the irony and the ecstasy

by urquiza!

gentrification avenue

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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blake shane


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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454 north avenue 56

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.

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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.

the irony and the ecstasy the genius of water photography by john tapia urquiza

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elsa’s bakery

07.04.13. elsa and her husband are from the yucatan peninsula and have had their business here for more than thirty-five years. her husband is a gregarious man confined to a chair and his cane. they live nearby in a large old craftsman house. she sold the business to edmundo rodriguez a former lausd teacher on the condition that he keep the name and mexican bakery. these are a few of the images from the last days before it changed hands.

in the context of gentrification highland park is experiencing home flipping in the surrounding area and the business district along york begins a second phase of property and small business turn over. the epicenter or first visible change began around 2009 on the corner of avenue 50 with cafe de leche. this next wave has now reached avenue 51 and the elsa’s bakery building nearly three years later. the first to appear was ba french restaurant taking space from the downsized elsa’s bakery. the old elsa’s was part bakery, part corner store with unfinished hand drawn signage on the glass, half stocked shelves of mexican products from abuelitas chocolate to cans of menudito, on the other side in glass cases are fresh baked mexican pastries. in these images you can still see the old landscape and the community at risk of displacement.

these images and text are part of a series that explores gentrification in highland park. the multi-year study is part if the sin turistas archive and collective. (more images about elsa’s available)

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the bridge between

07.04.13. york boulevard runs through the northern section of highland park as the primary east-west artery of the community. it disappears at the arroyo seco bridge where the street turns into pasadena avenue. after a brief turn on pasadena avenue it becomes mission street which is also the east-west artery for south pasadena. before the goldline this road ran seamlessly between these two photographs and these two neighbourhoods.

the socio-economic differences between the two subjects is evident. to further illustrate the dichotomy of south pasadena and highland park when these images were taken, homes in south pasadena were a solid $500-$600k, while highland park’s were barely reaching $300k and rents ranged from $700-$850 per month. as of this day rent for a one-bedroom apartment in highland park has doubled to more than $1500 dollars, homes are listing in the $700k range, while south pasadena remains stable and has inched up incrementally. the problem is not the land values, but the unequal consequences for long time residents and people living on the margins of society. highland park has a 38% poverty rate and starting around 2014 homelessness, evictions and rent increases exploded.

these images and text are part of a series that explores gentrification in highland park. the multi-year study is part if the sin turistas archive and collective.

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macadamia heaven

press tour with the ladies of blogging at the nearly hundred year old hawaiian hosts confectionary. their chocolate covered macadamias are made and shipped all over the world from this los angeles area plant in the city of gardena.


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the ancestral land: arturo no. three

mr. churro arturo no. one (link)

after the grand canyon arturo no. two (link)

he likes to present himself as absolute, an urquiza family trait probably something we brought from spain. even in the family home everything has a finality as well, but like all fathers it seems they relent eventually. you can see the dialogue between lisa his wife, devon and tristen that either support or challenges the hierarchy. in this world his daughter devon is his hope. he believes she is greater than the sum of he and lisa, while tristen is his innocence. it is the self he keeps hidden from everyone. there is a photograph my sister carmen took of him with his cousin loui as boys playing on a big wheel tricycle. i think that moment or perhaps that photograph helped define him. photography is tricky business like that, does it project? or does it reflect?

these images took place during our expedition of sorts to visit the town of his great grandparents and where our branch of tapias in the united states grew from. globe, arizona was once the capital and the county seat where francisco tapia owned the dodge dealership. he sold cars and trucks to the indians and mexicans. even as a dark skinned mestizo his wealth as local leader allowed him to participate in the mainstream white culture to an extent. arturo is highly assimilated into american culture, but desires to understand his origins or perhaps find some cloak to define himself. sitting in the globe church that our ancestors may have sat in, i asks the same questions of myself. but also, this place is one step closer to Isabel his grandmother, who grew up here with her sisters playing among the pueblo ruins before it was turned into a park and visitors center. closer to my grandmother felicitas who would sit on the hilltop old western cemetery to tend the gravestones of the unknown with my mother. just as isabel did with me in the cemeteries of los angeles. he does not walk alone into the future, lisa, devon and tristen all walk resolute together through the desert to where they are going.

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the youngest elder

i remember arizona through my aunt eloise’s house, wild and faded. beaten by the sun and heat, the economics of race and my latent family along the salt river. from there i can see my grandmother’s apron and stern face whom i never knew in person only by photograph. my aunt eloise’s daughter, my cousin raquel… i always thought she had such an exotic name. she was a nurse and married to gustavo guiterez the farm labour and native american activists of arizona. gustavo passed earlier that year. it was “raquee’s” turn now. my mother always wanted me to know them better. she told me once, “gus is a communist”. it was the cold war and he had the beard to prove it. the thing i think they had was the love and respect for other people. that is what she wanted me to know with them. whatever trouble gus got into as an activist, they shared it. “raquee” was cesar chavez’s nurse when he fasted for 22 days, while gus organised across mexico and the southwest. they were always helping, doing, traveling in an old truck or van. though my mother and her mother lived in different worlds, the spirit of travel was something they both shared. these same traits i see in my siblings and cousins. she was tapia.

raquel, her daughter’s name as well and gustavo her grandson bend down to begin spreading her ashes in the desert. everyone takes a turn and with a small cup we scoop up some ashes. each of us wanders off into a secluded corner of papago park. you can’t say one name without the other. when gus and raquee moved nearby so many years ago, the area was wild desert. i would hear stories about the salt river and camping trips, pow wows and my cousins voices, “come to arizona and visit, johnny”. the last time i saw raquee was under the mural a local artist painted in their house. we never sit long enough… now it is me telling my nephew arturo, “visit your cousins, they live right down the street from you”.

05.19.12 — 11.10.13

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primos y primas

they are not like us, but we are exactly like them. eyes, nose, mouth and ears, we are copies of our parents as we are copies of copies and copies of each other. perhaps, we keep making copies until we forget our origins.

05.19.12 — 11.10.13

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poesia para la gente

presented by avenue 50 studio “poesia para la gente” scheduled readings by poets iris de anda, abel salas and matt sedillo followed by an open mic on saturday may 25, 2013 at the home depot workers center in cypress park. more than half dozen poets gathered in the morning along with the usual day labourers sanctioned by the center. the worker’s center is operated by IDEPSCA, instituto de educacion popular del sur de california and is located at the south western corner of the parking lot, under the interstate 5 overpass. at first the rush of cars and semi trucks four or five storeys above is a bit overwhelming, but eventually the traffic becomes a white noise as you settle into the cool morning air with a white styrofoam cup of antigua coffee and a pan dulce from la morenita.

if you have ever hired a day laourer at all, you know that they are different than us. they are in their work clothes, we are in our saturday casual clothes. we pay them cash at the end of the day, while we get a monthly check, sick days and even vacation days. we for the most part speak english, they for the most part speak spanish. they come to our home and work on any given specific task we ask for the day, we commute to a concrete cube and probably like myself push paper around a desk and stare at a computer screen. if we have never hired a day labourer that knowledge and experience gap between us is even greater than the border that separates them from their origins and even their family. we are different. we are separated by perceptions and fears, money and status.

on the westside of the home depot parking lot are the workers with an identity card that qualifies them to be hired out through the center. on the opposite side of the lot with a few on the north are the day labourers with no documents or disposition for that kind of organisation. it is every man and his own skills for himself, while larbourers at the work center are selected by lottery as clients come seeking help. the work center labourer can negotiate their own rate depending on the tasks, as well as pass on a job for the next labourer in the lottery line. when your car pulls up to the east lot with the unregulated labourers it is the man and sometimes woman who can shout the loudest, jump the highest in the crowd and elbow their way into the passengers seat or the back of your pick up truck that will work on that day. the others will retreat to the shade of the curbside and wait for the next vehicle to pass.

as a veteran of many readings dating back to the late 80s and the days of the onyx and e-bar in los feliz and pasadena respectively, i can say they have become quite predictable. the breakout moment at “poesia para la gente” came when a day labourer closed the gap between us a little more. day labourer and poet leonso “el revolucionario” martinez read his works “stray dog” and “¡benditas tus manos mama!” in spanish.



a labourer reads the morning newspaper before the poets started arriving at “poesia para la gente”, may 25, 2013, IDEPSCA work center at the home depot, cypress park.




through the gates of the worker’s center abel salas of the community arts newspaper “brooklyn and boyle” reads the spanish translation of a poem with poet matt sedillo reading the english version at “poesia para la gente”, may 25, 2013, IDEPSCA work center at the home depot, cypress park.




iris de anda reads from her folio while the day labourer and poet leonso “el revolucionario” martinez looks on and waits for his turn to read at “poesia para la gente”, may 25, 2013, IDEPSCA work center at the home depot, cypress park.




two audience member look on as abel salas reads at “poesia para la gente”, may 25, 2013, IDEPSCA work center at the home depot, cypress park.




a day labourer and the the poet flor de te talking at “poesia para la gente”, may 25, 2013, IDEPSCA work center at the home depot, cypress park.




from left to right, day labourer, poet flor de te, the day labourer and poet leonso “el revolucionario” martinez talking with audience member and making final notes on their reading materials at “poesia para la gente”, may 25, 2013, IDEPSCA work center at the home depot, cypress park.




poet flor de te reads to herself the poem “¡benditas tus manos mama!” by the day labourer and poet leonso “el revolucionario” martinez at “poesia para la gente”, may 25, 2013, IDEPSCA work center at the home depot, cypress park.




a day labourer not affiliated with the center listens to the reading from the parking lot at “poesia para la gente”, may 25, 2013, IDEPSCA work center at the home depot, cypress park.




under the shadow of the interstate poet, musician and entertainer raul cardona of teatro arroyo starts the open mic portion with a reading and a manu chau acoustic cover at “poesia para la gente”, may 25, 2013, IDEPSCA work center at the home depot, cypress park.




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