By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
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By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
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Stern described the changes in Venice as positive, saying “gorgeous new homes” had replaced decades-old eyesores. Because home prices have reached seven figures, speculators have moved on to less expensive places, he added.
“There’s always that element everywhere you go — people buying real estate and flipping it,” Stern said. “Now it’s too expensive to do that [in Venice], and so you have people actually moving in. Yes, they’re young. Yes, they’re moneyed. But they want to be in this neighborhood. It’s not because they’re sensing an opportunity.”
Echo Park’s Commuter Taggers
Economically, ethnically and visually, Echo Park is a world away from the city’s coastal communities. While Manhattan Beach has stunning ocean views and Venice has walk streets to the beach, Echo Park has hills — not to mention a whole lot of mattresses and shopping carts dumped on the side of the road. While Manhattan Beach is nearly 90 percent white, Echo Park is an eclectic ethnic mix — Mexicans, Central Americans, Filipinos, Chinese, Anglos. What both communities have in common, at least for now, is a greater influx of money than ever before.
In Echo Park, a neighborhood of Los Angeles just west of Dodger Stadium, the signs of newly arriving affluence are different from those in Manhattan Beach, but no less subtle. Duplexes that once were the color of washed-out Silly Putty now have edgy color schemes, like metallic gray or even black. Homes that once had dried-out lawn now sport drought-tolerant landscaping, like sage and fountain grass. Hipsters are everywhere, sitting outdoors at one of the neighborhood’s three new coffeehouses or stopping off at the avatar of neighborhood coolness, American Apparel. But while Manhattan Beach can be identified by its oversize minimansions, Echo Park is currently marked by homes that stand curiously empty.
The line is six deep on a Thursday morning at Chango, the coffeehouse that stands at the corner of Echo Park and Morton avenues. Two years have passed since the opening of the café, one of nine businesses that occupy the ground floor of a brick apartment building. In 1993, the storefronts served as a crucial backdrop for Mi Vida Loca, the Allison Anders movie that cemented Echo Park in the minds of Angelenos as the epicenter of Latino gang life. These days, Anders can be seen having her eyebrows done at an upscale salon at the other end of the building. Thirteen years after Mi Vida Loca, the same building appeared in the background of a commercial for Ambien, the sleeping pill.
Walk 30 paces from Chango — toward a staircase known as the Delta Street steps — and you will find a 1911 bungalow on Delta Street, sitting at one corner of a huge vacant lot. The lot used to be called Chicken Corner, largely because the man who used to live in the bungalow, 68-year-old maintenance worker Salvador Macias, housed chickens, rabbits and even the occasional goat. Macias loves animals. When he wasn’t working at the nearby convalescent hospital or raising three children, he went to rodeos and even brought horses to the lot on weekends.
“He’s always liked the outdoors, the ranch life,” said Macias’ son, Joe Macias. “Back in Mexico, he had access to all of that stuff. He was a Mexican cowboy.”
Macias moved to Long Beach from the house on Delta Street last year, after the new owner decided to replace it, the lot and the nearby convalescent home with 36 townhomes — each of which is expected to fetch $400,000 and up. Had he lived in an apartment, Macias would have been eligible under rent-control laws to receive $8,550, since he is both a senior citizen and disabled. But because he rented a single-family house, he and his family are ineligible for relocation assistance.
Still, the old Macias house is not the only house that stands vacant. So do six other residential buildings within a block. One is at the top of the Delta Street steps, a clapboard shack so dingy it looks like it could have housed Jed Clampett. One is a 1912 apartment house, where each of the four apartments have been gutted and cleaned out. Perhaps most astonishing, a 16-unit apartment building —directly across from the Macias house — stands completely empty of tenants.
While some buildings will be demolished and replaced with townhouses, others are being cleaned out so that landlords can charge much higher rents without disobeying the city’s rent-stabilization ordinance. Although the law prohibits landlords from hiking rents by more than 4 percent annually when an apartment is occupied, that law is suspended once a unit goes vacant. At that point, landlords can legally double or triple the rent, as long as they paid the minimum relocation expense to the household they ushered out the door.
What does it mean to have such a massive out-migration? For one thing, the number of schoolchildren has plummeted. At Logan Street Elementary School, a campus three blocks away from the Chango coffeehouse, enrollment has dropped from nearly 1,300 children in 2001 to 928 this year. Reyes, who represents neighborhoods just south of Echo Park, said he is already thinking that some of the new campuses being built by the Los Angeles Unified School District might have to become housing, if there are no longer enough students to attend them.