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Exploring Echo Park: One of LA's Oldest Neighborhoods Part 1.

Rich in history, diverse cultures, and unique landmarks, Echo Park is a must visit neighborhood for locals and visitors alike.

Anyone who has taken one of my neighborhood walking tours could tell you that I love to create routes that will take you way off the beaten path and into areas that the average visitor would never stumble across on their own. The LA River Eco Tour and Secret Stair Hike weaves together the neighborhoods of Frogtown, Silver Lake, and Echo Park with a series of dirt roads, old cable car paths, and secret stairs. The majority of that tour takes place in the northern hills of Echo Park, a subsection of the neighborhood known as Elysian Heights. It is a fascinating place to explore and chat with the locals, but I started to feel like Echo Park itself was being under represented in my suite of tours... well, not anymore!

From the natural history of LA to early filmmaking, Echo Park ties into many different aspects of Los Angeles. In order to cover as much as possible, I created a walking route that is 5.8 miles and took me around 3hrs to complete (while moving slow and taking a bunch of pictures.) There could still be a longer version that loops in the Elysian Heights section from the River tour that would definitely push the route over 6.5 miles, but that's for another day. When I walk, I use an app called Relive to track the route and other statistics. The app will turn the walk into a map and video, which I have linked below! This is a great resource for those that want to explore the neighborhood on their own.

If you're following the map, you'll begin at Echo Park Lake. I like to begin near the corner of Glendale Blvd and Park Ave, across from the Foursquare Gospel. There's a lot to be said about the church and their controversial founder Aimee Semple McPherson, but we will save that for part 3 or 4 of this series... You'll begin by heading away from the church, toward the water, until you come across the statue "Queen of the Angels" by Ada May Sharpless. Often referred to as the "Lady of the Lake", this art deco sculpture by Hawaiian born Sharpless was a product of the Public Works of Art Project (P.W.A.P). During the Great Depression, the Federal government threw its weight behind a variety of projects, some of which employed artists. Ada May Sharpless was one of about 100 recipients of Federal aid that would keep her making art through the depression. In 1934/35, Sharpless unveiled "Queen of the Angels" to mixed reviews. Despite Arthur Miller, art critic for the LA Times, describing the piece as "not her happiest work" the sculpture was placed in Echo Park in 1935. The sculpture is placed on a 4 sided pedestal with bas reliefs depicting different elements of Los Angeles. 1. City Hall 2. LA Harbor 3. San Gabriel Mountains 4. The Hollywood Bowl.

Photo: PBS SoCal

Staying to the left of the "Queen of Angels" will take you around the wetlands in the park. These wetlands act as a filter for the water that flows into the lake from the surrounding hills and neighborhoods. Echo Park Lake is a storm water detention basin that holds water until the city releases the water into drains at the far side of the lake from the wetlands. That water will make its way to the LA River and into the Pacific Ocean. Echo Park Lake was created by damming the Arroyo de Los Reyes and an irrigation ditch from the LA River. The LA Canal and Reservoir Company created the reservoir for drinking water in 1868 and it was originally called Reservoir No. 4. The Park itself was created in 1892, after a city inspector deemed the dam unstable. This meant the city government would not overflow the reservoir for additional water storage and that the land would become a park for the rapidly growing city - a huge boon for the real estate developers that were trying to get the city to take over the reservoir. While converting the reservoir into a park, city employees commented on hearing an actual echo carry their conversations across the water. The natural echo became the basis for the name of the park and lake. Development has ruined the echo, but the name remains!

Speaking of real estate, it is time to leave the lake area and head for the neighborhood of Angeleno/Angelino Heights, an early real estate development just outside of DTLA. You'll leave the park and walk along Bellevue Ave, while keeping the 101 Highway to your right. Turn left on Laveta Terrace and then stay to the right when you reach Wallace Ave. This is where you'll need to keep looking to the right, as you pass the large apartment building you'll see a public stairway that connect Wallace Ave to W Edgeware Rd. Once you reach the top of the stairs, go right and then left onto Carroll Ave - and you've done it! Welcome to Angeleno Heights!

Angeleno Heights is, arguably, the first suburb of Los Angeles. Developed in 1886 by William W. Stilson and Everett E. Hall, Angeleno Heights was meant to be a neighborhood that would appeal to the wealthy looking to escape to, what was then, the "Westside". Several homes were developed before the economic bust of 1888, but then the neighborhood languished for years. Angeleno Heights found new popularity with early films stars when Edendale was the center of LA filmmaking (Edendale was an early name for the part of Echo Park that is now Glendale Blvd.) After the 101 highway and other developments destroyed much of the old Angeleno Heights, residents created LA's first historic preservation zone. This would help ensure that Angeleno Heights would go on to become the most intact Victorian neighborhood in LA.

Today, Angeleno Heights is a very popular filming location. When major TV shows and movies need Victorian homes fo film in or around, they often end up in Angeleno Heights. The Haliwell Manor from TV's "Charmed" is just down from the street from a home used in the "Thriller" music video with Michael Jackson. On the same block as those two homes, sits another house used in the TV series "Mad Men". Last, but certainly not least, the Torreto House from "Fast and the Furious" is around the corner from those other film homes.

That's a good bit for part 1 of this post. Expect some more Echo Park information in the near future. The post will continue along the route in the provided map. Coming up in part 2, we will get into Elysian Park, Sunset Blvd history, and Dodger Stadium.

If you just can't wait for the next post, consider taking the History and Architecture of Echo Park tour and seeing the neighborhood in person! Until then, thanks for reading!

Chris Westbrook


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