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?


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:


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:

Community Service Organization (CSO) meeting in 1955. Photo:

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…..

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“Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto” Documentary

A film celebrating the Jewish history of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles

meetmeatbrooklynandsotofilmIn 1996 director Ellie Kahn premiered a wonderful documentary called “Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto,” about the old Jewish community of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles. It is still one of the most well-known and most loved documentaries about the history of the neighborhood.

This documentary was released at a unique turning point in history. As a community which once was a vibrant home and business district for tens of thousands of Jews, dwindled down to only a handful of Jewish people remaining. It also came at a unique time when good old Brooklyn Ave was giving way to Cesar E. Chavez Ave, bearing witness to the transition of the area into a noteworthy Spanish-speaking neighborhood.

This documentary was created for the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, the parent organization for the Breed Street Shul Project. Which had begun to restore the grand and beloved synagogue just a few years before.

This film weaves in so many gorgeous old pictures as it tells the story of the neighborhood. Showing glimpses of some of these notable sites as they once looked in the old days. It gives us a good view into the social aspects of the neighborhood. And presents us with wonderful testimony of an active community, rich in Yiddish culture and leftist organizing, as recounted by former residents.

What I love so much about this film is the personal stories from people who grew up in the area. I think it is one of the most heart-warming documentaries you will find.

Back in 1996 when the film was first released, it was shown on PBS. The Los Angeles Times reported it as the center piece of a 90-minute KCET special with Huell Howser in October of that year. The special featured a brief chat with Kahn and “ends with his own walking tour of a vastly different Boyle Heights than the one memorialized by her.” (Los Angeles Times)

This documentary by Kahn was released on VHS, and became an instant favorite in the area. Being passed down from person to person in the neighborhood, until the tape has worn out. I have even shown worn out copies of it a few times at back-yard screenings in the neighborhood.

It has never been released before in DVD to my knowledge. So people have been anxious to see this film for many years now.

Recently I was amazed to see that some Boyle Heights residents were sharing a digitized copy of this film on social media, uploaded into several parts due to it’s length. Though this might not be an authorized copy, I think that given the fact that after 20-years this has not been re-released in a digital format, we can turn a blind eye in charity!

Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto 1 from Milly Hock on Vimeo.

First Clip:

  • The Early History of Boyle Heights
  • And the rise of the Jewish community until the 1920s
  • The establishment of the Jewish communal institutions

Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto 2 from Milly Hock on Vimeo.

Second Clip:

  • The establishment of the Jewish communal institutions (cont.)
  • The 1930s and the Great Depression, Jewish social responses
  • The Synagogues of the Eastside, and the Breed Street Shul
  • The intrusion of the Hebrew Christian Synagogue
  • The Jewish Community Centers
  • The secular Yiddishist cultural centers

Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto 3 from Milly Hock on Vimeo.

Third Clip:

  • The Yiddishist community culture of the Eastside
  • The Yiddish socialists and labor organizing
  • The Jewish businesses of Boyle Heights

Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto 4 from Milly Hock on Vimeo.

Fourth Clip:

  • The Jewish businesses of Boyle Heights (cont.)
  • The Jewish underworld, gangsters, bootlegging

Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto 5 from Milly Hock on Vimeo.

Fifth Clip:

  • The Jewish underworld, gangsters, bootlegging (cont.)
  • The social life of the neighborhood
  • The social clubs and gangs

Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto 6 from Milly Hock on Vimeo.

Sixth Clip:

  • The social clubs and gangs (cont.)
  • The multiculturalism of the neighborhood
  • The rise of Nazism and World War II

Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto 7 from Milly Hock on Vimeo.

Seventh Clip:

  • The exodus from Boyle Heights
  • The transition of the neighborhood
  • The need for the restoration of the Breed Street Shul

Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto 8 from Milly Hock on Vimeo.

Eighth Clip:

  • The living legacy of Jewish Boyle Heights during the 1990s

Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto 9 from Milly Hock on Vimeo.

Ninth Clip:

  • Parting words from former residents
  • Credits

Social topic for further discussion:

It is not infrequent that Latino residents of Boyle Heights have related to me that they have sometimes felt that historian of other ethnicities have sometimes been overly nostalgic and have tended to avoid the harsher realities of life here. And sidesteps the coarse racial issues which were historically present and which still linger in Boyle Heights.

The above cited Los Angeles Times article by Howard Rosenberg noted: “Kahn says that a couple of former residents she contacted worried about the film’s nostalgia softening reality. But the ethnically mixed Boyle Heights depicted here is not one of constant harmony, even though we do hear stories of connections made between diverse cultures.”

Sounds of the Jewish High Holy Days in Classic Boyle Heights

Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt once sang at the Breed Street Shul for the High Holy Days

Breed Street Shul sanctuary, Boyle Heights

Breed Street Shul sanctuary, Boyle Heights

Just imagine the sounds of the Breed Street Shul of Boyle Heights during her heights of glory in the 1920s. For the High Holy Days the congregation would hire famous liturgical cantors. Sparing no expense to get the best talent. Notably, the greatly celebrated Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt once came to lead High Holidays.

This is what it would have sounded like this very night in the old Breed Street Shul some 90-years ago, but being an orthodox congregation performed without an organ accompaniment. This is his haunting and solemn Kol Nidrei, for the evening of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement):

In the old days the neighborhood of Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles, was home to dozens of synagogues. There were over thirty Jewish congregation of various sizes, varying from home congregations and shteible minyans, to great synagogues. I am told that on high holy days the young people would often wander from shul to shul, in order to see their friends and slipping in to experience the sounds of each choir.

Though the most grand of the shuls and the one which really drew the crowds was the queen of the shuls, the Breed Street Shul – also known as Congregation Talmud Torah.

In the well-known documentary about Jewish Boyle Heights called “Meet Me at Brooklyn and Soto,” when they begin to introduce the story of the Breed Street Shul they start with this interesting anecdote:

Manny Zellman: “During the great depression that shul, which was the largest synagogue west of Chicago, drew people from all over. And when they would hire a cantor they would hire the best. The most famous cantor in the United States was a man by the name of Rosenblatt, they would pay that man for 3 days $5,000 dollars. That’s what most people worked two years to make.”

Now, I only know of Cantor Rosenblatt leading High Holy Days once at the historic Breed Street Shul. However, this is impressive enough to boast all on its own!

Cantor Josef “Yossele” Rosenblatt (May 9, 1882 – June 19, 1933) came to America from the Ukraine and was regarded to be among the greatest cantors of all time. He is well-recognized as the most influential chazzan of the Golden Age of classical cantoral music.

Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, Sings a Synagogue Service. Recorded and pressed by RCA.

Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt, Sings a Synagogue Service. Recorded and pressed by RCA.

One of the most interesting things about listening to his liturgical music is his metered style and emotional delivery. His use of krekhts, or emotional sobs and breaks in his voice intended to deliver the emotion of the song. He would inspire generations of cantors and liturgical soloists.

There are many recordings of Rosenblatt. He and the other cantors of this golden age of cantoral music would be made famous across Europe and America through the wide distribution of their recorded albums.

Also, it is important to note that the latter part of his life coincided with the rise of film talkies. He would even be featured in the 1927 film “The Jazz Singer,” the first talkie. Which is still the ultimate kol nidrei related movie.

Cantor Rosenblatt wrote over one hundred and eighty compositions, some of which had been originally recorded on vinyl and then digitized in recent years. And several of these great pieces have even been rearranged with instrumental accompaniment for new compilations in recent years. As a historian and also as a liturgist, these recordings are both comforting and a bit crazy-making at the same time.

It’s comforting that we have many recordings by which to sample his talent at the heights of his career.

However, it’s also crazy-making to hear his rich voice running in with organs in old records made for RCA distribution. And to hear his singing run over by elaborate piano accompaniment added to newly remastered versions of the original recordings, by musicians who naively believe that they are restoring and “fixing” these recordings,  which essentially mutilates these pieces. This is really not the way they were truly intended to sound… and so we need to overcome some of that mental distraction, in order to really feel these melodies the same way an actual congregation would have.

In the orthodox tradition, these songs were generally performed without instruments; which are consider muktzeh (forbidden to tend to on Shabbat and Holy Days) according to traditional Jewish law. These songs would have been performed by choirs to carry the melody and to fill out the sound, and not have relied on instruments.

In keeping with orthodox Jewish tradition, you will notice the Breed Street Shul does not have an organ. We know for certain that the services here were performed acapella, and if accompanied it would have been with an all men’s or boy’s choir.

Historical topics we will continue to explore:

the-jazz-singerIt is widely believed that the Kol Nidre scene from “The Jazz Singer” (1927) was filmed at the Breed Street Shul. Though many claim that the talkie starring Al Jolson was filmed at the Breed Street Shul, this is a total bubbameister. It’s often repeated both as a Jewish myth and as a Latino urban legend. However, it should be noted that in the 1980 version of “The Jazz Singer” with Neil Diamond the Kol Nidre scene was filmed in the sanctuary of the Breed Street Shul.

The Breed Street Shul had a big role in the establishment of the Orthodox Jewish community of Los Angeles. Prior to this shul there were many congregations which identified as orthodox by default. However most of these early congregations were quite modern in their actual practice; some having musical organs and most allowing mixed-gender seating to allow families to sit together. The early Jewish settlers of Los Angeles were mostly German and Polish Jews – Central European Jews – who at first shirked at calling themselves reform and instead thought of themselves as innovating orthodox Judaism.

Though this would not do for the newly arriving Eastern European Jews coming from places like Russia and Lithuania who swelled into this neighborhood. As well as those coming in from Romania and Hungary, they didn’t know from these things. They were not familiar with these reforms, and wanted to keep the traditions of the old country which they had brought with them.

Breed Street Shul, Los AngelesThe Breed Street Shul was therefore very orthodox in practice. This synagogue was built with a women’s balcony, an area where ladies would be seated separately to not distract the attention of men during prayer (ezrat nashim). Though several other local shuls built second story galleries, some of them were not actually used for gender separation in the end. In the case of the Breed Street Shul it was certainly used as a women’s gallery.

In this building we would have heard the room entirely filled with the voices of davening from men on the sanctuary floor below, with the sound of the ladies faintly coming from the balcony above.

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The Shattered Sixth Street Bridge

Sitting on one of the broken stumps of the art deco pillars that once graced the eastern end of the classic Sixth Street Bridge.

Sitting on one of the broken stumps of the art deco pillars that once graced the eastern end of the classic Sixth Street Bridge.

At the eastern entrance of the classic Sixth Street Bridge there used to be two huge monoliths standing mightily like sentries at the gates of the city, at the point where the expanse of the bridge began its extension from the bluffs of Boyle Heights and jetting towards downtown Los Angeles.

These two matching pillars which stood there, they were part of ornamental walkways built into the structure. They were key elements of the art deco-streamline modernist style of the bridge. Wrapping around the sides of both of these pillars were long abandoned stairways which once lead to the both industrial and residential areas on the eastern bank of the river known as the Boyle Heights Flats.

shmustairsfreewayEventually these public stairways would be closed when the first primitive highway routes pushed through here decades ago.

And eventually these artistic features of the bridge would come to sit in the middle of the East Los Angeles Interchange, an intertwining network of freeways which would be built through our neighborhood two generations ago.

Which means they were visible to bridge traffic, and also to the freeway traffic which ran past and through the bridge. For us eastside kids these monoliths had always greeted our comings and goings. I have always looked out with great anticipation for these landmarks to welcome me home as we passed.

So I’m very pained to see them gone.

During the first two days of the demolition of the original Sixth Street Bridge it would be these areas of the viaduct that would meet it’s final fate. The part of the bridge which jetted over the freeways would be completely demolished. And it was these artistic elements at the head of the bridge which would be smashed to pieces during those first days. Leaving an almost apocalyptic landscape just to the side of these freeways.

In the evenings I often find myself making my way towards this spot. Staring out towards the horizon during sunset. Captivated by the beauty of the downtown skyline, as it rises over a foreground of broken concrete and terrible destruction.

In the evening I often see local young people and photographers coming out here too. To witness the demolition zone. And even to stand on the last remaining stumps of the art deco monoliths.

And as I sit on my piece of broken bridge in the midst of all this, watching people frolic, I can’t help but be reminded of similar stories I often heard from my elders from their youth. Of when the freeways came demolishing their way through the neighborhood of Boyle Heights, when they were kids in the late-1940s and through the early-1950s. And I remember their memories they have shared about demolition zones and the roads which were closed to traffic, and of how they often became vast playgrounds for many local kids. Coming out to play make-believe on top of the sleeping tractors, and to run and play tag in what would eventually become the middle of the freeways.

Like I said, I have often heard these stories from my elders. Though I never thought I would experience anything quite like it in my days.

See the video of this experience here:

Pictures from the demolition site:

The Demolition of the Sixth Street Bridge Began at Night

The end of an era comes to the eastside.

Looking through the first hole in deck of the classic Sixth Street Bridge.

Looking through the first hole in deck of the classic Sixth Street Bridge.

On the night of February 5, 2016 the demolition of the classic Sixth Street Bridge in Los Angeles began. And on that night I was there firsthand to capture this tragic point in our history.

Long had I been given notice to the people of Boyle Heights of its impending destruction, giving warnings as though the sky was falling for years. However, the realness of it all would not hit me until that night. As I looked through the dust and the sparks, to see great machines plunging holes and flooding light though the deck of the bridge; all over head as I witness this demolition of this most beloved landmark.

It was a night I will always remember and be haunted by.

See the full video below:

The Sixth Street Bridge has played a dual role here in our community; as a symbolic guardian to my native eastside, and also as a connecting point to launch our residents into society beyond the barriers of the barrio. They have served generations of ethnic minorities and working-class people of East Los Angeles, and therefore have played a profound role in our narratives.

And so much has this one bridge played a role in my own life story, that I have been compelled to be there each step of the way. As this beloved landmark met its demise.

Though a symbolic “groundbreaking” for the project had taken place a year prior, the project was already a year-and-a-half behind schedule on the demolition itself. And the demolition date was further pushed back and forth several times in the final weeks, before once again being delayed and then quickly rescheduled for that weekend.

The upcoming demolition of the Sixth Street Viaduct was the big news topic, and all anyone could talk about for a couple of weeks. When I arrived early in the afternoon, all the local new media was already set-up over the top of the freeway at the eastern end of the viaduct, near Whittier and Boyle.

As I was going about taking some final pictures and video of the still intact bridge throughout that area, I was asked to be interviewed by a TV reporter from ABC channel 7.

In recent years shut downs of major southland freeways such as the 405 or 101 had been popularly given names. Named like natural disasters such as hurricanes; names like Carmageddon and Jamzilla. This event would be preemptively titled by the city council as the “LA Slowjam.” Announced in what the media called a “dork-cool” video by Mayor Eric Garcetti, jamming with a band from Rosevelt High Schooli.

The Slowjam, a 48-hour period which would disrupt the traffic around the 101-Hollywood and the Santa Monica-10, forcing traffic to divert to the Golden State-5 and the 60-San Bernardino Freeways. Leaving traffic slow and the roads jammed all weekend long.

smileslowjamThe reporter asked me about this: “Have you heard what they are calling this one?”

“Oh yes, the Slowjam, it makes it sound like it’s a golden oldies weekend.” I say with amusement. Though I do make the point to then soberly interject, “You know, but really its kind of the end of the golden oldies for some of us on this side of town.”

Only hinting at the ominous nature of the drastic change taking place around here.

As I continued to linger into the evening capturing photographs and filming the viaduct, I struck up conversation with the demolition crew. They advised me of the general play-book and timetable for the demolition, helping me to plan out where to best capture it from.

It seemed that the best location would be from Clarence Street, just on the eastern edge of the freeway-interchange. I wanted to get a look at this area before it was ripped up. So in the final glow of the evening, I walked through there. Before making my way back to the neighborhood. [See the footage of this area before the demolition began: “Sixth Street Viaduct, before demolition began.”]

For the next few hours I was able to linger with my friends, who had long since taken up residence at the art installation of Boyle Henge at Boyle and Whitier Blvd. Near the top of the demolition site. We would exchange stories of the good old days and share a few beers there, before Zero and Illyria would head back home.

While I would make my way back to the bottom of the demolition site, joined by our friend Squared. And we would wait in vigil for the demolition to begin.

The 101/10 Freeway ramp at 4th Street and Pecan. The freeway was eerie and without any traffic, but that didn't stop people from playing there while it was shut down.

The 101/10 Freeway ramp at 4th Street and Pecan. The freeway was eerie and without any traffic, but that didn’t stop people from playing there while it was shut down.

And as we made our way back it was just astounding to see the freeways begin to close. As these massive highways begin to empty and grow silent. This was too amazing to pass up. Entering in through the Pecan Street freeway on-ramp, we would find ourselves running and playing tag on the freeway. It was almost surreal.

However, this cessation to traffic also meant that the demolition could now begin at any time. And all the demolition machines began to align themselves into place. So we began to rush back to the area of the bridge.

Arriving in the flats around through Pico Gardens – the housing projects up against this demolition and rebuild project – you could see the residents peeking out in annoyed curiosity. And understandably considering they would find themselves up against this construction project for the next four and a half years. Hearing it, breathing it.

I waved to them and said a little prayer for these families as I made my way by.

By this time Clarence had been shut down where the bridge spanned over it, making us take a familiar detour down and through my old stomping grounds on Anderson St.

Now this area already looked like a destruction site for some time. Months before the Jewish food and kosher wine distributors had been displaced from here. And now the site of what was once the Teva Foods, it had now become the base of operation for the demolition.

And this is where my footage of the demolition begins. At the gates of the demolition site.

When I arrived the demo crew was busily rushing about. And crews of classic car cruisers were lingering nearby the gate. The workers seemed surprised at the sight of nostalgic spectators, curiously waiting.

Waiting for damage. And we would certainly witness damage that night.

As it was explained to me by the demolition crew earlier, the demo needed to begin with knocking out the concrete sides and sidewalks. Then banging through the concrete decking of the bridge with machines from atop of the bridge. And then finally banging out the rest of the bridge from below. Breaking it down to the bare pillars.

As the crew started to lock the gate to begin their work, we started to make our way to the spot I had chosen to record. Making my way down Anderson to Jessie Street, to come around to Clarence Street.

And as we turned the corner, the real pounding of the demolition began. The first clouds of dust from the demolition began to kick into the air. And as the breaking sounds made by the demolition machines began to reverberate, channeled down the corridor of Jesse Street.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang.
Crumble. Shatter. Clatter. Bang. Bang. Bang.

And at that point I just couldn’t help but cry out in complete shock and amazement.

And I wasn’t the only person to be caught aghast in the terribly awesome sight of it all.

Even the police officers who were patrolling this night, stood in total awe. Looking up, transfixed at the sight of this calamity. For the longest time, standing completely still in the shifting light of the destruction. Several photographers would beautifully capture this moment of astonishment and wonderment.

As I arrived at our chosen spot on Clarence Street – almost directly under the spans of the bridge being demolished this night – there were quite a few more people who had come out to witness and photograph this. Several local residents I recognized, trying to get a few good shots of it on film.

Even some of the workers from the wholesale produce facilities on the block, they began coming out to watch too.

And so for the longest time we all stood there just watching. Some standing there in complete silence.

As the night was drenched in flooded lights and fierce sounds. Sounds of banging and clattering filled the air,causing the very air around me to vibrate and pulse with every blow of those great machines.As they pounded away at the concrete, and as they cut at the metal reinforcements revealed beneath it. Sending both dust and sparks into the air, which they battled with huge streams of water which kept sweeping over the sides of the now crumbling bridge.

And as the bridge began to break apart, I could see the first breaks of emotion on so many people’s faces. And their shock as we watched the machines knock over some of the remaining art deco light standards, sending them tumbling down with a metal clank and a pitiful crash.

At this point most people began to leave. They had enough of all this destruction.

Though we would remain with a handful of people for hours to come. The demolition had begun shortly after midnight. And it would take a few hours for them to break through the deck of the bridge.

And it would not be until they actually broke through the decks of the bridge that I would really begin to accept the reality of it all. When I could see the light shinning through the bottom of the old bridge. and those monstrous machines clawing through.

When I found myself right up against the very pillars of the doomed bridge, staring up and through the growing hole in the deck of the bridge. With concrete dust and sparks of metal flying in my face. Still as a couple of guys and I continued to inch as close as we could. Until we could no longer breathe from all the falling dust. Sending us retreating and gasping for air.

Now as bridge began to crumble, debris from the structure above began to fall severely towards the freeway below it. The surface of which had been covered with huge mounds of dirt in order to absorb the impact of the pieces of falling bridge. Saving the surface of the freeway itself from damage.

Once the upper deck of the bridge was throughly smashed apart, the demolition machines began to ascend the dirt mounds in order to demolish the bridge from the side.

At this time we began to make our way back the way which we had come.

Shmu at the demolition of the Sixth Street Bridge

Shmu at the first night of demolition of the Sixth Street Bridge.

Now once we swung around to Clarence and 6th Streets, we could see the machines smashing their way through the side of the bridge. Like mechanical titans, these massive machines relentlessly pounding a massive cavity through the concrete until everything around it gave way. Then screamingly cutting through and pulling apart the metal frame within.

We stood there for some time watching these teams of machines rip through the bridge, smashing from north to south. As the demolition swarmed directly over the East LA interchange.

We stayed there somberly watching until around 4:30am. Until the machines started to break all the way through the structure, bisecting the bridge. Then we would back our way out of the Flats the way we came.

Around that the time we were ending our nighttime vigil, Zero would be making his way to the bridge to witness the dramatic sight. In the pre-dawn hours before the city began to stir awake to the reality of the broken skyline. He would be interviewed by KNX 1070. Recounting his own memories of the Sixth Street Bridge and his difficulty to comprehend this destruction. His delusional sense of its permanence, meeting with the harsh reality of its demolition.

And so it was that we would leave the site of the demolition early Saturday morning. Covered in a layer of concrete dust and with pieces from the bridge in my hair. And emotionally shaken to my very core, I just couldn’t watch anymore.

The demolitions crews and their heavy machines would continue their demolition there another day still. Knocking down the entire spans of the bridge over the freeways. Then breaking apart the art deco themed entrance of the old bridge, smashing the pillar monoliths which stood there. And clearing the rubbish, to reopen traffic.

The “Slowjam” would end ahead of schedule, with traffic resuming on Sunday afternoon. Leaving a post-apocalyptic sight on the skyline and surrounding the East Los Angeles Interchange.

Though some time has passed since this event, it has taken a great deal of time for me to really emotionally work through it all. I just haven’t had enough words to describe the sights, sounds and the feelings which were dug-up that night.

And it has also been a near full-time task, keeping up with documenting the massive demolition project. And keeping record of the changes which are coming to the vicinity surrounding the demotion-rebuild of the Sixth Street Viaduct.

This was just the first blow.

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


“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.


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.


“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, promises made 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 that the neighborhood of Boyle Heights 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 have 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 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 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 west 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 westward. 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. Destroying the corner laundromat and a Domino’s Pizza location.


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.