images are from approximately four months, starting in the spring of 2015 as highland park sleeps through the impending upheaval. its business as usual. analysing the situation in retrospect, it appears the collective consciousness of a group of land owners can see the changes and are starting to visualise the profit potentials in their minds. by early the following year many properties are up for sale. and, by the end of 2015 the landscape will be extraordinarily different.
we start on york boulevard across the street from cafe de leche where the first visible sign of gentrification arrived around 2009. its opening is a major event and can be qualified as revitalisation for sometime. it is the first new retail to open with a complete makeover, cafe de leche’s owners envisioned it as a multi-cultural and multi-racial hub. the aesthetic was decidedly contemporary and had more in common with an industrial upscale swork in eagle rock than a cafe antigua on figueroa. today it is fairly multi-cultural in some respects showing art from avenue 50 studio’s chicano artists, while the racial diversity of its customers is limited to their economic diversity, that is wealthy white and assimilated people of colour.
other businesses such as the restaurant “the wild hare” that displaced the chinese karaoke bar and restaurant may have opened and closed its doors before cafe de leche opened or, clare graham and the mor/york gallery that has been there since the 90s. neither operated traditional hours, so their presence went largely unnoticed. however, in around 2006, mor/york painted their name on the building exterior in a modern sans serif typeface and it was quickly tagged the next day. that low level resistance did not last long when johnny’s bar and the investor driven york opened up. the artist brian malman also contributed fuel to the change by staking claim for the art and creative class by appropriating the empty gas station lot signage. malman, an eagle rock resident replaced the old mobile station’s with his art statement, “form, line, here, art gallery,” in what appeared to be a support of the kristi engle gallery that relocated from downtown. in a coffee driven exercise i performed traffic counts from the corner of cafe de leche. in 2009 it was fair to say you could see an obvious 15-20 people of colour per hour coming and going from the bus stops to retail and the residential. today in 2016 it has become a destination street for consumers from around the city. its traffic is easily 50-60 people per hour mostly from their own vehicles or walking from residential.
figueroa street runs north and south. it is seemingly similar to an outsider’s eye. however, it has a stronger economic base that many of the businesses on york. the architectural scale is grander, the boulevard wider, lot sizes have more square footage and has institutional businesses. york developed as a tributary of figueroa. at one time figueroa had a rail line shuffling materials from eagle rock to los angeles. it is the elder of the two streets with the first church being built here in 1900 and with several other destinations such as the highland theatre, the ebell club, the mason’s lodge and many more local restaurants. york’s historic destination hubs share a similarity with the current spaces. mor/york gallery was formerly an open air style safeway store, while café de leche was a mid-century diner.
the greyhound becomes the epicenter of the figueroa gentrification wave. it displaces a sleepy, but cavernous pupuseria that served 99 cent pupusas and aguas frescas. a self-employed gardener could feed his family for twenty to thirty dollars. in contrast the new greyhound serves $11 draft beers and primarily serves a local and exclusive audience of assimilated latinos and wealthy whites from the hills. its presence was preceded by future studio by many years. however, the home of chicken boy as it is also known had deep community roots and accessible art despite being associated with the creative class that dominated york boulevard. the fitness gym pop physique opens shortly after the greyhound and foreshadows the future of figueroa with a clash of aesthetics and lifestyles.
because the previously mentioned scale and proliferation of figueroa’s “latino urbanism” it has not folded as quickly. highland park developed as a sub-economy of the surrounding wealthy enclaves of pasadena and glendale providing them with a domestic labour force. the gardeners and street vendors are highly visible on the streets and at the panederias and mercados of highland park, but we speculate they are undercounted in statistical data because of their cash economy. the population imported their native value system which is what we are now calling “latino urbanism” as a means to meet its own community needs. food service and entertainment make up 10%, manufacturing another 10%, but the largest workforce in highland park is clearly the health, education and social workers at twenty one percent. all these working class segments are being destabilised by the shifting wealth in the economy. unfortunately, unless they are land owners, they will be locked out of any benefits that will result from this economic shift. the same scenario awaits the core businesses of inexpensive restaurants, clothing stores, pharmacies, hair salons and dollar stores that anchor the vibrant street life. they will come under threat in the following year when values increase even further.
(see image captions for more info)
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in the process of covering the changes gentrification brings to highland park i have discovered the many overlooked details we all pass by everyday. this is a continuing series of images found in the streets.
this is a proof set only and have not been retouched for print, but please inquire if you are interested in purchasing archival prints. we can also create a custom triptych or diptych for your individual space in a variety of sizes or mounts.
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the homeless artist blake shane owned a neon company in the 80s and reproduced the iconic neon looks that were popular during the time. he lost his business and warehouse and currently lives in his truck with a parrot. he spends his time between highland park and an encampment in simi valley. he also spends a lot of time in “slab city” where there are hundreds if not thousands of homeless encampments in the dessert.
blake shane’s anonymous street art can be seen in various parts of los angeles, he claims he has done a couple hundred pieces in northeast los angeles over the last ten years. you will recognise a blake shane piece by the obsessively hammered metal work of a oxacan silversmith. he recycles discarded consumer and industrial metal that that has outlived its usefulness in our above ground world. the parts are flattened and sometimes cut into the abstract forms. before their new life as an art object they were as common as a hubcap or manifold. he nails them to the many telephone and power poles that populate the older neighbourhoods of los angeles. his pieces are sometimes small unnoticeable anomalies in the urban landscape to other that are several feet in height that wrap around a utility pole with the casualness of a runaway vine or as some ornate masked face of an urban totem.
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the threads that tie gentrification to displacement are complex and not always visible. this evidence is sometimes circumstantial and occasionally relies on intent. politicians, landlords and developers use the rubric for displacement very literally. in their narrow view only direct displacement exists through a first person action of removing people from their homes. all these players exist in denial of the more subtle displacement that disguises itself behind the laws, eviction processes, the development process or the rise in land values. these cases are used to argue that protections are in place and it is the responsibility of the displaced for losing their rights and homes. the following illustrates the mental and legal pressures of how gentrification has led to homelessness.more text below >>>
david is a 40 year old, college educated, white male, percussionist and music teacher living in highland park with his pit bull for nearly ten years. his girlfriend is constant guest at his apartment. he rented a one bedroom that shared the upstairs landing with another unit in the same restored victorian home. the original owner of the house was an artist and his wife who lived down stairs and painted in a studio-shed in the back of the property. the artist-husband passed away and eventually the property changed title. the new landlord purchased the house in 2009 and proceeded to raise the rent to the legal limit of 3% each year to the current $750 a month.
the demographic of both landlord and tenant is in contrast to the highland park’s typical residents of 2009. it does show what gentrification is truly about which is wealth and poverty. the new landlord is an african american, approximately 30-40 years old, lgbt, nurse and midwife. the business she operates on the ground floor of the house is a holistic healing center for stress and trauma. the property was purchased and is held in trust by her mother.
the home was built in 1900 and subdivided some years later into four units, the ground floor, upstairs has two one bedroom and one studio unit. having been built before october 1978 and with multiple units places it under the rent stabilization ordinance (RSO) or rent control protections. the los angeles housing department at the time deemed the studio unit illegal and the landlord lost a portion her rental income. the remaining units are still very large and are situated in the tree canopy on a quiet street in the heart of highland park. the other tenant is a retired woman on a fixed income working part time as a museum docent in pasadena.
after about three years of incremental rent increases the landlord began a series of harassing behavior with threats to evict. david sought legal advice and more information about his rights many months before the situation escalated. the landlord accused him and his dog of damaging the exterior moulding of a door to the historic home, as well as, his dog was not part of her lease agreement. she issued a “three day notice to quit” which is primarily used to correct a violation of the lease or late rent. often times we have found landlords use these to intimidate or expel uneducated tenants. david offered to pay for the damages, but also learned that his dog was legally allowed as it was part of his original lease with the old landlord. in an attempt to mitigate the conflict, both sought estimates to replace the damaged moulding. david’s estimate came in under $1000, while the landlord’s repair estimate topped out at more than $3500.
the tensions build over the cost differences. the landlord appears to rewrite the house rules as they suit her with a consistent message that she wants him to leave. in one such instance residents are not allowed to park in the ample driveway or property for any reason including loading or unloading. eventually the tensions become so bad that we witness shouting matches between the two on the property. the tenant david was eventually served with an “unlawful detainer” or eviction suit. this might be explained as micromanaging by a novice landlord unfamiliar with the laws and procedures, however the outcome seems to prove differently.
as the day in court approached it became more apparent that the law was on the side of the tenant. instead of the judge deciding who and which amount was reflective of the repair work on the door, the landlord settled with a relocation payment of $7000 for the tenant to move out within (90) days. if one examines the rental data at the time, david’s unit could have been rented for $1200 for its size and exclusivity. that would make the relocation payment and repairs easily recoverable within eighteen to twenty-four months from a new tenant’s rent. the story of many displacements are rooted in this type of subterfuge of a dogs, damages or late rents. because the unit was under RSO the tenant had to break the terms of the lease before the landlord could legally evict them, in this case the landlord used the dog and the door. whether the settlement was a victory for the tenant or the landlord add to this a distressing fact, the legal minimum for a relocation fee in RSO protected housing is $9000 for a single individual.
what happens next is the greater tragedy. many times every person’s first impulse is to blame poor people for their own poverty with the choices they make and their lack of desire to compete or achieve. david’s income for a single male is on the border of poverty. it is difficult for him to admit, but he acknowledges he is not in the mainstream. his bank account like most americans is 2-3 months away from depletion should he lose his job. david maintains his teaching position at a music school in east la, tutors several students and has occasional odd jobs or musical gigs. now, he is faced with a false windfall of $7000 meant to secure his future housing. in his last 90 days he searches for housing options that would include his dog similar to the quality of life he has enjoyed for the last seven years in of highland park. he is developing a vague understanding as he starts to calculate that it may not be possible. he considers room mates and smaller units as options.
then, another rationalisation begins to occur in david’s mind, $7000 is the largest amount he has ever had in his bank account. he could effectively have a savings account now of some worth. however, he also quickly realises if he were to rent an apartment at the current rates, that savings amount would disappear very quickly. david has made his next rational decision based on a future hope to protect his newly found savings and save more money for something that is equal or better. he gives up his housing. many months later i would hear this story again and again from people living in the encampments of the arroyo seco before cedillo’s homeless sweeps. while david couched surfed for many months, he secretly moved into a rehearsal space where he stores some of his possessions. he also works there on the weekends. three years later he still showers at his friends house, the dog stays with other friends. david still sleeps the nights at his place of work without their knowledge.david’s name has been changed and the description of the location where he is living has been minimised to protect him from retribution.
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january 23, 2013
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from the series, “the love train” and assorted street sessions. the bulk are from new years eve 2013, but some from as early as 12.14.12 through early 2014. this series is constantly growing and changing from every moment on the street with a camera. this is the third edit for some of these, while others get added or dropped.
street photography is beat poetry written while swimming in the current. it is a flip chart of time and a record of a city or space for a decade or an era, that is if it survives the day after… this series of street photographs explores the la metro. style, culture and aesthetics constantly change, but people do not. we are afraid, we are voyeurs and exhibitionists, we are together on the train or bus and we do human things. we come and go worrying about things and forgetting more than we worry about. the human race is to the finish line of death. with that eventuality comes all the fears and joys of being human. this series of images on the metro explore how we use this constructed space or our city hive to fulfill our own needs of comfort and dreams.
in the beginning my early street images were distant from what i was searching for. on the road to making these images i found the guilt and pity of street photography. we peer into the intimacy of other’s lives seeking the beauty of being. that i am human and sometimes lapse in the pursuit is my fault. i forget they are gifts given to me by the subjects and not something to be taken. this time we spend running and in transit between moments of connection and contemplation trying to get to the next one, and the next one. the rich strut through the subway, the lovers embrace, the homeless find refuge while the poor are trying to get home. the train, the car, the bus is our solace as it is our window to the world.