The following story from The Times' archive was part of a series that won the 1984 Pulitzer gold medal for public service for an in-depth examination of Southern California's growing Latino community.

It is a ritual observed every nearly every day. The mail carrier approaches the small cluster of hillside barrio homes in East Los Angeles, armed with spray repellent in case one of his antagonists gets too close.

The neighborhood dogs, sensing the moment, spring to the ready.

Just as he approaches one mailbox a pack of dogs, separated from the mail carrier by a chain-link fence, lets go a chorus of howls that alters all other canines in the area.

The mail carrier quickly deposits his cargo and steps back to his Jeep. No matter, the dogs keep up the yelping. The roosters and chickens in coops on the hills overlooking this noisy scene crow their presence.

Music drowned out

As the mail carrier wheels his vehicle for a getaway, one dog scales the fence and gives chase. The howling now seems to drown out the musica Mexicana drifting from the windows of the small homes.

Moments later, the mail carrier is gone. The dog that gave chase nonchalantly returns to his resting place. Mission accomplished; ritual observed.

Welcome to the world of 812 N. Record Ave.

****


After 18 years, I went back to 812 N. Record Ave., to the house where I once lived, at the Belvedere Gardens barrio where I grew up.

My barrio is unique in this megalopolis that is Los Angeles, an obscure corner of an affluent society, a place seldom visited by progress. For example. sidewalks and curbs were installed only recently. English is heard only occasionally.

Downtown Los Angeles is only 4 1/2 miles away, but there is no hint that shiny skyscrapers are just over the horizon. Some neighborhood businesses on Hammel Street, near Record, have deteriorated beyond hope. Dogs, chickens. cars under constant repair, graffiti, homes valued under $35,000 and neighborhood tortillerias are fixtures in the landscape.

Nestled in a rural-like setting, yet ringed by three urban freeways (San Bernardino, Pomona and Santa Ana) Record is a quiet, out-of-the-way street north of Brooklyn Avenue that trails off in the surrounding hills of another East Los Angeles barrio, City Terrace.

The inhabitants of Record are poor but proud people, comfortable in the knowledge that they own their homes and owe little to an Anglo-dominated society. To them, life on Record is as American as that in Kansas, and hopes are as resilient as tall wheat in the summer breeze.

No one really knows what to expect when he goes back to the old neighborhood.

I remember rampaging on the surrounding hills, building cabins out of abandoned furniture, auto doors and bamboo, and killing imaginary enemies with a crudely constructed gun made of clothespins. In an ongoing scenario, one close friend, David Angulo, was Tarzan and his brother Stephen was Cheetah the chimp. I was a hunter -- I can't remember if I ever used the term "Great White Hunter" -- always seeking Tarzan's help.

Fences Tame the Jungle

Now the property owners look after their investments with fences, forcing local jungle warriors to play elsewhere.