For more than 12 years, Los Angeles has participated in CicLAvia, which closes city streets to traffic and transforms them for a few hours into public parks. These lively spaces allow residents to enjoy healthy activity, visit new neighborhoods, learn history, and people-watch. It connects people throughout Los Angeles in exciting and energizing ways, hopefully opening eyes and minds to our shared humanity.
Mike Hawks and I decided to enjoy the Heart of LA CicLAvia route Sunday, flaneurs enjoying the international and cosmopolitan flair of Los Angeles. We walked the entire route, traveling more than 24,000 steps and almost 10 miles in a city that has endured painful and discriminatory eras to learn the beauty and power of different cultures and races, blending them into a wonderful, inclusive gumbo that enriches as it informs.
We started at Mariachi Plaza at 1831 1st St, a gathering spot for mariachis since the 1930s, which celebrates Los Angeles’ rich Mexican heritage. History lives on here, with the recently restored 1889 Boyle Hotel across the street one of the oldest commercial structures still standing in the city, a political and cultural center for the neighborhood since its original construction. This structure demonstrates the dusty little farming community evolving into a growing metropolitan area, connecting old and new, but also demonstrating how real estate redlining later in the 1900s separated people of different races from those of Los Angeles’ ruling class.
The neighborhood around it still possesses so much of its original charm, dotted with sweet little bungalows, lovely churches, pretty parks, and 630 S. St Louis St., a gorgeously restored former hospital now serving as senior housing.
Turning right on Whittier Boulevard, a striking panorama of downtown Los Angeles faced us. Filled with construction cranes, this evolving metropolis is exploding with piercing skyscrapers reaching towards monetary paradise, while still surrounded by the produce warehouses and factory buildings that gave immigrants a stepping stone into the United States and helped raise others into the middle class.
Connecting Boyle Heights and the Arts District is the newly opened Sixth Street Viaduct, a beautiful bridge of gentle arches and grace laid waste to by vandals and reckless morons, a symbol of the need to make a mark on the ever changing, visceral world of social media.
The route soon arrived at Little Tokyo, founded in 1884 as the home of Japanese Americans freshly immigrated to the burgeoning city. Filled with small cafes and comfy hotels, the area hosted the successful farmers after Californians expanded the Exclusion Act beyond Chinese Americans to Japanese Americans in 1924 before they were eventually incarcerated in internment camps in 1942.
Blocks beyond this neighborhood lies the heart of 1920s/1930s Los Angeles’ power and might, the Civic Center District. Two glamorous bastions of power stand nearby – the iconic 1928 John Parkinson-designed Los Angeles City Hall and the striking 1935 Gordon Kaufmann-designed former Los Angeles Times headquarters. From these two buildings, powerful potentates guided and ran the City of the Angels, often for their own benefit, as the city grew into one of the United States’ most powerful municipalities.
Turning left onto Broadway, the route covered the heart of Los Angeles’ theater district, the largest concentration of movie palaces in the United States. During the 1920s, this area served as the entertainment center for the city, with flashing neon attracting rich and poor to swanky premieres and second-run screenings. Mostly refurbished before the pandemic, the buildings along the street are now growing somewhat shabby and dirty.
This time going east, Broadway passes civic buildings before descending past Fort Moore Hill, where the United States military protected the city in the late 1840s, into what is now Chinatown. A replacement for the original Chinatown, which was demolished in order to unite Los Angeles’ three downtown railroad stations into one elaborate, beautiful headquarters, this Chinatown blends make-believe and the real into a pleasing beauty. Chinese Americans were segregated in this area as well until the Exclusion Act was dissolved in 1942.
Heading back down Broadway to the Second Street tunnel, the route passed through the 1,500-foot tunnel as it followed Second Street toward Echo Park. Built to relieve traffic, the tunnel now serves as a scenic route between busy downtown and one of its more eclectic neighborhoods. As Second Street heads north and eastward, street names like Beaudry and Bixel honor former leaders of the city. Formerly filled with simple homes, the area is filling with nondescript, expensive concrete apartment boxes that actually offer little housing to the city’s mostly middle-class residents.
After more than 3 1/2 hours, Mike and I finished the full route at Bellevue and Glendale Boulevard, the west edge of Echo Park Lake, a gorgeous haven for the area since 1895. Surrounded by natural flora, the lake offers a peaceful getaway for neighborhood residents.
These neighborhoods reflect the evolution of Los Angeles from simple farming community into one of the world’s most important cities, reflecting the bad and good of a city as it hopefully evolves away from its discriminatory early policies into an inclusive home for all.
What an enjoyable, insightful article. And that is a lot of steps!