AN URBAN GHOST TOWN

Times Staff Writer

Most of the homes are gone in the once-vibrant neighborhood of Temple-Beaudry, making way for downtown development. But the optimism of the developers is in stark contrast to the sense of loss felt by the remaining residents.

Before the wrecking balls and bulldozers began to tear down most of the homes and almost all of the stores, the neighborhood just west of the Harbor Freeway downtown was a vibrant place where Rachel Carreon raised five children.

"When my youngest son was born in the house, the whole neighborhood was there, wanting to know what had happened," said Carreon, now 49 and a resident of El Sereno. "It was still family and everybody knew each other."

After living in the Temple Street-Beaudry Avenue area for four generations, Carreon's family left the neighborhood when the Bank of America built a nine-story office building across from their Beaudry home in the late 1970s.

Most of Carreon's neighbors moved away in the next decade and today Temple-Beaudry is a community on the verge of extinction, victimized by its location on prime real estate a few blocks from the glimmering steel and glass towers of the downtown business district.

Few Houses Left

On a gently sloping hill adjacent to the freeway, only a few ramshackle houses remain on what has become a sea of vacant lots. Since the 1970s, developers have purchased and demolished many of the homes and apartment buildings. They have targeted the land for future office and residential space, calling it "downtown's West Bank."

"The area is a gateway, a major entry point into the downtown area," said Norman Emerson of Center City West Associates, an association of about 20 property owners who hold more than 100 acres immediately west of the Harbor Freeway. The group is negotiating with the city to establish a development plan for the area, which may include a mixture of office space and luxury condominiums as well as low-income housing.

"What we would like to see is a range of things that creates a diverse and exciting community for this part of downtown," Emerson said.

But the optimism of the developers is in stark contrast to the sense of resignation and loss felt by the remaining residents of Temple-Beaudry and those who have been displaced in the last two decades.

"We used to have neighbors, but they're all gone," said Caroline Garcia as she stood on her porch and looked at the empty lot next to her home on Colton Street, where she has lived since 1947. "Eventually this house is going to go too. We're trying to get a price for it. We're not going to wait for the last minute."

A 78-year-old man who identified himself only as Martin lives in the last house left at the intersection of Boylston and Mignonette streets, at the top of a hill with a panoramic view of the Civic Center.

Got His Price

Martin said he recently sold the home he owned for 31 years "for a good price" and plans to move out by January.

Temple-Beaudry is one of the city's older neighborhoods. First settled in the 1880s, it was also the site of the city's first oil strike. A 50-foot shaft was sunk near the intersection of Glendale Boulevard and West 2nd Street by Edward L. Doheny and Charles A. Canfield in 1892.

In the 1920s, Catholics fleeing a religious civil war in central Mexico moved to the community and founded Our Lady of Holy Rosary Mission. Latinos soon became the majority in the neighborhood.

As older Mexican-American residents left Temple-Beaudry in the 1970s and '80s, the neighborhood became home to many Central American immigrants. It also became one of the city's poorest communities.

Because the number of housing units is declining drastically while the population is slowly increasing, residences are often overcrowded, with two or three families living in one home or apartment, said Raul Escovedo of Barrio Planners, an East Los Angeles-based architectural firm that is studying the condition of local housing said.

According to the U.S. Census, Temple-Beaudry's population increased from 5,835 to 5,983 between 1970 and 1980, while the number of housing units decreased from 1,939 to 1,581. The number of housing units on the five blocks closest to the Harbor Freeway declined 47%, from 631 to 330, in the same period.

It was concern over the loss of housing that led the City Council to pass an "interim control ordinance" in February restricting development until the city can adopt a plan for future growth, according to Daniel O'Donnell of the city Planning Department.

Loss of a Leader

The plan is expected to be ready for public review in January.

But those residents who already have been displaced say the plan will be of little consolation. "No one can replace the community we lost," said former resident Robert Aguayo.

Aguayo and other former residents said the decline of the community accelerated after the 1981 death of Betty Plasencia, a community activist and mother of four who was known as "the heart and soul of Temple-Beaudry."

Plasencia is especially remembered for her work with young people, and in 1982 the neighborhood's elementary school was renamed in her honor. When Plasencia died, hundreds of children went to sit outside her home in quiet acknowledgment of her work in the community.

"It's still our neighborhood," said Vicente Rodriguez, Plasencia's nephew and now a resident of El Sereno. "I can't call this, where I live now, our neighborhood."

Rodriguez, 26, returned to Temple-Beaudry in August to be married at Our Lady of Holy Rosary Mission. "I was an altar boy there and it was always my dream to get married there," he said.

The church's pastor, Father Eamonn Donnelly, said other former residents have returned to the church to celebrate their children's first communions and quinceaneras, the ceremonies commemorating a girl's 15th birthday. "They sort of gravitate back because of their emotional attachment to this place."

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