Posts tagged Boyle Heights

A significant amount of investment and accompanying interest has focused across the section of the Los Angeles River located north of Downtown Los Angeles. Some of that attention has been directed toward Long Beach where the LA River empties into the Pacific Ocean, but very little public awareness exists about the sections located between the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which include Cudahy [KUD-ə-hay],  Maywood, and South Gate.

AHBE Lab wanted to find out more about these stretches of communities following the river. Jiani Shen, a masters student at LSU, and Estevan Castenada, a bachelor’s student from Cal Poly Pomona, are both AHBE summer interns. They’ve been both tasked to gather information about this section along the Los Angeles River, asked to research upon open space recommendations, as well as report about connections to the adjoining communities. Both summer interns will share their observations about living within the Los Angeles landscape, with a first post from Estevan:

Graphic by Estevan Castaneda

Is there a link between housing values and the geographic elevation levels across Los Angeles?

The answer to this question may not have a direct answer. From personal experience, I’ve associated houses on higher elevations with a higher value because of the seclusion from noise and their inclusion of beautiful views. But this is not always the case. When does elevation become a valuable feature and when does it devalue a location?

Downtown Los Angeles from behind the Hollywood Sign” by James Gubera. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

My theory is that a combination of components come into play: the neighborhood’s average income, the availability of transportation, and the elevation of one’s home. Income level would likely play a role in the possibility of the home occupants owning a car. If a family can buy a car, their need for public transportation diminishes. But when families cannot afford a car, then access to public transportation becomes a top priority.

This ties closely with the availability, or lack thereof, of other transportation modes. Let us consider two cities, Beverly Hills and Boyle Heights. These cities exist at the opposite levels of income and public transportation spectrum and present different values in relation to their similar elevations. In the case of Beverly Hills, where the top fifth percent earns up to $660,000 per year, public transportation options are sparse. This has little to no effect on the high-income communities in Beverly Hills, but it does affect the low-income communities that live there. Some families in Beverly Hills earn as little as $14,000, and public transportation is their only option for getting to and from their jobs.

“Hollywood and Beverly Hills” by Aito Aguirregabiria. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In the case of Boyle Heights, the public transportation system is not sparse, but the amount of high quality transportation is lacking. The highest quality mode of public transportation in Boyle Heights is the Gold Line, which opened in 2009. This neighborhood’s average income is around $33,000, while the Los Angeles County average is about $58,000. Thus, the need for proper public transportation to connect these neighborhoods to the larger city of LA exists.

“Hollywood and Beverly Hills” by Aito Aguirregabiria. Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Elevation ties both factors if average income and available transportation together, creating value. Usually when homes are put on a higher elevation, they are separated from main streets and the nuisances such as noise, pollution, and trash that comes with living in close proximity of other citizens. In Beverly Hills, this results in an idealized neighborhood with a higher average housing value. But the opposite can be true when higher elevation separates people from proper public transportation. In Boyle Heights where a car is not always as readily available, this can mean a walk down or up steep slopes,which is not a desired everyday route for older and disabled citizens.

There are other variables that ultimately affect property values, but this is just my theory…



Photo: Wendy Chan

Photo: Wendy Chan

I was on my way back to the office after visiting a project site when my navigation app Waze guided me to an old community landmark. I found myself in Boyle Heights, standing across a cemetery. The cemetery looked like one straight from the movies, but situated in the center of a residential neighborhood. I parked my car, in awe of the field of tombstones before me. I felt a tinge of spookiness, this I was too scared to walk inside. Instead, I peered through the fence, noticing one area of the cemetery was definitely older, its age demonstrated by apparent weathering and the Victorian-style tombstones. There were various tombstones, some even dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. I was intrigued by this historic cemetery sitting in the middle of a densely populated neighborhood.

Bridget “Biddy” Mason died in Los Angeles in 1891 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

Bridget “Biddy” Mason died in Los Angeles in 1891 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

Evergreen Cemetery has a rich history as one of Los Angeles oldest cemetery. Established in 1877, the current occupants of the 67 acre cemetery and their tombstones tell the story of generations of immigrants and various cultures that added to the fabric of this community. Unlike most other cemeteries of the time, African Americans were allowed to be buried at Evergreen Cemetery. Many prominent African American citizens like Bridget “Biddy” Mason can be found here. The cemetery was also popular with first generation Japanese that called Boyle Heights home; there is a memorial dedicated to the 442 Regimental Combat Unit which was comprised of Japanese-American soldiers were served during WWII. The Garden of Pines was also dedicated in 1966 in memorial of the early first generation Japanese pioneers. During the Obon festival relatives of the deceased would gather at the cemetery to clean their ancestor’s graves and perform the Bon Odori folk dance to welcome the spirits of the dead.

Illustration: History of Los Angeles County, California, Thompson and West, 1880

Illustration: History of Los Angeles County, California, Thompson and West, 1880

The cemetery was also home to members of the early Chinese laborers in the late 1800s, which unfortunately was the only ethnic group banned from being buried in the Evergreen proper at that time. They were only allowed space adjacent to the potter’s field for a fee while their Anglo counterparts were buried in the city-owned section for free. A ceremonial shrine was erected in 1888; in reality the “shrine” was just a brick furnace that Chinese families were relegated to use to burn offerings for the dead to use in their afterlife. Nevertheless, the shrine was used during the Chinese Ghost Festival, a celebration where families would arrive to clean the graves and offer food and wine to the spirits of departed ancestors and friends.

The cemetery was also home to the Jewish community who once called Boyle Heights their home in the early 20th century; it was in 1854, the Hebrew Benevolent Society first established a Jewish cemetery, north of town and west of Calvary, towards the Angelino Heights area. . There is a section called “Showmen’s Rest” where over 400 carnival workers and performers are buried near the Lion topped memorial.


Even its current neglected state, Evergreen Cemetery rates amongst the 25 Things to See at This Sunday’s “Heart of Los Angeles” as rated by Streetsblog LA. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog LA

In the last couple of decades, the community of Boyle Heights has changed from predominately Armenian to Latino. Today visitors can see members of both the Japanese American and Mexican American continually paying their respects and remembrance of their love ones within the hallowed grounds.

When Evergreen Cemetery was first opened, it was during an era when cemeteries were used as a recreational location, similar to a public park. Families would gather at cemeteries for picnics and celebrations especially during Memorial Day. Nowadays, the cemetery has fallen into disrepair with neglect, a lack of funding, and undoubtedly due to new drought restrictions. Instead of the hallmark landscape of a traditional cemetery, Evergreen is anything but green today – a field of dirt and dead trees. The few patches of green are where families and community members have taken it onto themselves to water and care for the graves of their love ones.

Photos: Wendy Chan

Photos: Wendy Chan


The cemetery should be a Los Angeles historic landmark and should be maintained with greater care in respect of the deceased, the families they left behind, and also for the historical significance of our city’s varied residents. The cemetery is a reflection of the diverse history of Los Angeles and the melting pot of cultures that have long called the city home. There was even a petition organized by family members to implore politicians to force a change of ownership in hopes of improving grounds maintenance. For more information about the struggles of the family members and the rich history of Evergreen Cemetery, visit this site.