Departures Presents A Sneak Peek Exploration on Highland Park

Photo(s) courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection

In Northeast Los Angeles, between Downtown and Pasadena, lies one of the city's oldest, most scenic neighborhoods, Highland Park--an upcoming Departures installment. Its close proximity to the Arroyo Seco attracted a fluid change of settlers who layered Highland Park's identity with regards to its natural setting. Throughout the Highland Park installment we will explore people, places, and ideas in seven chapters that define significant cultural and historical changes.

We're collaborating with Jeffrey Chapman, Director of the Audubon Center in Debs Park, Nicole Possert of the Highland Park Heritage Trust, The Outpost for Contemporary Art, and Avenue 50 Gallery among others, as well as community members like you to tell this rich tale. Find out what's in store below:

1. The Highlands
Dedication of Arroyo Seco Bike Path. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo CollectionThe Highlands chapter will explore the physical conditions that allowed Highland Park to evolve as one of the preeminent cultural and social centers of Los Angeles. As one of the first suburbs of Los Angeles, Highland Park pioneered a lifestyle of escape from the growing Downtown area. Its natural landscape--packaged with the Arroyo Seco, a celebrated tributary, and the nearby mountains--has always beckoned life near a water source encased with beauty. The first parks, first universities, and first museums in Los Angeles were all created in Highland Park. Nature's consistent influence on Highland Park residents allowed for a maturing "language" to grow in the area, whereby each new generation, from the Hahamonga onward, contributed their own layer to the cultural development, but with a common thread.

2. The Arts and Crafts Movement
Charles Lummis holds Native American piece. Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.This chapter will explore the philosophy, practice and ethos of the Arts and Crafts Movement, spearheaded by entrepreneurs and visionaries of the time like Charles Lummis and William Lees Judson. Discover how the movement inspired a Los Angeles aesthetic that reflected a consciousness of indigenous culture where nature hugely influenced lifestyle, art, and design. Discern connections of the movement's romantic fascination of Native American culture and its own relationship with Highland Park's natural landscape. Then observe the Arts and Crafts Movement's demise as it parallels in time with Highland Park's decline that, according to a 1930s Garvanaza article, resulted from the area's annexation to Los Angeles.

3. The Arroyo Seco Parkway
Figueroa Street Tunnel. Courtesy of the Los Angles Library Photo CollectionThough cause for celebration in the city of Los Angeles, construction of the Arroyo Seco Parkway, America's first freeway, aided in Highland Park's gradual decline. Split between two distinct geographies and political powers--Pasadena and Los Angeles--the area struggled to retain its identity. A series of devastating floods in the late 1930s, resulting in the river's channelization, then transformed the area from natural suburban Eden to an inner city enclave. Furthering this trend of change, a large-scale migration of Caucasians, commonly referred to as "white flight," occurred in Highland Park in the 1950s. This shift opened the area to new residents who would further interpret the "language" of Highland Park.

4. Brown and Proud
Cinco de Mayo celebration. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection. In the 1950s Mexican immigrants and descendants began owning, renting and claiming Highland Park as their home. This was the pre-civil rights era, in which school segregation, manifestations and community organizing began taking shape on the east side and articulating a vocabulary of resistance and pride within the Latino and Mexican communities of L.A. Highland Park in particular became a hotbed of ideas, as schools, bodegas and parks became spaces for discussion and possibilities to imagine a better future.

Two women walk past ''Bicentennial Blues for la Reina de Los
Angeles'' by East Los Streetscapers at the ''Murals of Aztlan'' exhibition, 1981. Courtesy of LAPL Photo Collection.

5. Painting the Walls
Curated through partnership with Avenue 50 Gallery

In the years following heightened community unrest and widespread movements for social justice in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Highland Park witnessed the emergence of a core group of arts organizations and collectives aimed at bringing public art to the community. Highland Park was becoming home to an art form that emphasized themes of community, cultural pride, and economic struggle inherited from great Mexican muralists such as Jose David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco. Connected with the Chicano/a nationalist movement, these artists were working toward the visibility of the Mexican American experience and problems of justice and equality faced by members of their community.

6. Rise of the Inner City
DJ Tony at Radiotron, 1980s. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.With failed promises of the civil-rights era coupled with the economic disparities of the 1980s "inner city," Highland Park witnessed a social and physical deterioration alongside a rise in gang culture. Graffiti, low-riders and gangster hip hop took over the streets as disenfranchised youth found new ways to engage and organize their "turf." Parallel to the rise of gang culture, an inquisitive generation of youth born and raised in Highland Park began to provide different ways to understand race, class, and culture in a post-industrial Los Angeles landscape. A new era was signaled in the area, one that once began to reclaim its stake in land and place, one that ascertained through its losses the power of community ownership. This turning point marked a rise in awareness, beautification, and action toward significant changes in Highland Park, rooted in spirit with its predecessors (i.e., pioneers of the Arts and Crafts Movement & Native Americans) whose celebration of the land inspired positive definitions of culture.

7. Reinterpreting Highland Park
Now, with the turn of the millennium, Highland Park eases into added transformations as seeds laid in the 1990s by culturally conscious youth are blossoming renewed interest in the area. Highland Park embraces these new changes: Neo-hippie culture adorns the streets with yarn bombs beside conceptual, post-Chicono/a art. A new Gold Metro Line traverses the streets while highlighting local histories along its stops, including a public art installation of Tongva land use at Lincoln/Cypress. City officials, local community organizations, and residents are installing a master plan to revitalize and return the Arroyo back to its natural state. A new and improved Audubon Center in Debs Parks takes nature back to basics and encourages community (youth) awareness. All the while, a slew of young artists, galleries and coffee shops together are making Highland Park shine once more.

Departures honors personal insight and history. If you have thoughts on Highland Park's history or cultural development, find a certain place significant to document this installment, or have a personal anecdote to share for this narrative please Tell Us Your Story.

About the Author

Kelly is a proud member of the KCET Departures team!
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LEAVE A COMMENT Leave Comment  

I read your "sneak peak" it seems to have left out the Jewish heritage of Highland Park, which has the 2nd oldest schull in Los Angeles, Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park.
This temple was about to close. It had very few, elderly members, but has seen a re-surgence in membership, mostly families with children. This may point out that Jewish families are coming back to the neighborhood.
There are two recent articles about the shull, one on Los Angeles Magazine by Ed Leibowitz, one in the LATimes column by Hector Tovar and the LATimes had another but I do not recall who penned it.
You may also contact the new Rabbi Susan Goldberg. She will start her duties in September and become the 1st rabbi for the temple in over 30 years, as I mentioned membership was in decline, and they could not afford to have a rabbi, with the new influx of members, now they will have a religious leader.
You can also contact
Bill Fishman (,)
Paula Valencia (,)
the secretary Barbara Strunnin (,
and other members of the Board for better and more detailed information, like the newly expanded education programs for children and adults.
Also, the temple will have its 1st bar mitzvah in 30 years in a few
You may have enough for a whole feature, when you consider the history of the temple and the Jewish presence, as early settlers, in the neighborhood, and the present Jewish population growth.


Thank you Adal for your suggestion! There are hidden histories, such as this one, that we are investigating through our research and adding to our narrative as we delve into this installment.