Eastside 101: Murals of Estrada Courts

July 24, 2007 at 3:15 pm in East Side

This post was easily the hardest Eastside 101 post I did, going back to an area that scared the shit out of me as a kid, to try and document it properly as an adult. Everything was fine but the ghosts of the past sure do haunt you.


This next installment of Eastside 101 takes us to the Boyle Heights corner of Olympic and Lorena and into the housing project known as Estrada Courts. Though there’s a sign on the corner of one of the buildings that warns it is not open to the public and you need to ask permission to enter, I don’t think anyone will notice a quick visit. At least that’s what I’m counting on. But it’s not the housing authority I’m worried about, it’s the local gang that will keep me looking over my shoulder. I’m going to squash my gut instincts as there is something about Estrada Courts I want to show you: the walls.

(Warning: lots of pictures)

Or more accurately, the images on the walls that make up some of the iconic murals of the 70’s Chicano Movement and which is exemplified by this cluster of paintings that deal with the social and cultural issues of that era. Be they faded, restored, graffitied, or equally vandalized by the anti-graffiti crews, I find the worth of these murals not in their value as art but in their ability to capture the character of the neighborhood and much of the Eastside. I’m not going to pretend to know or be interested in the artistic qualities of the murals since that’s not how I’ve ever perceived any of them, they were literally just a backdrop for a time and a place that needed a definition of self. You can get more info on the paintings and painters at lamurals.org


As you will see, many of the murals have Pre-Columbian themes, as that is a quick way to connect with a historical timeline. Mayflower? Pfft, newbies. Some of these murals are very simple..


..and some are a bit more complex, like this one that includes Cesar Chavez, Emiliano Zapata (Tierra y Libertad!), Pancho Villa, and the badass Cantinflas, master of cutting authority figures down to size using words as the weapon.


A few are still in progress. I can’t tell if this is new or just being repaired: the sky hints at a retouch but the missing face points at a new work.


“If We Could Share” reads the banner. There are a few of these childlike wishful murals with very sweet sentiments. A little too sweet for my taste.


I like this explosion of color and suggestion of flight. The tags from Dreamer and Trips seem kinda appropriate.


I can make out the aztec serpents and some water flowing through mountains, but the placas seem to cover most of this mural.


You don’t see any placas on this mural as it is done in honor of a fallen member of the local gang, but you will see those 3 letters on many of the other murals. I grew up in Boyle Heights and passed thru here often, sometimes going in to visit friends. Even all these years later, with the place looking very different now, those early confrontations with this gang still keep me wary that some group of guys is going to ask me that eternal loaded question: Where you from? It’s an odd parallel that both the cholos and the new hipsters trying to claim “eastside”, in their own different ways, seem bent on making sure the answer is nowhere.


This one is odd, with the virgin mary shining down on a flag planting, ala Iwo Jima. That’s the symbol for the UFW.


Faded fish, creepy sea monsters, and worn boots.


I remember almost all the walls being painted with murals but on this trip I noticed many were bare, like this one. Maybe the upkeep is too difficult or the current residents don’t have an interest in adding new ones, I don’t know.


This wall is bare as well. This is one of the typical apartment buildings.


Another Pancho Villa design, this one only takes up a small part of the wall.


The basketball court also has some paint.


I think that’s a mountain.


I remember writing something meaningful about this mural and all the tags, but alas, I have no record of it anymore. One of my most favorite murals for sure.


Lincoln and Kennedy get compared, though some of it reads like conspiracy. “John Wilkes Booth – Lee Harvey Oswald, There are fifteen letters in each name.” Whatever.


Some sort of taco feeding ceremony. Er, I hope.


This guy looks like he’s creeping up on you.


I’ve always liked this one as well, with the boy on the earth merry-go-round reaching out for the ring.


More UFW iconography.


The blue figure has started to disappear under the paint of the anti-graffiti crews, only the arm remains.


“American Concert.”


Somebody’s ocean fantasy includes riding naked on a dolphin. Look ma, no hands!


Cars, buildings, playground, trash cans, mural.


This one is really faded but there are two ghostly figures crouched next to the main one.


I associate this one with Estrada Courts the most, as it’s the one you see from across the street at the Jim’s Burgers, where you share some fries with friends after a full day at the Costello Park pool.


Next to it is this one that deals with bi-national identity, very much a topic for those growing up in this neighborhood.


On Olympic you find some of the better known murals.


Someone has added nipples to one of the sunbathers, crazy kids.


Dramatic, eye-catching, and just a tad scary.


Ha, ha, now this is actually true, at least in respect to population numbers. But I take it the painters of this mural were tackling the term for the meaning of insignificance it carries. Yeah, maybe a bit simple, but that statement sure did impart some strength, especially on my early excursions outside the Soto-Brooklyn-Atlantic-Olympic borders. That is what I appreciate about these murals, that despite being on the periphery of the city and just outside of its imagination, they are still powerful statements of place and identity for the communities often overlooked in Los Angeles.


And finally, a mural that commemorates the Chicano Moratorium of 1970 and the police riot that ensued. Seems appropriate that it fades along with the memories of that era.

So there you go, a bit from the map of memory, maybe that might help give some context as to why the “Eastside” is not just some throw away concept for me and many others.

(BTW, check out the “East is East” letter in the latest LA Weekly.)

Estrada Courts
Corner of Olympic and Lorena

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3 Responses to Eastside 101: Murals of Estrada Courts

  1. Julio says:

    i wish i would have done something like this for LH 10 years ago cuz so many murals are gone!

  2. Veronica says:

    I grew up in the projects . I’ll never forget where I came from.
    Looking at these murals sure brought lots of memories of my childhood life .

  3. Yvette Gonzalez Lopez says:

    My father Manuel Gonzalez did some of those murals along with Charles cat Felix Tony Nunez Sonny Ramirez and a few other that I can’t remember the names back in the 70s I remember going as a little kid with my dad to go paint those murals I wish I can get a hold of cats son Charles Felix Junior

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