Marc Maron's Guide to Highland Park
Robyn Von Swank/IFC
Marc Maron is a well-known comic, author and host of the popular twice-weekly podcast, WTF with Marc Maron. He's also the creator, executive producer, writer and star of the weekly TV show Maron on IFC, which counts Denis Leary among its executive producers as well as Maron's fellow comic Bobcat Goldthwait as one of the series directors. IFC is currently airing the second season of Maron, and given that much of the title character's unique style of comedy stems from his own life, it's set in Maron's own neighborhood of Highland Park.
Home to about 60,000 people from ethnically diverse backgrounds, Highland Park is a historic neighborhood northeast of Downtown. Founded in 1848, it once lured artists from California's Arts and Crafts movement before experiencing a series of economic setbacks that led to so-called white-flight and gang violence. Most recently, however, the neighborhood is enjoying another cultural renaissance, once again drawing intellectuals and artsy types with its ideal location as well as its real estate values, resilience and, most of all, its character.
With so much happening in Highland Park, we asked Maron to give us a few insights and opinions on his neighborhood, and why he wouldn't live anywhere else in Los Angeles.
"It just feels a little more organic and less trodden than other parts of L.A.," says Maron. "It's a little more wild out here. It's not rural, but there's something about the way that the neighborhood is organized that's just a little raw, a little gritty. I think that attracts creative people, and hopefully they won't sterilize it."
As with Silver Lake and Echo Park, there's a danger of Highland Park becoming homogenized to the point that people forget what made it unique and authentic in the first place; it's one of Maron's concerns, too.
He first encountered Highland Park sometime around 2004 or 2005 when, while driving around Los Angeles, he stumbled upon a cute little home that caught his eye. He'd never bought a house before, but this particular one sort of spoke to him, and although he had no idea where he was, he went ahead and bought it.
Ten years later, Maron has witnessed his Highland Park neighborhood change from a nondescript enclave in a little-known part of town to a full-fledged up-and-coming community.
"There are stores that you're not even sure what they're selling, which is usually the sign there's some sort of hipster intrusion," Maron observes. "Things are definitely changing here, there's no doubt."
See also: How Marc Maron Picks Music For His Show
Highland Park is still undergoing renovation and improvement while it continues to attract middle-class residents and visitors to its (relatively) affordable homes as well as its growing assortment of record stores, galleries, coffee shops and bars.
"It's nice to have an area where you can walk, and it's nice to know people who own businesses in your neighborhood and have that kind of relationship, where people know you," says Maron. "I imagine it was that way for the people who grew up here as well."
Marc Maron outside Café de Leche
Max S. Gerber/IFC
Maron regularly hits a few local music stores on York Boulevard such as Future Music, Permanent Records and Gimme Gimme Records. Yet he confesses that most of his life revolves around food, so he's more likely to be spotted at local eateries such as The York, Ba, Sonny’s Hideaway, Maximiliano, Scoops Ice Cream and Café de Leche (though Maron admits he usually makes his own coffee at home).
Speaking of coffee, how does Maron feel about the fact that Highland Park opened its first Starbucks?
"I imagine when Café de Leche opened, people were going, 'Oh, fuck, there goes the neighborhood,'" he laughs. "But now those people that opened Café de Leche are gonna go, 'Oh, fuck, there goes the neighborhood,' because there's a Starbucks down the street."
Photo Credit: Chris Ragazzo/IFC
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For the show, Maron films in a rented craftsman instead of his own Mission-style home. Other than that, Maron wanted to keep it pretty real and film in his own neighborhood, because audiences don't usually see Highland Park on television. Plus the residents were excited to be part of it all.
"It was just a practical thing to do, more than anything else," he says. "And we really wanted it to be as authentic as possible in terms of my life."
Highland Park figures prominently in both seasons of Maron, but season two especially highlights the area's mounting transition. The fifth episode, "Boomer Lives," showcases a wide range of archetypes that live near Maron's home in the show: a pair of free-cycling Latinos, an attractive new female resident, an irascible old man, a junkie and a crazy guy with a gun who climbs hills and aimlessly shoots bullets over a majestic vista. The characters collectively illustrate a kind of community-driven intimacy in Highland Park that especially appeals to Maron, though he muses that "there's something sad and exciting about a neighborhood changing" as well.
Maron, left, and Rick Shapiro
Maron tells a story about a time when he needed to file a police report, and although the incident had nothing to do with the neighborhood itself, he asked the cop about Highland Park's transition. The policeman responded, "Yes, it's definitely changing, but in about 30 years, it will go back to what it was."
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Still, Maron says, given the chance, he wouldn't live anywhere else in L.A.
"There's definitely a hipster element," he says. "But I don't know that I need that to feel comfortable. It makes me, on some level, feel like I was ahead of the curve and I'm not against it — primarily because I like having a neighborhood that I can relate to. But even if I didn't, I related to it before it got like this."
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