Like Highland Park – Mount Washington Patch editor , I had a strong reaction to L.A. Weekly writer Kai Flanders’ piece Why Highland Park is the new Echo Park. As a long-time NELA resident, I wasn’t annoyed by the comparison of neighborhoods but by the shallow perception of Highland Park.
According to the article, the Highland Park community’s main appeal for new resident Renko Mac -- a writer/street artist/zine-founder and friend of Flanders -- is that her “neighbors don’t give a sh*t about noise”, which means she can throws parties until 3:00 a.m.
By all accounts, one of Highland Park’s earliest residents, writer Charles Fletcher Lummis, threw some pretty wild bashes for artists, writers and musicians back in the day but as an avid booster of the Arroyo Seco area, I doubt he’d appreciate Mac’s self-centered view of the neighborhood he helped establish.
I was amused that Mac says she enjoys “feeling disassociated from a traditional L.A. scene” in Highland Park. As one of the “original suburbs”, as Councilman Ed Reyes dubbed it, Highland Park has a lot of tradition. But if by “scene” Mac means “hipster scene”, I’m not sure why “playing bike polo at the park at 49 and Fig” makes the neighborhood less of a "scene", especially if her friends are the ones playing.
I realize what bothers me about Mac’s statements is the complete disregard for – or maybe just lack of interest in – Highland Park beyond a very narrow set of self-serving needs. If cheap rents, space to play bike polo and the freedom to play music until 3:00 a.m. are the things that make the neighborhood "cool" for Mac, then Highland Park is basically interchangeable with a warehouse.
Flanders mentioned that “bigger acts [besides Mac’s friends FINDLAR] have taken notice” of Highland Park and are now playing at . I was surprised that music writer Flanders had no knowledge of – or perhaps chose not to mention -- the history of Mr. T’s Bowl. The former bowling alley has had a music scene, admittedly one that ebbs and flows, on and off for twenty-plus years.
Perhaps it seems odd that someone who lives in Mount Washington would take Flanders and Mac’s rather cavalier attitudes toward Highland Park so personally. I didn’t grow up in Highland Park like some of those who commented on Dave Fonseca’s piece, but I consider it part of my community and have for the 26 years I’ve lived here.
When I first moved to Mount Washington in 1986, my zip code was 90042. Our house was at the bottom of the Hill, equidistant from Eagle Rock and Highland Park. At the time, Eagle Rock was a rather sleepy “grandparent” community. Pat and Lorraine’s Coffee Shop was its sole claim to culinary fame. By contrast, Highland Park was a vibrant community despite a gang presence that was much stronger than it is today.
After my husband Marty and I bought our house – but before we moved in – the Los Angeles Times ran what seemed like daily stories about gang shootings along Monte Vista between Avenue 50 and Avenue 60. We were moving from the gritty heart of Hollywood so we were no strangers to crime or gangs. Still, I remember pulling out the Thomas Brothers guide--a map book version of GPS for those too young to remember it--to check how close the shootings were to our new home, which was a stone’s throw from Avenue 50 and York.
The shootings were pretty darn close.
Still, after we moved to NELA, Highland Park was where we went. We never got shot at. We shopped at Lucky Market when it was at the bottom of the Hill. We ate at Senõr Fish when it was still on Figueroa. We ate at and a delicious Chinese restaurant, it’s name now long forgotten, down the street. We bought Doc Martens at Mr. Maury’s shoes and got our passport photos taken at the photo store whose owner was a friend of Russ Meyers, king of campy sexploitation films like Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! We drank beer at Mr. T’s and later, ate at the Gutter, the unpretentious down home diner that twins Katie and Lecie Williams briefly ran in the defunct bowling alley and which was written up in the Los Angeles Times. After 26 years, some of those places are gone and some are still there. The same can be said of many neighborhoods.
Just as the funicular ran from Highland Park to Mount Washington, the latter's history is intertwined with Highland Park’s as is mine.
And so I feel protective. Instead of Mac appreciating that her neighbors “don’t give a sh*t about noise”, I hope she appreciates her neighbors because they’re part of her community. It’s fine to be happy about Highland Park’s “dirt-cheap” rent; I just hope that Mac learns a little about its history.
Finally, I hope Mac gets to know beyond the bike polo; Dr. Edwin M. Hiner conducted concerts there in the park at the Sousa-Hiner band shell, named after the band leader and his friend John Phillip Sousa, who composed The Stars and Stripes Forever.
Dr. Hiner lived across the street from Sycamore Grove Park. I bet he cared what his neighbors thought when he played his music loud.
(Note: Kai Flanders is no longer listed as the author of “Highland Park is the New Echo Park” on the L.A. Weekly site and Renko Mac’s statements in the online article have been cut or amended.)