The community of Eagle Rock threw a party for itself Saturday morning. It was a pancake breakfast on the parking lot of the shopping center that bears the community’s name.
The party was an occasion to celebrate that name, as well as to raise a few bucks for the rock that inspired it.
Unlike most Southern California towns--whose names may come from poetic expressions, foreign words, founding fathers or communities named for places their residents originally came from--Eagle Rock draws its identity from a specific piece of real estate.
After being whittled down somewhat by public and private works, that land today consists of about 4 acres near the intersection of the 134 Freeway and Figueroa Street. There stands a 50-foot-high rock.
Geologically, the Eagle Rock is more a mound of compressed earth than a spire of granitic grandeur. Its distinction, aside from a certain imposing round baldness, comes from a crease near its top that casts a shadow said to resemble the silhouette of an eagle in flight.
Whether from the landmark itself, or merely from its isolation in the maze of hills on the city’s slow-moving northeast side, Eagle Rock has come to hold a sense of its place in the world that is as firm as the rock and as far-reaching as the eagle.
It can be felt in these opening lines, written by a local real estate agent for the 1987 pictorial history, “Eagle Rock Then and Now.”
“Eagle Rock,” the author asserts, “may be the only community in the United States whose residents never identify themselves as being from Los Angeles.”
She continues: “Over time, much has changed here, as it has in the rest of the world. However, one thing has not changed that makes Eagle Rock unique. That is the feeling of a country town, the spirit of belonging.”
Unfortunately, that spirit of oneness has been seriously endangered of late. The tensions came from within.
On one side was The Eagle Rock Assn., or TERA, a homeowner group with preservationist undertones, which has been pressing for zoning controls to stop the face-lifting of the business district’s country-town texture with slick mini-malls and stucco box apartments.
But the business community, which could fancy a mini-mall or two, came to view TERA as a regressive group preparing to battle over every brick on Colorado Boulevard.
The area’s councilman, Richard Alatorre, walked cautiously between the camps, taking much under advisement, metering out balanced decisions.
Then an outsider got into the middle of it by doing the unthinkable. He assaulted the community symbol. Kenneth Bank, a Beverly Hills developer, looked at the Eagle Rock and saw only real estate. He bought it.
Bank filed plans to build an apartment complex beside the landmark. In the debate that predictably followed him through City Hall, Bank denied that his project would obscure anyone’s view of the rock.
He didn’t understand that his threat was to the very idea of the rock, which is more important than the view. The drubbing he took at the hands of the Los Angeles Planning Commission showed that an idea can still be more powerful than a deed of trust.
Bank could have appealed to the City Council. Instead, apparently sensing the strength of the movement he had stirred up, he offered to sell.
The community--merchants and homeowners drawn reflexively under a unified command--put together a vehicle, the Save the Eagle Rock Committee, to buy out the developer.
The cautious Alatorre immediately gave his backing and even Mayor Tom Bradley, spotting an all-win situation, offered himself as figurehead.
The pancake breakfast Saturday was the kickoff of a $300,000 campaign. The Griffith Park Lions Club supplied the portable kitchen. The Eagle Rock Lions manned it.
The Eagle Rock High School band played spirited songs, and the drill team girls danced in green and white uniforms.
Copies of “Eagle Rock Then and Now” went like hot cakes at $3.50 apiece. The 1,500 “Save Our Eagle Rock” T-shirts sold out.
The people of Eagle Rock lined up from 8 a.m. to after 11 for breakfast, pretty much ignoring the speeches of the councilman, the assemblyman and even the congressman who promised their support.
Bradley himself showed up. He made a brief speech, hugged the drill team girls and flipped a few flapjacks.
With two television stations and a klatch of print journalists there to record the event, it must have been one of the most extensively reported pancake breakfasts ever.
Even so, Barbara Ekholm, who was in charge of publicity, groused at herself afterward for holding the event just three days before a presidential election.
She fretted that the story of Eagle Rock hadn’t been carried as far as it could have been. But the people of Eagle Rock seem to be spreading the word quite well on their own.
From “Eagle Rock Then and Now” we learn:
“No matter where you are vacationing, if you ask someone where they are from--if they are from Eagle Rock, they will tell you.”