Highland Park Gentrification

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I got paid to write the following piece for some magazine but they decided not to use it, going with something else instead. The full text is after the jump, in case you want to read about gentrification in Highland Park. I kinda don’t want to keep the money anymore, it just doesn’t feel right, but I sure as hell ain’t giving it back! I’m thinking of spending it on something interesting, something you readers might enjoy, like maybe a round of fine beers, a tamal tasting expedition to the Eastside, or a free taco for three hundred mouths. I’m not sure what to do, thus I’m asking for your suggestions on how to creatively spend this ill-gotten money. I encourage some good ideas, the crazier the better. But please don’t suggest I donate it to some well meaning charity or cause, that just won’t do. C’mon now, how hard is it to spend other peoples money? Don’t make me use it for rent!

Click ahead for the text.

Along the Arroyo Seco corridor sits Highland Park, a largely working class Latino neighborhood being inundated by a current of change; the lumbering beast of gentrification is paddling upstream hoping to gobble up this barrio and spit out a pretty shell devoid of the working people at it’s core. The MTA Gold Line has led Westsiders and real estate agents to stake claims on housing stock that once provided affordable rentals, and prospectors always bring along their design plans for the future. Uh, oh. First they come for our housing, then they come for our shops.

I like the current mix of practical stores and restaurants, but once the gentry establishes a base camp they launch into inevitable excursions of conquest. Down the street from the deliciously affordable Huarache Azteca, a small pox of gastro-pubs scar the landscape with their valet parking and pricey menus. When a burger costs $13, who really cares if it comes with aioli? A shop named ‘Society of the Spectacle’ encompasses all that’s wrong with this current wave engulfing HLP: the title of the famed Debord book (which advocates radical social transformation beyond Capitalism) is being used to sell crappy eyewear. Stylish but temporary boutiques are the universal flag of gentrification; they provide an outlet where the middle class can shop for a pretend sense of meaning, as if they could buy their way out of vapidness.

The local robot band 8bit (myspace.com/8bit) who rap “When whitey moves in, they raise our rent” have some mostly illegal suggestions for dealing with gentrifiers, but it’s going to take more than scare tactics to deal with this issue that goes beyond race and is ultimately about economic forces. I hope the housing bubble pops before the neighborhood is drowned by the wealthy seeking another playground.

EL CHAVO!

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37 Responses to Highland Park Gentrification

  1. matt lucas says:

    You got 300 bones for that short article? Huzzah!

    If you want to do your community a favor maybe you could get cat man a hooker. Or buy a bunch of speed and whisky for some skid row bums and set them loose down the street from Hurache Azteca. Or you could buy a bunch of bullets and start gunning down the shock troops of gentrification, local artists.

    I’d probably just end up spending the money on myself though.

  2. Lex says:

    Chavo,

    I think you should hire all the palateros, tameleros/as, eloteras/os (is that the right word?) that you can to park outside of the bars on York en masse on a Fri. or Sat. night. Then, you can buy a treat for anyone walking down the street who…

    a) correctly identifies that they are in Highland Park and NOT Eagle Rock or Mt. Washington (babosos!)

    b) can prove they’ve lived in Highland Park for more than 10 years (and are less likely to be part of the wave of folks from the Westside and Silverlake, EP who have flooded our neighborhood)

    As a bonus, you could also have a piñata hanging nearby and let longtime neighborhood folks vent their frustrations over rising rents and home prices, rude hipster neighbors and parking hassles by bashing on it! This would best be accomplished if you could have a custom piñata (in the shape of some beloved hipster accesory like a min-cooper!)

  3. hexodus says:

    Good stuff. I used to live in Highland Park, on Eldred and I knew that it was just a matter of time before these changes occurred.

    Here are my recommendations and outlook, for what it’s worth:

    1) Decrease in house prices will dampen demand in areas which have been “traditionally underpriced”. Hopefully that translates into slowing of gentrification.

    2) Make sure that all as many residents as possible are up aware of applicable rent control laws and landlord-tenant law in general. By the time the shops get there, the worst has already occurred. I discuss this here:

    http://hexod.us/a/2008/02/a_basic_gentrification_manual.html

    3) Make sure that people are aware of those who are being illegally evicted or pressured to leave. What people might lack in cash they can make up for with social capital. No joke.

    I think that’s all I’ve got for now.

    While I think the “cute boutiques” and “hip galleries” are indeed ephemeral, tacky and alienating I am able to ignore them for the most part. I know that they will not last past the housing bubble, which is still deflating. But my main point is that they are more an after effect of gentrification, rather than the cause. Without the demand from new, well heeled tenants and owners who may have pressured lower income people to leave, they would not exist. Definitely they are symbolic, but getting rid of them would do nothing to solve the problem.

    Obviously this issue is close to my heart as they tried to gentrify me and my neighbors out of Echo Park and I have had to really hustle to stop that sh*t. I only regret not knowing what was going on prior to the troubles arriving at my doorstep. It could have been stopped dead.

  4. karen says:

    I was wondering if the title had anything to do with the book…its possible they may not have known anything about it. (oh how naive can I be?) Initially I thought it was a gallery or some new store but when I found out that it was actually a eyeglass retailer I could understand them possibly coming up with the name. But most likely it is a ‘copyright infringement’ on the situationist text.

    My suggestion for the money is you save it and buy yourself some new spectacles…that shit gets expensive…

    Karen/Sandpaper

  5. Sabrina says:

    Oh man that glasses shop! I wonder what the owners have to say. Do they have revolutionary propaganda inside like buy glasses and see through the spectacle. *knee slapper* Anyways save the money to visit us in the bay! We were sad not to see y’all this book fair weekend.

  6. KIKO says:

    It’s SPRING for crissakes! love is in the air, homie! splurge and take your partner out to a fancy-ass dinner, drinks, romantic night on the town, dancing, etc. that’s what I would do with ill-gotten funds cos I usually don’t have any to do that sort of thing.

    hey anyway speaking of HP—what’s the story with that new blue cafe on York again? I remember something vaguely about how they said HP was a “pig sty” that they were going to help clean up or something, and you got in a fight with them. is that accurate? I walk by it all the time and never go in cos I remember the general gist of it and cos it looks like crap anyway, but what was the specifics?

    btw, when I walk by it, I’m usually on my way to or from Arco Iris, which is one of the bombest restaurants in LA and has been a family owned place there in HP for decades now on York, I’ve been going there since the early 90s. have your fancy dinner party there!

  7. transit says:

    How about this? Purchase some bus tokens for the two teenage gals that were begging for cash from the “westsiders” at the Chevron on ave 64, I wonder why they would not come ask the “local” as I was filling my truck up for some cash?

  8. chimatli says:

    Veggie taco party in the park!

  9. Annika says:

    Tamales get my vote. They always get my vote. I am addicted to tamales.

  10. EL CHAVO! says:

    Some fine suggestions already!

    Matt,
    Yeah I know you’d keep it, you cheap fuck! Nobody listen to him, he’s crazy. 😉

    Lex,
    Excellent idea! Easy to do and it’ll be fun watching folks getting free elotes, etc. If all else fails, this will be the plan.

    Hexodus,
    You make some great points (the one about rent-control is especially pertinent, though even then there are loopholes which can still get you kicked out, some of which I sadly know) and the post you link is excellent. But I do think the hip stores play a factor in the increasing appeal of a neighborhood, like that stretch of shops on Sunset Junction that makes some people want to move into the area. Without a pull to these “new” neighborhoods (like downtown had with the loft artists) the speculator has no way of insuring a return on investment, and though the shops are mere coating, they do play a role in creating demand. They also help to designate an area as safe for all, as opposed to it being a place for the “urban pioneers” that are willing to brave the heathens.

    Karen,
    The font they used tells me they know the reference exactly, though lots of folks read the SI in only an artistic context and not the political one.

    Sabrina,
    “See through the spectacle”, good one! Maybe that was the motivation. But I doubt it.

    KIKO,
    Yeah, I got into it with one of the owners of the Highland Perk, which was quickly dubbed the Higland Jerk and it caught on enough that they changed the name to La Case Blue aka La Casa Blows. They came in like gangbusters on the NorthEastLA yahoo list http://groups.yahoo.com/group/NortheastLA/ from West LA proclaiming how they were going to clean up the town, and teach the barbarians how to live. One vote for Arco Iris, duly noted!

    transit,
    Maybe they didn’t ask you for change cuz they know locals aren’t so easily guilt tripped into parting with hard earned money? Westsiders seem to be easy marks.

    chimatli,
    That’s another very good idea! One vote for veggie tacos.

    Annika,
    No matter what, I’m going to be doing a short trip of tamalerias on the Eastside and I hope to get a few others for tasting/reviews so let me know if you want to come along. Anyone else that wants to come can send me a note from this page: http://chanfles.com/blog/?page_id=518

  11. Browne says:

    Great article El Chavo, whoever cut it will rot in hell.

    I think the thing about gentrificatoin that makes me the most mad is that you get that the city are liars. Before I got to witness gentrification first hand (instead of just reading about it in books) I thought, “No way, that can’t be true.” I thought in regards to crime and things, maybe some places crime can’t be stopped, but no it’s a lie.

    The cops actually are jerks just as I thought and they really are just letting people die, because when westsiders move in all of sudden people stop dying as much and then they stop dying at all, so the twenty years of mom’s of color begging meant nothing to them, but rich westsiders mean everything to them.

    It makes me mad, not because people shouldn’t move into neighborhoods, but you see how resources are handed out so unfairly.

    Why can’t the make the neigborhood safe for Sam’s Tacos in the eastside Soto or Sabrina’s Braids in South Central on Adams, why does the city only care about Jen’s La Casa Blow, why is Jen’s more business and safety more valuable than Sam’s or Sabrina’s.

    That’s what pisses me off the most.

    Browne

  12. Julio says:

    I also vote for the veggie taco party.

  13. johnk says:

    The gentrifiers actively try to get fancy retail to move into their commercial spaces. Tom Gilmore gave a reduced rent to some nonprofits, before they had to leave. Real estate folks like to talk about rising rents and stuff, but they never tell you about the deals they cut to bring in retail that will raise rents on other units. Look at all these art galleries. You can’t tell me they’re all making money. To make rent on a small gallery, at $3 per square foot, you’d have to sell around $6,000 worth of art per month (at 50 percent commission). I just don’t see that much art being sold.

  14. chimatli says:

    P.S. A pox on lame-os who decided to call their store Society of the Spectacle. So ironic and hardly clever: the epitome of hipster vapidness.

  15. Old Skool says:

    Since so much of Highland Park looks like a ghetto with illegal street vendors, graffiti and gangs. I say bring on the gentrification, too many poor concentrated in any area usually means a ghetto. Every city or area which thrives has to have a mix of poor and middle class, and rich to prosper. I don’t need to see bacon-wrapped hot dogs sold on every corner.

  16. urban memo says:

    if you go out on a tamale excursion… i would love to read about that. -i would be very interested to know where i can find some manteca free tamales.

    i used to work close to liliana’s tamales on cesar chavez blvd and i used to eat tamales there like, every other day. i had NO idea that they had manteca (or might have, i still don’t know for sure… but i will assume there is unless i know otherwise).

    anyway, you know my story about my issues with manteca.

    “down with manteca!” -El Chavo

  17. Browne says:

    “You can’t tell me they’re all making money.” John

    You’re right..gallery owners get deals in areas they are trying to gentrify, because the hardest space in a building to lease is the ground floor, you put a gallery in there it looks like something is happening. It adds street traffic, but as soon as the area is gentrified they get rid of gallery owners by raising the rent. I was told this by a downtown realtor.

    Browne

  18. Pet says:

    I live just a couple of blocks away from that glasses store, and it’s appearance there actually surprised me more because it wasn’t in the almost completed drive-thru Starbucks mini-mall blight near the corner or York and Eagle Rock. I just shrug. No worries, they’ll disappear soon enough and head off to Old Town Pasadena. Then the space will either be vacant once again, or house yet another 98 cent store, and the balance will be restored.

  19. moon says:

    The article, a shame it didn’t run, but the money should be your’s without any guilt. They asked you to write it and you did, enough.

    If you give three hundred people one dollar they will forget about it in one hour. If you give one person the three hundred it might make a difference in their life. I have in the past, made a difference and only wish I could again.

  20. chris says:

    it’s kinda funny reading all this stuff – wow, it would be great if the whole of los angeles just stayed the way it was at the turn of the century – when there were fields and fruit trees – and NOT MANY houses at all. and indain tribes living on the land you’re all talking about. but things change!

    it’s always unfortuneate when people get squeezed out of thier neighborhoods and rents go sky high ( i got kicked outta my koreantown apt to make way for condos- lived there for 15 years). it’s sad that los angeles is becoming too much about money. that people don’t know their neighbors, are afraid to walk at night and are generally screwed by the government. but it might be nice for the people who live in the area to see thier property increase in value, to have some new places to go, some new stores to shop at and new diverse ambiance to their neighborhhoods. maybe even make friends in these places. it’s sad that you want them to fail because of your insistance on everything always staying the same – not better, just the same. we need to help each other out, not tear each other down – ’cause no one else is gonna do it for us…

    by the way, how do you know that these new biz owners aren’t from your neighborhood? maybe they’ve all lived in the area for years…..

  21. cindylu says:

    I vote for something involving food and/or beer. I have no shame in spending your ill-gotten money.

  22. TacoSam says:

    A few ideas:

    1. use the blood money to print 1-page pamphlets with a strong anti-gentrification pamphlets written by you (as penance), then hand out the pamphlets, together with a condom, on York Blvd between the hours of 1-2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights (to stop the breeding of future gentrifiers).

    2. Spend it on a new digital camera in order to better document the gentrification

    3. Taco-time!!!

  23. Art says:

    I also vote for more tamale action. Take a “tamale tour of italy”, hit la mascota on whittier, la favorita on blanchard, sandra and lolitas on whittier (near atlantic), lolitas on chavez (I think theyre too salty), the bomb sope spot (with good tamales too) in the laundromat on 6th and atlantic, the veijita who walks around the Roosevelt HS neighborhood most mornings, etc., etc. Im sure you can fill in the rest…

    Or, how about a mission to find where all the street hotdog vendors went when they got kicked out of broadway. I am still so pissed that I have to brave callejone traffic or run all the way down to either the blueline vernon station or MacArthur Parque to get a bacon wrapped dog off a shopping cart and metal tray. Pinches hueros cabrones

  24. Art says:

    Actually, I think Ill do a tour of tamales tomorrow. dotn bite me or Ill brun you 5th grade schoolyard style.

  25. chimatli says:

    Chris, your statement: “it’s sad that you want them to fail because of your insistance on everything always staying the same – not better, just the same.” sets up an unrealistic and ridiculous dichotomy.
    So we are are supposed to accept whatever comes at us in the name of progress? Or we are labeled strict traditionalists wanting everything frozen in a moment of time?
    I love living in a dynamic city like Los Angeles, with it’s fluctuations and tensions, but as a resident I think I should have some say and power over the kind of changes that happen in my neighborhood. Developers and certain store owners are usually thinking with profit in mind and are not thinking about the long term interests of the people who already live in the neighborhoods they are coming in to exploit. So it is up to us, to express unhappiness with these changes when we see them coming. History and past experiences have shown many people don’t realize they’ve been gentrified out of neighborhoods until it’s too late.

  26. chris says:

    my point is: why don’t you check out the place first, see what the owners are like….maybe they live in the area as well and want to have their business in their own neighborhood – i would say that’s being involved in the changes in your neighborhhod, as opposed to saying the changes are bad before you take the time to check them all out. this also creates diversity and neighborhood untity.
    by the way – i’m a 4th generation angeleno, so i’ve seen a lot of changes in los angeles.

  27. EL CHAVO! says:

    Lots of good suggestions, I’m gonna think about it and see what I do. Though the elotero truck distro is a sure bet, I may still consider other options. For those that suggested I keep the money or spend it on myself; Thanks for assuming I deserve it and for being kind enough to suggest I use it for myself. But yer still missing the concept, though I could use it, I don’t want to keep it, and I will not suffer for the lack of it. Better to put it back into a social cycle. Info will come soon.

  28. matt lucas says:

    you could always send it to me. I’ll use it to enhance my ability to kick ass. I’ll come down to LA and work as muscle for you, whenever you need it. I’d like the break the face of the four eyed shit bag who named their store “Society of the Spectacle” anyways.

    matt lucas

  29. Scoop says:

    If you haven’t already spent it, 300 piles of fake dog poop squeezed out along the encroaching gentrification line would lessen the curb appeal.

    As the trend slows, recycle the piles into 300 flaming bags of poop, placed on the new gentry’s welcome mats. Plan your post-doorbell ditch dash well!

    Aside from losing most of your reusable fake dog poop, the only bummer is no real dog poop gets stuck to their loafers.

  30. yojimbo says:

    That couldn’t have been the whole article, was it? Thats like a dollar per word right there!

    Admittedly, I don’t know much on this subject, but sadly, it appears that gentrification can’t be stopped… thats just how the urban landscape cookie crumbles. Artists and middle class can’t afford to live and keep their businesses in expensive areas so they find a deal in a working class area and they move in, then the poor have to move out or take a third-job to pay rent… it just seems like HP and ER are more prone to this because of their location – proximity to downtown, rich nieghborhoods, and a college.

    Thanks Chan for reminding us that this is going on, and educating those who didn’t even realize it! But, what can we do??

  31. ave 26 and daly says:

    Last night I had a nightmare about gentrification. The 99 cent store on North Broadway had been turned into an art gallery (using the objects already in the store as art and a DJ referring old customers to the new 99 cent location behind a warehouse ). The street was swarming with drunk hipsters on bikes, singing cheesy ironic 80’s songs and sending text messages to random people. It was awful!

  32. jasper crane says:

    If the people bringing in the gentrification wave acted with as much unbased discrimination towards you as you do towards them, then our town would have a serious issue going on. Yeah yeah, its all good to do the chest-thumping ‘This is my land’ routine, but lets be honest, an influx of wealth (and lets be honest, hipsters are generally quite skint for cash) is a positive thing for the neighborhood. The well-run business (i.e, el arco iris) will still be around.

    What I think is important to note is that there are two aspects of gentrification entering the area. One is the lower-income, largely caucasian youth (yeah, the bikes, ironic 80’s tunes, art galleries, noise-rock bands) and the other, much more troublesome one is corporate interests (starbucks, homogenous strip malls). The latter is the major issue and threat to our autonomy and way of life. The two do not come hand in hand.

  33. Wadi L. Nadir (pronounced nay-dear, NOT nader-as in ralph- aka the next burning man says:

    El Chavo del ocho ~ it all makes me wish i were from HP! Great article, glad to see the mention of 8 Bit. Amazing HLP Band.
    Buy some drinks for all your friends, barfly style.
    Here are the rest of the lyrics to HLP by 8 Bit:

    Highland Park’s our home and fifty-four’s our street
    Scenesters come to visit and they groove our beat
    But don’t move in, bitch
    Or you’ll catch my glock
    ‘Cause fuck Silver Lake, fuck Eagle Rock
    When whitey moves in
    They raise our rent
    Get out of HLP
    Before there’s an accident
    Finish your smoke
    And slam your booze
    And don’t forget the fuckin’ cops
    From the avenues

    Let us bust our rhymes
    And let us smoke our crack
    Go the fuck home
    And give your little brother’s shirt back
    Don’t make me beat your ass
    Til you’re curlin’ up fetal
    Just because you think
    You’re the fifth Beetle
    You know you work at St. Vincent de Paul
    Keep your stupid ass shopping at the mall
    Kickin’ out teensters
    Like they was the clap
    Get the fuck out before I gotta bust a cap

    H-I-G-H-
    L-A-N-D
    P-A-R-K
    That’s where LeFrost be
    Puttin’ our city
    On the fuckin’ map
    Come through our hood
    And your bound to get a bitchslap
    Well, rent’s goin’ up
    As the scenesters move in
    We’re gonna grab you
    By your emo rock pin
    Gonna through your ass back
    To your little fuckin’ cave
    And blow that shit up
    And put you in your place

    Go to the bar
    To get a fuckin’ beer
    The shit’s four dollar
    I think, "What’s the fuckin’ deal?"
    Order orange juice
    Say I’m the designated driver
    Go to the can
    And make a screwdriver
    You want a cheap meal
    It’s at a taco truck
    You want a beer at a bar
    You’re shit out of luck
    Get your ass back to Pasadena
    Or out to Dena
    Or Rowena
    Or wherever the fuck your ass from

    The sun sets in L.A.
    And out they crawl
    Coming soon to your neighborhood
    Hole in the wall
    Either dressed to kill
    Or trying to look dirt poor
    Some wear between Beck
    And Thirst No More
    Sippin’ on a gin and tonic
    Lookin’ frail and weak
    You want see them drinking beer
    That’s so last week
    On the internet
    Drinkin’ your coffee
    Pickin’ your nose
    While you’re jerkin’ off to me

  34. Jack says:

    Wadi – that poem of yours really says so much…. great poem, moving.

  35. Queenspie says:

    Found this while looking for articles on dog parks and gentrification. Daaagggg yall have such good energy…my neighborhood’s been getting gentrified for the last 5 years and it’s wack…the yuppies have created their own little high society and the community gets crumbs or nothing. and half the people here i swear think it’s good…until they can’t afford to live here anymore…wack.

  36. Natster says:

    Yes, always so sad when you can’t live next door to 15 year olds who like to kill each other. Decent Highland Parkers ought to be ESTATIC that we are moving into their neighborhood…..

  37. HLP says:

    Let me get this straight…. people are opening businesses, investing their money and lives in HLP and you guys resent it?

    Who the hell wants HLP to stay the way it currently is? Gangs, gunshots, 99 cent stores? My house getting tagged 15-20 times a year?

    You should all be thrilled that people are taking a risk on HLP.

    I love HLP but I cannot wait for the day when:

    1. Gangs are gone. (The Aves and Dogtown can go to hell as far as I’m concerned)

    2. No more tagging! (see #1)

    3. My neighbors actually remove the trash off of their lawns and not throwing it into the streets.

    4. My neighbors not letting their dogs bark for 7-10 hours a day right into the night.

    HLP is a great place, but it’s run down and needs an infusion of money. HLP wasn’t always run down, just look at pictures pre 1960. It was gorgeous then and could be gorgeous again. But from what I can see, most of the current residents don’t seem to give a fuck about civic pride.

    And btw, have any of you actually gone in and met the owners of “Society” before knocking them? They might actually be nice people. Taking cheap shots at people you don’t even know is pretty low-brow and tacky.

    Y’all don’t like what you see? Open up your own businesses instead of sitting around complaining about others that do. Otherwise, shut yer traps.

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