Hidden Gems of Boyle Heights
Find out about MorrisseyOKE, Hollenbeck Skate Plaza and more
Boyle Heights has a long and rich history in Los Angeles. That history can be found across the neighborhood, from Mariachi Plaza to Evergreen Cemetery. The neighborhood is home to one of the city's early parks, an art studio that's tied to the Chicano Movement of the civil rights era, and the long tradition of street art in the neighborhood. Read on for some of the hidden gems within Boyle Heights.
Benjamin Franklin Branch Library
Benjamin Franklin Library has a history that goes back to the late 1800s, although this Boyle Heights institution was not always in the location where it resides now. Opened in 1916, the original building on 1st Street was part of the massive wave of Carnegie grants for libraries. That building was razed in the 1970s. Today, you'll see a more modern library in its place. The hidden gem is near the entrance. Look up and you'll see large paintings from renowned Goez Art Studio. Best known for L.A.-area murals, these pieces bring outdoor art inside and points to the city's mural tradition.
Josefina Lopez, who wrote Real Women Have Curves, was raised in Boyle Heights and launched CASA 0101 in 2000. In September 2011, CASA 0101 moved to a larger venue a block away. The original location was renamed "Little Casa" and both spaces are part of CASA 0101. The theater's calendar includes plays, dance performances and other cultural productions. They also offer classes for both children and adults in subjects like acting, voice and playwriting. CASA 0101 is also home to the Jean Deleage Art Gallery, which features exhibitions of local artists.
Morrissey fans may have heard of Eastside Luv. Located adjacent to Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, the bar is the home of MorrisseyOKE, the free party where you can sing along to your favorite songs by Morrissey and his former band, The Smiths. But that's not the bar's only superfan karaoke night. Eastside Luv also gives you the chance to take on the tunes of the late Juan Gabriel and Selena at their respective JuangaOKE and SelenaOKE nights. There is a dress code and you should check their website calendar for event details.
Evergreen Memorial Park & Crematory
Established in 1877, Evergreen Memorial Park & Crematory is L.A.'s oldest cemetery and truly reflective of the city's history. This is the part of Los Angeles that often remains hidden in the shadow of Hollywood glamour. While there aren't any celebrity graves at Evergreen, if you walk amongst the weathered headstones, you'll get a good slice of life in Los Angeles. Notable interments include John Strother Griffin (founder of East L.A.), "Biddy" Mason (founder of the First AME Church), George Albert Ralphs (founder of the supermarket chain), Isaac Newton Van Nuys, and several former L.A. Mayors. Evergreen is also a popular jogging spot, as there's a track surrounding the cemetery itself. Film fans will recognize Evergreen from its appearances in A Nightmare on Elm Street and Mask.
The cemetery is non-denominational, so the permanent residents come from many backgrounds - portions of the cemetery represent different ethnic communities that have settled here for generations. Evergreen never banned African Americans from being buried at the cemetery. A large area devoted to Chinese Americans dates to the Gold Rush. A monument in the heart of the park honors the Japanese Americans of the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team who fought in World War II - the unit was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Obama in 2010.
"LA Luchador" - Hardware Studio
There's a wide range of street art throughout Boyle Heights. As you explore the major streets, you're certain to see artwork that essentially functions as signage for the stores and restaurants housed in the buildings, but some pieces aren't advertising what's inside the shop. Large murals and small paintings will pop up on street corners, works that have faded over time, and some that are still rich with color.
One must-see mural is at Hardware Studio on 1st Street, across from Al & Bea's Mexican Food. "LA Luchador" was created in 2014 by renowned L.A. artist GERMS as part of a Red Bull project called Latagrafica. Germs uses symbols like Lucha Libre masks and squid-like tentacles in his paintings to create unusual creatures. In this mural, one such character appears in a starry sky with rays of light beaming down, seemingly a reference to the religious iconography you'll often see on buildings across L.A.
Hollenbeck Skate Plaza - Hollenbeck Park
Located at the corner of St. Louis and 4th Streets, Hollenbeck Park has a long history that dates back to 1892. The popular neighborhood spot features picnic tables, BBQ pits, children's play area, a lake, and a stretch of the 5 Freeway running through it.
One of its more recent features is the Hollenbeck Skate Plaza. Designed by California Skateparks, the 13,000 square-foot space attracts crowds of skaters. The skatepark features long flat rails, ledges, manual pads, 7-stair rail and a kicker wedge. It's not the most visible portion of Hollenbeck Park, though - you'll find it near the freeway bridges.
Libros Schmibros Lending Library
Located next to the Gold Line Mariachi Plaza Station, Libros Schmibros Lending Library is a small space packed with books. According to their website, Libros Schmibros has put more than 20,000 books into circulation in Boyle Heights and beyond. The group of book lenders invites guests to become members with donations of as low as $5, with each tier of membership offering more incentives. They host events like Free Book Weekends and the monthly bilingual children's storytelling hour, welcomed CicLAvia riders, and sponsored a parents' reading group. Libros Schmibros recently released a book of work from their Young Writers Program called "Where My Pen Dances."
Primera Taza Coffee House
Primera Taza is a proper coffee house, the kind of place that feels a bit rebellious. Featured on Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, the family-owned cafe is small and the cups of Mexican coffee are large. When it's available, don't miss the lonche, a Mexican sandwich made with imported bread from Jalisco that the Los Angeles Times calls "truly great" and "the rarest sandwich in L.A."
Around the register, you'll see stickers with slogans like "No gentrification any time." The artwork on display can be quite political and is for sale. Primera Taza hosts events such as live music, open mic nights, and the annual "Art, Coffee and Conversation" gathering.
Self Help Graphics & Art
Self Help Graphics is an integral part of art history in Boyle Heights, as well as Los Angeles at large. Founded in 1970, the studio emerged from the Chicano Movement of the Civil Rights era and was part of the related rise of Chicano art. It's primarily known as a print studio, but they host workshops for other arts as well, and they are also home to an art gallery. The studio's major annual event is Dia de los Muertos in early November. They also hold a number of other events throughout the year.
Mariachi Festival (Nov. 19, 2017)
Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights is the historic gathering point for L.A.'s mariachi musicians. Every year, the plaza hosts a festival featuring a wide variety of talent within this genre. Now in its 27th year, the 2017 Mariachi Festival will be held on Sunday, Nov. 19 from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Keep posted on details via the Mariachi Plaza Festival Foundation's Facebook page.