It recently came to my attention that a fellow L.A. Weekly scribe published a piece heralding Echo Park as the greatest of L.A.'s many fine neighborhoods. While I have nothing against Echo Park personally, and have spent many an evening cruising its colorful streets in search of entertainment and/or street parking, I can say with absolute certainty that my colleague Hillel Aron is dead wrong. L.A.'s greatest neighborhood, bar none, is Highland Park.
HP may not hold the crown forever, but this is surely its moment. Crime is down, and housing prices are up (it's actually the hottest market in the country, according to the real estate website Redfin). Rents are rising but still dirt-cheap compared with Echo Park or Silver Lake, siphoning off those 'hoods' artist and musician populations in ever-greater numbers. The York Boulevard corridor welcomes a cool new bar or vintage shop on an almost weekly basis. And Second Saturday, the neighborhood's monthly gallery night, is starting to rival Downtown Art Walk both in terms of crowds and number of participating venues (51 and counting).
Every week, the neighborhood co-stars in proud HP resident Marc Maron's excellent new IFC show, Maron. Guests on Maron's "WTF" podcast, which he still records in his garage, no longer begin their interview with a bewildered, "Where the hell am I?" If anything, they probably make a post-interview beeline down to Johnny's or the York so they can find some tattooed baristas to hit on.
But it's not just Highland Park's sudden trendiness that makes it L.A.'s most excellent enclave, though it's certainly a welcome change from the not-so-long-ago days when York and Figueroa were wastelands of muffler shops and dollar stores. What makes HP truly special is that, for all its burgeoning gentrification, it remains one of the few corners of L.A. that is truly a neighborhood. The folks who run Café de Leche live 'round the way; so does Elliott Caine, the "jazz optometrist" just a few doors down who played trumpet on Beck's Mutations. Walk into nearly any business on York and tell them which avenues you live between (me: 56 and 57) and you are instantly their new favorite customer. There's a sense around here that we're all playing for the same team, even when we disagree on what our next move should be (yeah, the jury's still out on that Figueroa bike lane).
Turn the page to find out how illegal fireworks play into Highland Park's supremacy