Echo Park is, depending on your point of view: the poor man's Silver Lake, the rich man's Highland Park, the Williamsburg of the West Coast, a 40,455-person working-class burg full of diversity and a wee bit of gang violence. Or, it's that strange little neighborhood you drive through getting to Dodger Stadium.
But, bar none, it is the greatest neighborhood in Los Angeles (sorry Holmby Hills, you were this close).
Any great neighborhood in L.A. must have "location." Verdant, ravine-filled Topanga Canyon might be the cat's pajamas, but it's like a 45-minute drive to see a movie. Echo Park, however, is near practically everything that matters, save for the Pacific Ocean and the Museum of Jurassic Technology.
It's a stone's throw from Chinatown, a short bike ride from downtown L.A., Silver Lake and Los Feliz. It's also surrounded by four, count em, four major freeways:
The 5, The 2, The 110 and The 101. That makes for a quick jaunt to the Arclight in Hollywood, The Americana in Glendale, (referred to, affectionately, as The Armenia) or even USC.
Echo Park has the highly underrated Elysian Park (technically a separate neighborhood of 2,500 souls), full of great hiking trails, teenagers smoking pot, and cops trying to get back their muscle tone. Los Angeles Police Academy is adjacent to Elysian Park. The cops' diner, next to the firing range, is open to the public, although the food is horrible. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Police Revolver & Athletic Club has a kickass gift/equipment store where you can buy such things as "tactical pants" for $29.95.
There's also Echo Park -- the park itself, bounded by Glendale Boulevard and Echo Park, Bellevue and Park avenues -- set to reopen in a couple of months (fingers crossed).
Echo Park the park has a placid man-made reservoir-turned-lake, circa 1860 (the Paleozoic Era, by L.A. standards) that's undergone a massive cleaning and renovation (pray for the return of the lotus flowers and paddle boats) and features a charming bridge leading to a teensy island, ducks, palm trees, a jogging path, and a weird statue of a lady holding up her hands.
On the Fourth of July, the park turns into L.A.'s biggest open-air fireworks market/amateur fireworks display, where 11-year-olds push shopping carts full of roman candles, bottle rockets and M-80s. Then everyone shoots them off over the lake and at each other.
The whole thing looks like downtown Beirut circa 1983.
Check out Angelus Temple across from the park, a massive coliseum-esque church built in the early 1920s by celebrity lady evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.
But perhaps the greatest historic gem in Los Angeles is Echo Park's Victorian-era pocket neighborhood, the tiny hillside community of Angelino Heights.
Angelino Heights was the city's second suburb, built when downtown L.A. was all dirt roads and horse buggies. The first 'burb was Victorian-era Bunker Hill, whose opulent late 1800s mansions were later turned into flophouses with spectacular views, then, finally, skyscrapers.
But not Angelino Heights.
It's chock-full of stunning Victorian mansions lovingly renovated and available for personal tours if you know the right people (OK, it's the L.A. Conservancy). Angelino Heights rivals Hancock Park as the best place to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, attracting several thousand kids and their parents.
For a while now, Echo Park has been right in that sweet spot of half-gentrification. It hasn't been completely taken over by middle-class white people.
An un-sourced line in Echo Park's Wikipedia entry calls it "one of the most diversified communities in the United States" -- but it's gentrified just enough so as not to make you afraid of getting stabbed when you stumble home from The Gold Room or The Echo late at night.
Now, a word about hipsters.
Yes, there are many of them in Echo Park, especially north of Sunset Boulevard, where property values appear to be rising, development, gentrification blah blah blah.
But give hipsters their due: they are (mostly) attractive and at normal body weight. Hipsters open up delicious restaurants like Cortez and Sage, and while their opinions are often offensive, their need to constantly appear apathetic about everyone and everything renders them (mostly) harmless. They also helped popularize well-fitting jeans, so they deserve credit for that too.
So what if the coffee's better in Silver Lake? Or the food's better in Los Feliz? Or the shops are cuter in Atwater Village?
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We of Echo Park can visit them all, then come home and hang our hats in a more affordable, more convenient and more diverse Los Angeles neighborhood.
Now if we could just get a fucking subway stop, then it would be perfect.