Anita Martinez & Tiburcio Vasquez, Social Directors

Photo by Jack Gould

Think of Highland Park as a big, funky house with thousands of colorful bedrooms and enticing kitchens, and one big grassy sycamore-studded back yard along the arroyo. But it had no living room until Anita Martinez and Tiburcio Vasquez joined with friends and neighbors to set up Flor y Canto. The room on Figueroa pulses with warmth and welcome, especially when Martinez arrives. The self-described “aesthetic tyrant” stage-manages the bookshelves, the color scheme, the placement of the foosball table and the moderately priced computers that school kids and their parents stop in to use. She greets everyone, from the grandmother around the corner to the Volvo-driving activists up the hill on nearby Mount Washington, often by name. Yet she insists: “I’m kind of shy.”

Flor y Canto took shape for Martinez and Vasquez when they traveled to Spain and stumbled upon neighborhood social centers, where people hung out, read to each other, saw movies, traded books and generally acted like family. They liked the notion of these nonprofit spaces with no owners, guided by a collective vision, and open to all. The two squeeze hours in for Flor y Canto during time off from their jobs at a clothing company in Arcadia. The sofas, bookshelves and lamps are donated, or made by volunteers. “It’s all part of a do-it-yourself ethic,” says Martinez. “It comes from, maybe, our punk background.”

Vasquez — he borrowed his nom du neighborhood from the California bandit/freedom fighter — notes that the books for sale reflect his anarchistic bent. He may suggest a book, if you ask, but he more often teaches neighbors how to use the Internet. “The point of it isn’t the politics,” he says. “It basically is what it is.”

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