Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Yes, Virginia, There IS an East Hollywood!

Twelve years ago, I got into the community improvement thing partly because I lived through the 1992 L.A. Riots and wondered, "Okay, I'm still here, what should I do now?" and partly because back then, after volunteering for a community cleanup event in Echo Park, I wondered, "Wow, how do I get something like that going in my neighborhood?"

So I started a little community improvement association that year and wondered what name to use to describe the area. I guess I decided to use "East Hollywood" because it's the eastern, non-touristy part of Hollywood, and also that I heard some vague historical reference that this area once actually had that name.

"East Hollywood" was common sense to many and a hard sell for some; a few of the improvement association members bought into the "Anything that's the 'East' is not good" stigma, but I didn't care. Eventually it just grew on me and a semblance of community pride grew around that term. And eventually I organized a neighborhood council with that name.

A few years ago, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority contracted French outdoor advertising company JCDecaux to place street furniture, newsstands, ad kiosks and coin-operated, self-cleaning public toilets near transit stops around Los Angeles, just as they have done in Paris, or more locally, in San Francisco. The Los Angeles amenities either have "Los Angeles" emblazoned on the top of the dark-green structures, or the names of the communities in which they are located. I always thought it would be cool to see an "East Hollywood" ad kiosk, for example.

On Tuesday night, bicycle activist, fellow urban geek and friend Stephen Box gave me a call and told me he spotted exactly one of those over the weekend, on the corner of Hollywood and Sunset boulevards -- yes they do intersect, at a complicated 6-way junction. I got so excited I rode my bike there ASAP and snapped the pictures above.

I hope having those things help put to rest those silly names some people call this community, as well as an overall lack of neighborhood identity. Aside from having a certified neighborhood council, our Councilmember Eric Garcetti's Office recognizes "East Hollywood," there's an East Hollywood Business Improvement District and the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) has an "East Hollywood" project area. One local pizza chain lists their Vermont Ave. location as "East Hollywood." I even saw a newscast tonight that used "East Hollywood" as a dateline for a police incident - okay, not the greatest thing to be proud about, but I'll take it.

The only thing missing? Those wonderful blue community signs that officially designate communities in the City of L.A. There are about 170+ of them, and the EHNC is spearheading the effort to gather the 500 signatures to get East Hollywood an officially-designated community. Within East Hollywood there are the designated communities of Thai Town and Little Armenia - both of which long-deserved - that represent the businesses and cultural institutions of their respective ethnic groups. An "East Hollywood" designation will neither cancel nor downplay any of their designations - in fact many prominent Thai and Armenian individuals and groups support the "East Hollywood" designation - but rather tie them both together into one super-diverse community (joined with many other groups as well). We are also home to "Virgil Village," designated in the late 1990s, which started as a project neighborhood of the Richard Riordan-created Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative (LANI) program. But not many people actually use "Virgil Vilage" and the LANI project quickly became inactive after its implementation, and not much happened after the project's local organizer passed away in 2003. There's also a "Wilshire Center" sign in our neighborhood, and no one uses "Wilshire Center" to describe any neighborhood anymore (It's either Mid-Wilshire or Koreatown).

The old East Hollywood also included a large portion of modern-day Los Feliz and was in fact an independent city until 1910. It, along with Hollywood, got annexed into the City of Los Angeles to tap into L.A.'s aqueduct water supply. Hopefully, by 2010 we can celebrate a century of East Hollywood being a Los Angeles community, with an official designation for this neighborhood.