Though a cause for celebration for the city of Los Angeles, construction of the Arroyo Seco Parkway—America's first freeway—sped up Highland Park's gradual decline. Reduced to a "drive-over" country connecting two distinct political powers—Pasadena and Los Angeles—the area struggled to retain its own identity. Channelization of the Arroyo Seco further accelerated the transformation of the area from suburban Eden to an inner-city enclave.
Paradoxically, Highland Park was fading as more and more people arrived to the city. The population of Los Angeles in 1900 was 100,000. By 1930 it was over one million and growing. Many of these new arrivals had come to California looking for a paradise that were advertised to them in newspapers, books and idyllic scenes from motion pictures. African-Americans from the South had come looking for opportunity and fair treatment. The civil war in Mexico drove a large number of immigrants north through the 1910s and 1920s, many settling near downtown to take advantage of available jobs and transportation. During the 1930s the number of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles decreased due to mass deportations carried out by government authorities, all without due process. But Latinos were nonetheless establishing themselves in areas such as Chavez Ravine and neighborhoods east of the Los Angeles River.
As early as the 1920s the predominantly white residents of Highland Park began looking to other areas of Los Angeles for housing. As new neighborhoods developed and transportation became more available to the west, residents began moving to areas such as the Mid-Wilshire district, which offered both new housing stock (humble and magnificent) and thriving commercial districts. After World War II, this westward drift became a full-on exodus of Anglo middle-class families out of communities like Highland Park and into the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valleys. This in turn left housing in Highland Park to Mexican-Americans and working-class whites.
Real estate developers and property owners eager to maximize cheap rentals in the area subdivided large Victorian and craftsman homes, or razed them completely in favor of multi-unit housing and commercial strip malls. The once-thriving Figueroa commercial corridor lost much of its prominence as the trolley and foot traffic that had once supported diminished due the opening of the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Traffic now moved up and down the Parkway between Los Angeles and Pasadena at 40mph, with Highland Park reduced to off-ramp sign.
During the 1950s and '60s, Mexican-American working-class families continued to increase in numbers while whites moved out to newer, homogenous communities. This white flight occurred not only in Highland Park, but was seen in many of Los Angeles' original and older neighborhoods. As white middle-class families moved to the suburbs, resources moved with them, leaving their old neighborhood in slow decline.
Above, William Deverell, director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West, describes the motives and changing patterns of migration to Southern California; Charles Fisher, Highland Park Heritage Trust historian and preservationist, recounts wealthier Angelenos disinterest in Highland Park in context to its working class population; Josefina Duardo with son (Oscar) and daughter (Lisa), long time Highland Park residents, recount their days as one of the first Latino families in the neighborhood; Nicole Possert, Highland Park Heritage Trust historian and preservationist, marks the transition from suburban to urban enclave; Rosalio Munoz, co-chair of the Chicano Moratorium Against the Vietnam War, remembers Highland Park in his youth as a feel-good, family sitcom.
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