would begin to make their way toward mainstream consumerization.

In these post-war years the civic leaders once again began promoting car clubs; again to promote safety and deter from youth delinquency. And with the commercialization of show cars and hot rods, this also provided commercial sponsorship. While this granted legitimacy to mainstream middle-class car enthusiasts with the newest and best cars, this also began to further cause a disparaging of the working-class car culture.

The respectable white, suburban car clubs with the benefit of community approval and commercial sponsorship; these car driven social clubs, they rose up as uppity socials (“Socs”). While the same manifestation by the unsanctioned working-class car clubs, these hepcats in their rebuilt “bombs” were labeled greasers.

MikadoCarClubEvergreen

The car clubs of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, were born as a racially diverse, working class movement. As it remained for several decades to come. Mikado Car club at the parking lot of the Evergreen Hostel, circa 1960. Japanese-American hep cats and their classic cars.

It is essential for us to remember though, that the eastside car culture persisted as something that was mixed race for years to come. And the reason is because the transformation of the eastside from an ethnically mixed working-class community to a nearly entirely Latino enclave was gradual. And for years to come the promotion of the eastside cruising culture would be a multicultural manifestation of the local working class.

The hands-on nature of the eastside car culture would be maintained from the post-war years and for decades to come by white, Latino and even Japanese hepcats.

And the place of meeting, it became the now paved Los Angeles Riverbed; one of the few places in the area teens could race their cars, as well as have car exhibitions. And the path for cruising, it directed itself over the bridge and down Whittier Blvd towards East Los Angeles; with the procession itself becoming a mobile way for people to both party and mingle their way into the nightlife.

Drag Racers caught by Police on LA Riverbed

March 6, 1955: Police check licenses on hopped-up cars driven by teenagers drag racing on a paved section of the Los Angeles River bottom. Four squad cars converged on the racers. Photo taken at 6th Street Bridge. (Los Angeles Times, 1955)

The Emergence of the Lowrider

In time the car culture of Mexican-Americans would begin to distinctly emerge with its own character and style. And ultimately manifest some playful touches, culminating in the form of the lowrider.

Consider this for a second. When most communities talk about their car clubs, it usually involves racing. And this was most often the case in white, middle-class communities. And even more so in the suburbs and outlying communities. Though it should be noted, racing did occur on Whittier Blvd itself; though only in the more affluent suburban cities of Whittier and La Habra, where it was often was given a blind eye.

However, here in the working-class and more ethnic urban sides of town, speed was a privilege we couldn’t enjoy; with serious racing being too costly of a pursuit, and illegal street racing far less tolerated by our local authorities.

20151227_150103Therefore here in East Los Angeles our style emerged not based on the thrill of speed, but on the stunning effect of “rolling low, and slow.” The cars themselves became the full show.

And in order to accentuate this sense of parading, cars were often modified. This started as early as the 1940s. First, as people started adding frame skirts to cover back wheels, and even beaver backs to cars in order to exaggerate that land yacht effect. Rounding off the edges of their cars with sleek and wide curves.

And then in the 1950s people took it one step further and started altering their suspension, lowering their blocks, cutting their coils, and tweaking z-frames. Lowering cars also became much easier later on with the development of x-shaped frames in 1958.

In time this lowrider style, and all its flamboyance would be carried over to the more modern car and influence even more futuristic vehicles as well.

The lowrider quickly became the ubiquitous symbol of the Mexican-American car culture. Intended to be showy, and even seductive. Together these cars creating an armada of chrome vessels, leaving a party atmosphere in their wake. Carrying car loads of cruising guys and girls, mingling from vehicle to vehicle in a carnival of traffic.

And this of course troubled the authorities and the public; worried about the traffic and questioning the safety of these vehicles.

In response to this concern, in 1958 Section 24008 of the California Vehicle Code was enacted; which limited the types of lowering modifications one could make to their car. Including the requirement that no part of the vehicle be lower than the bottom of the wheel rims. Which in a single, clean strike of legislation seemed to outlaw the lowrider.

However, this would not be the end of this style. Indeed it only gave the lowrider image a new rebel mystique.

And it also lead to the most amazing evolution of these vehicles yet; with the addition of hydraulics.

In this early days this was achieved with adding aircraft hydraulics to one’s ride (which the x-style frames were ideal for). So that with the flip of a switch one could raise their car, in order to clear an obstacle or even avoid ticketing from cop rolling up at your side. And then with another flip, return back to a lowered cruising posture.

The addition of hydraulics would of course eventually inspire the hopping which is also a dramatic part of this form of street exhibitionism.

Today the most distinguishing characteristic of many of the lowriders of East Los Angeles would be their flashy Latino style.

Many of these more bold. modern and lush in touches (the layered paint jobs, and airbrushed designs; the crushed velvet interiors) would emerge with the rise of the Chicano civil rights era in 1968. Lowriders became a major player in the image of the Chicano movement at that time; it was then that the lowrider would rise-up as symbol of the agency of Latino culture itself. And therefore also subject to further racial and class oriented scorn.

For these reasons, despite the style and the fancy touches given to these working-class rides, they would continue to be branded as rickety and dangerous jalopys. And a reoccurring object of scorn by the establishment.

The Attempts to Ban Cruising in East LA

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Cruising East LA in the 1970s Photo By: Gusmano Cesaretti

Though the cruising of Whittier Blvd has be a staple of the car culture for as long as anyone can remember, it has come with its ups and down.

In Los Angeles there were also several other popular cruising strips as well. Among them being the Hollywood Sunset Strip, Firestone Blvd in Downey (near the Bob’s Broiler), Tweedy Blvd in South Gate, and also Van Nuys Blvd in the San Fernando Valley.

Generally cruising had to have a social destination. And this often meant the cruising oriented heading towards popular hangouts and night spots.

Cruising Whittier Blvd in the 1970s

Cruising Whittier Blvd in the 1970s

Over the years the procession of cars here in this area had headed ever more eastward. Eventually making its way into the commercial center and down the shopping corridor of East LA; near the more affluent area of old Belvedere. This didn’t sit well with the still mostly white store owners and the more middle-class residents. Lowriders and their cruising became seen as a more dangerous public nuance.

Though the hight of the cruising phenomenon of Whittier Blvd was in the 1970s. The car clubs membership would wax and wane, sometimes consolidating and other times restructuring; car clubs activity had highs and lows through this decade.

The biggest challenge came in the late 1970s, when Whittier Blvd was closed to cruising.

cruisingwhittierblvd1979bwBy that time the demographic of the area and almost entirely become Latino. And it becoming a destination for more and more Latino clubs. However, it also was well known to attract gangs as well. And the blvd often became a place of not just a party atmosphere, but also a volatile center which attracted many conflicting gang and crews.

Starting on Friday, March 23, 1979 in response to the violence, vehicular cruising was banned entirely. And here in East Los Angeles, Whittier Blvd was blockaded starting at Eastern Ave. With the intention of protecting the boulevard’s shopping district of East Los Angeles.

The events of that ban and the mess left in its wake are described by lowrider historians this way:

“Whittier Boulevard was again closed in the late 1970s because law enforcement continued to make the claim that gang activity were directly related to cruising on East Los Angeles’s [sic] main street.

“The closing of Whittier Boulevard is the late 1970s brought adversarial tensions between lowriders and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to their highest point . Roberto Rodriguez, who was then a reporter for Lowrider magazine, recounts how he was almost killed by sheriff’s deputies on Whittier Boulevard on March 23rd 1979. He had been taking photographs of the cruising on the avenue and had been witnessed and attempted to photograph what he describes at the beating of an innocent and defenseless individual by the Special Enforcement Bureau of the Los AngelesLowrider Banned March 1979 County Sheriff’s Department. He does not deny that there had been “troublemakers” on the avenue for most of the 1970s, but he claims law enforcement’s crackdown on lowriders gave sheriffs free rein to consider all Mexican -Americans on the avenue suspect. Rodriguez was attacked by deputies, had his camera and film confiscated, sustained serious head injuries requiring several days of hospitalization, and faced criminal charges for attacking the very deputies who had injured him. He later brought a criminal suit against the Sheriff’s Department to clear his name; he won his criminal trial won more than seven years later. Rodriguez describes the night of violent confrontation: “As a result of the incident, 538 people were arrested, countless individuals were beaten and harassed, the Boulevard was shut down, and by the end of the weekend, Whittier Boulevard in East LA resembled a war zone.”

However, despite the reality of there being negative elements which did come along with this cruising phenomenon, it would be wrong for us to only focus upon that, and dismiss the other truth that the car club culture also still continued to presented itself as an alternative to gang membership as well. As it had since the days of the early car clubs.

As noted by historian Bob Frost:

“The 1979 film “Boulevard Nights,” set on Whittier Boulevard, draws an explicit connection between lowriders and violent gang life – a controversial topic in the lowriding community. Although lowriders have indeed been used by gang members over the years, and gunshots have rung out at more than one lowrider gathering, the cars are largely a family affair, say some observers. According to James Sterngold, writing in the New York Times in 2000, mainstream lowrider clubs actively seek to wean Chicano youths from the lure of gangs.”

However, this reality is still sadly overlooked. And the history of car clubs as socially positive groups became almost completely obscured and forgotten at this time.

The ban on cruising would be maintained throughout the 1980s and for the next decade. And the war zone and police state atmosphere of Whittier Blvd of those days is something that even I personally remember to this day.

And so I can say with certainty that the cruising culture didn’t stop just because of a few road blocks. Actually in the end this just motivated the cruisers to just go around the barricaded intersections, often making their way into the residential neighborhoods from East LA to Pico Rivera.

As a kid I vividly remember the excitement of all the flashy cars, and also the drama of the police spectacles. My family often getting caught into the caravans of traffic by chance. And other times by my watching the cars as they diverted through the residential neighborhoods my family members lived in, shinny cars being pursued by flashing helicopter search lights. Leaving me with my face pressed up against glass windows, thrilled by it all.

And a few times, I even joined my older uncles and cousins cruising!

First night of the Cruising Ban; Whittier Blvd, East Los Angeles, March 23rd, 1979.

First night of the Cruising Ban; Whittier Blvd, East Los Angeles, March 23rd, 1979.

Eventually by the mid-1980s the Sheriff’s Department would move their barricade more to the east; eventually barricading traffic where Whittier Blvd met Rosemead Blvd in Pico Rivera. Diverting cars north, towards an inevitable destination at Legg Lake Park by day and away from heading towards the suburban core of the City of Whittier. And by night, preventing the mass of cruisers from gathering at the Tommy’s Burger and Mario’s Tacos parking lots in Pico Rivera (again, due to gang violence).

So by the 1990s if you actually made it as far as Durfee Road, you were considered boss!

From the late-1980s through the mid-1990s the cruising culture would be maintained in East LA by a few die-hards. Though the old car cruising clubs would continue to shrink, with many lowriders instead focusing their energies towards show cars and classic car competitions.

As noted again by the lowrider historians:

“One of the few positive indicators of continued interest in lowriding was the success of the large car shows. These shows served to shift the emphasis for lowrider clubs and owners away from cruising and toward the production of award-winning show vehicles. Another positive sign for lowriding in general was the integration of the African American and Chicano cruising scene on Crenshaw Boulevard.”

Which once again shows how the car clubs and working-class car culture ultimately found a way to once again challenge racial boundaries and make new connections across the city; as they had since their earliest days.

The Current Legacy of Eastside Cruising

Though the street presence of the car culture seemed to decline for many years, the popularity of the working class car culture has proliferated. So much so that by the turn of the turn of the 21st century it had moved from being a subculture, into being a celebrated form of expression by the popular culture.

20151227_145841Today if you walk up to any major newsstand you will find various classic car, hot rod and lowrider magazines. Filled with amazing oral histories of the car club veterans who helped propel these movements forward.

The working class car culture is something which today is a much respected form of urban expression. Even though it still holds a certain type of outlaw repute by those who remain inappreciative.

However, I ask people to look around at the car club events of today and take notice of the diversity of people who attend.

And more importantly, notice that the now senior-aged leaders of the original clubs have now become respected veterans of this local heritage. And they most often speak as honored sources of technological, historical and cultural wealth.

And also take notice of how the car culture continues to find new energy in the youth. Who continue to revision this urban expression for themselves. Youth who have continued seeking out the apprenticeship of the car club veterans; fathers, grandfathers, uncles, and elder friends.

In the past two decades, the cultural trends of our area have also helped spark a revival in the kustom car movement. Which has brought new life and passion for the car clubs. Both as an expression of the reemerging Chicano street culture, and also the all-American rockabilly subculture which is common to many working class eastsiders.

20151227_151811Though I believe the biggest sign of the sustained vitality of the local car culture has been the meet-ups and car cruise nights which still center around the Los Angeles viaducts. The cruising from this spot has never really gone away.

In fact, this passed February the local car clubs teamed-up to revive the old Whittier Blvd cruising route. Starting from underneath the soon to be demolished Sixth Street Bridge and again heading towards East Los Angeles. These meet-ups have attracted the older guys and their classic cars, to enjoy a final ride to recapture their glory days. And the younger people as well, who just want to try to capture some treasured memories for themselves.

The question still hangs on the minds of people: Can the local working class car culture of the area survive the wave of change which is coming to the eastside? And will the demolition of the Sixth Street Bridge place in jeopardy this age old tradition; by not just by displacing and diverting the cruise route, but also blocking access for riverbed drives for years to come.

20151227_151205In light of the plans for the new Art’s District amphitheater planned for the underside of the new Sixth Street Bridge at the entrance to the riverbed at Santa Fe (in addition to the push for revitalization of the Los Angeles River), there is much doubt as to whether our car clubs will have anyplace to return to here once the redevelopment project is completed.

With all of this nostalgia and uncertainty hanging thick in the air, people have continued to come out in droves for these final days. And I suspect in increasing numbers right up until the very end.

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