East Side, West Side : The Tug of War Between L.A.'s Rival Realities Is Polarizing the City. But Some Angelenos Are Breaking Down the Barriers.
The ocean air cools the packed bodies at Santa Monica’s Electronic Cafe as a bash for the elite of the information highway picks up steam. Crisp computer types and mellow virtual realists exchange techno-greetings: “Hi. Military simulations?” “Of course, SAG.” The cafe, a high-tech playground jammed with interactive-media equipment that can link up with Europe or South America, has drawn a highly educated, mostly white crowd this night. Lofty issues float off lips. The mood is bold. The talk is of changing the very nature of business, of crossing social barriers via computers, of making big bucks. The night is very Westside.
At that hour, across town in East Los Angeles, a football game winds down, the eternal grudge match between Roosevelt and Garfield high schools. Husbands who graduated Garfield sit on opposite bleachers from wives who graduated Roosevelt, and nobody finds that funny. The mood is proud. The stadium, crammed with 22,000 Latinos, hardly any blacks or whites, is a roaring sea. Two girls climb a railing, giggling when school police scold them. There is a palpable sense of community, of old rivals gruffly acknowledging the existence of the other. When the game ends, 90 young men shake hands and strut off the field. The scene is very Eastside.
Most Angelenos don’t know about the big game, especially Westsiders. When someone at the cafe says she’s leaving to catch the final quarter, having heard about the game on TV, people stare as if she’s just announced she’s off to Beirut. Then it happens. The Westside vs. Eastside thing. A man speaks up: “Are you sure that’s safe to do? Isn’t it awfully late?” One guest manages a concerned chin up! expression. “Be careful!” It’s not late on the Westside, of course. But isn’t it deeply, darkly late in East L.A?
It is a critical measure of Los Angeles’ dual reality that Santa Monica and East Los Angeles are four seconds apart by modem and only minutes by car, yet they are often separated by a psychological span of light years. Los Angeles is divided in a host of ways--by race, income, attitude. And one of those fundamental splits is geographical. L.A. is in many ways two different cities, the Westside and everything else: that vague inland reality that has no handy nickname, beginning where the Westside trails off and stretching to the slopes of the San Gabriels. Though Angelenos can’t seem to agree just where the border between West and East lies in a city changing as rapidly as ours, there is still a sense, deeply embedded in our psychology, that there is another side of town whose freeway exits we do not know and whose lifestyles we do not share. Exploring this idea in barrooms and boardrooms across the city, one hears a cacophony of voices--some amusing, some passionate, many revelatory.
The east and west often hold each other in contempt, with Eastsiders dumping on the “white bread” Westside, and Westsiders clucking that the rest of the town has gone to hell. And everybody gets into the act, from powerbrokers to housekeepers. Influential market researcher and Westsider Richard Maullin insists there “is no East-West to Los Angeles,” but when asked why Eastsiders blubber on so about the Westside, retorts, “It’s self-hatred. They are saying, ‘I would like to be like people on the Westside and because I know that I am not, I hate you.’ ” Silver Lake resident Mike Roos, president of the education reform group LEARN and a man who usually acts as an unofficial ambassador for the two sides of town, likens Westsiders to a bunch of sheep who in the 1980s “bought piece-of-s- - - little boxes for $600,000. They could have had palaces in Burbank, but they want to receive and express the acknowledgment: I live on the Westside.”
Each side relishes its myths about the other. Eastsiders love to howl that Westsiders are a bunch of phonies. Malcolm Boyd, the prolific author, Episcopal priest and Silver Lake resident, recalls his favorite Westside moment: “I was at--Mortons?--and I heard someone at another table say, ‘Steven Spielberg is reading my script today by the pool.’ And of course it was total bulls- - -! The point is, the gods and goddesses are said to be closer to the earth on the Westside, but they’re not.”
Earthy Eastside gays, like Boyd, live in the bohemian pockets east of Vermont and call the glitzy Westside gays, who live in upscale West Hollywood, “WE-HOs,” with the emphasis on “HO.” County Supervisor Gloria Molina, according to one longtime fund raiser, balks at attending meetings in Hancock Park because it’s just “too far West.” And despite Pasadena’s location beyond the historic Eastside, some Pasadenans see themselves as arbiters of a new Eastside consciousness, directly competing with the Westside. Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole brags that Pasadena yuppies spend their money on “more meaningful things” than Brentwood yuppies.
The Westside, meanwhile, often regards the Eastside with subdued horror. If the Westside is the American Dream, then the Eastside is its nightmare. Some wealthy Bel-Air residents grandly point out that they “never go east of Doheny,” while the less timorous probe as far inland as La Cienega, La Brea, even Vermont. One Westside arts leader confides that spending $214 million on the Downtown Library renovation “was a complete waste” because Westsiders will never use it.
Westsiders are particularly mystified that Eastsiders manage to stagger past the age of 50, given the smog they suck in. “You can’t really breathe that crap, can you?” asks Stephen Yagman, the flamboyant Venice attorney who handles police brutality cases. Yagman remains so cocooned on the beach that, he concedes, “I know 200 people pretty well in Venice, and about 20 in the entire rest of Los Angeles.”
TV weathermen (Westsiders, no doubt) hardly ever mention airborne carcinogens like benzene, cadmium and ethylene that strike people in Beverly Hills and Westwood just as often as they do in City Terrace and Glendale. Invisible carbon monoxide blankets the South Bay more than Burbank, but who hears about it? It’s all part of the east-west mythology. The Eastside is a place where laundry hangs out for all to see, while the Westside is about appearances. If one can’t see the smog, one can justify spending $350,000 for an aging rambler in Rancho Park (comfortably west of La Cienega) without so much as a pool.
Each side has its point. According to AQMD officials, daily ozone levels on the Eastside exceed federal health standards twice as often as on the Westside. Eastsiders often litter as if their streets were one giant trash can, dumping sofas and hurling hamburger wrappers at a rate that city street sweepers simply cannot match. And there are more status victims on the Westside, where one in 100 people has had plastic surgery and nearly one in 58 who bought a new car in 1993 found it necessary to pay more than $35,000 for it.
Dennis Macheski, Price Waterhouse real estate research director, has authored a study of Los Angeles, the latest of many that confirm, he says, “that Los Angeles really is a ‘Tale of Two Cities.’ ” Using Mulholland Drive and the Pomona Freeway as a diagonal northern border, the study found that the poorest and least educated metro area on the entire West Coast is the region east of the Harbor Freeway. Meanwhile, one of the richest and best educated areas of the West Coast is west of the Harbor Freeway, where nearly one in five households earns more than $75,000 a year. Los Angeles Times marketing data, roughly using La Brea Avenue as the division (see chart below) shows that about twice as many Westies as Easties have a stockbroker and a gold or platinum credit card. At the same time, one in three people living east of La Brea has no health insurance, compared to one in nine on the Westside--a stark reminder that for much of the city’s working class, the economic barriers in Los Angeles are as durable as a steel-toed shoe.
LOST IN ALL THE SNIPING BETWEEN THE TWO SIDES, GOOD-NATURED AND otherwise, are some important facts. The truth is that the Westside is far more diverse than many believe. Santa Monica’s median income is $37,000, the same as Mid-Wilshire and Silver Lake. Palms, Mar Vista, Venice and large sections of Santa Monica are all more than 20% Latino. Asian Americans make up more than 10% of the area stretching from Mar Vista to Sunset Boulevard along the 405 freeway. By the same token, a study of the U.S. Census by Cal State Northridge shows that the least diverse region in Los Angeles is not the Westside, but the Eastside’s homogeneous Latino settlement that sprawls across 50 square miles from El Sereno to South Gate.
On the other hand, crime, which some Westsiders imagine is turning the city to rubble somewhere beyond the La Brea Tar Pits, is in fact not much more prevalent in Eastside communities. With the exception of the Central region, which, like most big-city downtowns, suffers exceptionally high crime, the broad eastern section of Los Angeles is no more crime-ridden than the Westside. For the first 10 months of 1993, unincorporated East Los Angeles and the area served by the LAPD’s Hollenbeck station (Chinatown, El Sereno, Monterey Hills, Boyle Heights) had virtually identical robbery rates to Santa Monica and LAPD’s West L.A. area (Pacific Palisades, Brentwood, Westwood, Bel-Air, Rancho Park). Santa Monica and the LAPD’s Pacific area (Westchester, Playa del Rey, Venice, Mar Vista, Palms) suffered more rapes--.5 per 1,000 residents--than East Los Angeles with .25 per 1,000. Auto theft was mixed: worst in Santa Monica and the LAPD’s Pacific and Hollywood areas and markedly less prevalent in East Los Angeles and the Hollenbeck and West L.A. divisions. The homicide rate was high for the Rampart area (Westlake, Koreatown, parts of Echo Park), with .4 per 1,000, but was far lower--.2 per 1,000--for East Los Angeles and Hollywood.
But tell all that to Westsiders, and frankly, many don’t believe it. Litter-strewn, graffiti-marked, chain-link-fenced, window-barred sections of Boyle Heights, Maywood, Hollywood and Echo Park look just awful, thus they must be awful.
For all the Westside’s posing, appearances do matter in Los Angeles more and more. Graffiti, largely a Latino youth phenomenon, has cordoned off much of the Eastside with visual barriers that turn back traffic and commerce as abruptly as a border patrol. Or, as hothead economist Joel Kotkin puts it, “How ‘bout the death penalty for taggers? Schmucks will say I’m racist to criticize, but do you really think Latinos, blacks and Asians like graffiti? It’s a sign to the aspiring middle class that your neighborhood is s- - -. It’s the taggers and the whining PCers who support them who provide the reason the middle class leaves Los Angeles, and this destroys the very basis of the economy that immigrants and others can rise upon. Think of Detroit. There is no neat, clean Westside in Detroit. Oh boy, let’s copy Detroit, you know what I mean?”
Truly sophisticated Eastsiders don’t argue with the Westside’s aversion to Eastside funkiness. Pasadena’s Mayor Cole, asked the key ingredient to his city’s financial success as an inland hub even as its immigrant population booms, says, “Keeping it very clean.” Barrio Planners president Frank Villalobos, explaining the secret to his award-winning revitalization projects like the Whittier Boulevard redesign in East Los Angeles, says, “maintenance contracts keep everything attractive and clean.”
Truly sophisticated Westsiders, on the other hand, don’t create absurd borders over which they cannot cross. Father Bud Kieser, a Paulist priest and Hollywood TV and movie producer, preaches an early-morning Mass to a rich Westwood parish and a late-morning Mass to a low-income mid-city parish. He has found that crossing the city’s borders, especially dealing with the poor, has enriched his understanding of his fellow Angelenos and himself. “If you look at the faces in my (mid-city) church, you see the struggling, the real problems of jobs, of children, of facing retirement or fearing the loud family who’ve moved in next door. But on the Westside, you see the problem is almost too much freedom. They have the money to do anything, and they lose themselves; they lose their center.”
West and East could both learn a great deal, and enjoy their city much more, if they’d make an effort to go “bi-coastal.” Pity the poor Eastsider who’s never dined on lox and eggs at Nate ‘n Al’s in Beverly Hills (it’s only $7) or slogged through fern glades to peek at Malibu’s well-kept-secret waterfalls. Pity the poor Westsider who’s never been to St. Vincent de Paul in Lincoln Heights, one of the great thrift stores in California. Most Westsiders know nothing of buying tomatoes for 29 cents a pound at Downtown’s Grand Central Market or renting a boat to watch the lotuses bloom on Echo Park Lake.
FOR ALL THESE DIVISIONS OF LIFE AND LEISURE, IT’S NOT CLEAR WHERE the Eastside ends and the Westside begins. The old psychological and physical border to the Eastside was the Los Angeles River. In the 1700s and 1800s, the Spanish settled many historic ranchos all over Southern California. Beginning in the late 1800s, Latinos moved in great waves from Mexico to areas east of the river, transforming largely Jewish Boyle Heights into one of the city’s first barrios. Sixth-generation Mexican Americans can still be found there today. But the river is no longer the boundary, as Latino immigration tramples the old borders.
Meanwhile, the Westside, as defined by Pacific Bell, the Air Quality Management District, Los Angeles Times Poll and the Los Angeles Police Department, roughly begins at La Cienega Boulevard. But given the cachet of such Westside-esque phenomena as Michel Richard’s glamorous Citrus restaurant and trendy Diamond Foam & Fabric--both good bets for spotting movie stars--La Brea Avenue seems to be the new demarcation zone.
Nancy Silverton, co-owner, with her husband, Mark Peel, of hip Campanile restaurant, chose La Brea six years ago because it wasn’t on the Westside, and she wanted something “more diverse and eclectic.” But now, with New York designer Anna Sui (sort of Addams Family retro wear) just up the block, and chichi gallery owners breathing down Campanile’s neck on Beverly Boulevard, the Westside has encircled Silverton and Peel.
They are philosophical about the transformation. Peel notes, with a hint of pride, that nearby stores “are not chains or quick investments like what has happened to Melrose but are individual efforts that create a sense of permanence and commitment.”
If one draws an imaginary line up La Brea, through the Hollywood Hills, curving west at the Ventura Freeway to follow the coastline, one finds that Encino, Studio City and Sherman Oaks, so-called “Valley” communities, are, in attitude, spirit and proximity, on the Westside. They are far more linked to Beverly Hills and Brentwood today than they are to such rumpled cousins as Van Nuys or North Hollywood. Some realtors, who Roos and others believe play a divisive role in parceling up the city, shriek happily if a home is “south of Ventura.”
Historian Kevin Starr says cities can’t help but develop “sides.” The Upper East Side in New York, the South Side of Chicago, undersides everywhere. L.A. started to evolve into an east-west city, he maintains, in the early 1900s, after the Wilshire brothers envisioned a westward push along the ancient path that once linked the Indian village of Yang Na, on the Los Angeles River, to the coast. Developer A.W. Ross bought up huge parcels of the Wilshire brothers’ holdings and realized their dream, finally completing the boulevard’s trek to the sea in 1934. Los Angeles marched westward. Sheep-grazing land gave rise to what is now the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel in 1926 and Bullock’s Wilshire in 1929. In dusty bean fields, the State of California opened UCLA in 1929. “Suddenly,” says Starr, “automobiles allowed the beautiful people to zip out to their newly built Santa Monica beach cottages. And after World War II, Westchester and huge tracts were built, something like 9,000 homes in one year. Voila! You had the Westside.”
Starr and other urban thinkers have a more complex view of the divisions within the city, describing L.A. as a series of mega-villages scattered over a vast terrain whose residents will trade--and bicker--among themselves much like those in old European city states. Pride and competition are always in play in big cities. Writing in his 1941 novel “Mildred Pierce,” hard-boiled author James M. Cain gave an early nod to this view when Mildred’s snobbish Pasadena boyfriend told her she’d make a fine wife “if you didn’t live in Glendale.”
Many Angelenos are learning to sample from the stew. Gai Gherardi, co-owner of Melrose Avenue’s L.A. Eyeworks, knows a traditional Iranian family who “watched 2,500 drag queens” in West Hollywood’s Halloween Parade and, to her delight, loved it. In Echo Park, performance artist Eric Trules sets a tape recorder on his windowsill to capture his white, black, Asian and Latino neighbors “screaming in the middle of the night, in the most colorful language imaginable"--dialogue he hopes to weave into a book.
But others, like Michael Nava, a mystery writer and senior attorney with the State Court of Appeal, marvel that the city is not “in a constant state of civil unrest.” Nava grew up in a struggling, working-class family and says he feels a powerful kinship “when I see a brown face,” yet he chose to live on the Westside, because, he says, “life is a lot easier there. I know firsthand there’s no romance in poverty.” He says his dual experience, particularly his several years on the Westside, has convinced him that Los Angeles is a city deeply hewn by class and race. “Westsiders know their affluence is paid for by the suffering of other people, and there is a deep sense of guilt and apprehension.” Echoing some Latinos, Nava dreams of a Los Angeles dominated by Latino culture and Latino leaders. “The future,” he says, “is Gloria Molina’s.”
But economist Kotkin, a resident of Laurel Canyon, sees a dreary future down that path. “If the Westside and the Valley don’t maintain themselves, L.A. will become the dream of (KCET commentator) Ruben Martinez and L.A. school board member Leticia Quezada, who want a huge Mexico City North, a dream I don’t share.” The real issue is not east versus west, “it’s whether people stay or head to the wine country.”
Angelenos finally seem to grasp that L.A. has become the new Ellis Island and that whole sectors of the city may still change. Monterey Park, just east of Downtown, was transformed after one Chinese American realtor bought tiny ads in mainland China newspapers in the 1970s promoting “the Chinese Beverly Hills.” In truth, the city’s Asians were Japanese Americans, but the dream was sold and a town that had defended its white identity in the 1950s by barring Latinos from buying homes was utterly remade by capitalist sleight-of-hand.
In Glendale, leaders in the 1980s encouraged developers to raze whole blocks of attractive homes to build thousands of luxury apartments. Intended for yuppies, the units instead drew tens of thousands of mainly working-class renters who changed the ethnic face of what had been an overwhelmingly white city. Glendale is now about 20% Latino and 70% white, including a large contingent of Armenian immigrants.
Drastic change creates bitterness. African Americans clash with their new neighbors as South-Central continues its unstoppable shift from black to Latino. Black flight created an outrush of 57,000 black Angelenos from the urban core during the 1980s, a migration to L.A. suburbs and distant states that continues.
Maullin has found deep resentment in the most diverse neighborhoods. In one Eastside area with equal numbers of white, Latino and Asian residents, he says, “If you get them in a room together, basically a focus group, it’s all blah, blah, how wonderful it is. But when you get them alone, it’s the goddamn whites this and the goddamn Mexicans that and the goddamn Asians this. There is a veneer of civility that keeps us from being Bosnia. What I am seeing is not prejudice, however. It is a powerful desire to group with your culture, and we should all wake up to that reality.”
PERHAPS MORE THAN OTHER PARTS OF TOWN, THE WESTSIDE WATCHES the cycle of change with trepidation. Venice has become a bizarre melange of gang shootings, artist hangouts and award-winning custom homes. The once-tony Westwood shopping district is in a financial tailspin, abandoned by upscale shoppers after being discovered by inner-city teen-agers and overwhelmed by cheap, cutesy stores. But while much of the Westside sits precariously upon a ribbon of earth that geologists say will liquefy when the Really Big One hits, it doesn’t seem in danger of disappearing anytime soon.
Morgan Chu, a hotshot litigator at the Irell & Manella law firm in Century City, gazes at the lush Central Park-like view of the Los Angeles Country Club from his law library and wonders how anyone can fault the Westside. He and several other men have met at Palisades High School for pickup basketball every Saturday for more than 16 years, forming a community so close that some fly in from Sacramento or drive from Palmdale. He says this Westside group is Asian American, African American, white and Latino, including “an airline pilot, attorneys, business owners, a plumber, a couple of guys in construction, and, of course, the guy who keeps a slim jim (a car break-in device) in his beat-up car.
“I call this an urban oasis,” Chu says. “I can pick up my wife in Beverlywood, and in 10 minutes we can be at one of 150 restaurants. On a sunny day, I’ll sneak out with other ‘bandits’ to play golf. We start the conspiracy the day before, stash our clubs in our cars and make reservations at a public course, for nothing, like $10. For that kind of lifestyle, I don’t think there’s a much better place to be.”
In much the same way, Larkin Arnold, a leading entertainment attorney who discovered Luther Vandross, has found in Bel-Air “one of the best places in the world, like entering a forest when you drive through its gates.”
Arnold describes the two perfect moments in his daily life: soaking up the serenity of his acre and a half of privacy (Tom Jones lives next door, but Arnold knows that only because he has heard him singing) or wheeling along the Malibu coastline in his black two-seater convertible. He and his wife, the first African American to serve on the board of directors of the Bel-Air Assn., a homeowners club, enjoy the kind of global mobility that takes them from Beverly Hills to Paris to the Crenshaw district in a blink, from Wolfgang Puck’s Chinois on Main restaurant in Santa Monica to down-home Harold & Belle’s catfish restaurant on Jefferson Boulevard to yuppie/buppie Georgia on Melrose, in which they are investors.
“I can compare it against New York, D.C., Paris or any other city and still say the Westside is the best for weather, air, restaurants, hospitals, schools, creative people, the architecture of homes,” Arnold says. “I feel blessed God has enabled me to enjoy these things.”
Yet in a strange way, the Westside’s rich and upper-middle classes are among the city’s most isolated. Walking briskly on her exercise route below Montana Avenue, Elisa Lottor says she rarely ventures beyond Sepulveda Boulevard. “You can get hurt, you can get robbed, you can get your car stolen,” says the nutritionist and homeopath, padding along in Avias, eyes surreptitiously monitoring a loud group of homeless men drinking nearby. “My friend in Silver Lake is always saying, ‘Why don’t you come over?’ and I’d like to, because it sounds really interesting. But just to get on the rotten freeway and then have to exit and deal with crazy drivers and street criminals, it’s not worth it.”
Lottor is a gentle woman, a vegetarian who makes organic-turkey-and-brown-rice burgers for her cat. She and her husband bought north of Montana 20 years ago for $53,000. But they’re on the verge of leaving it all and moving to rural hills near Santa Barbara because they believe their world in Santa Monica has become a crowded foxhole.
“Every time we go to Torrance to the Del Amo mall, my husband sees women with big asses and says, ‘See that? This is how normal women look.’ Nobody looks normal in Santa Monica anymore.”
Lottor steps into a crosswalk, and a car cuts her off. “See what I mean? That guy’s got a Range Rover, so he’s entitled. We’re surrounded by so many materialistic people. You see them dragging their maids around, ordering them to do this and do that. I’ll be at Zen Bakery, and some obnoxious guy will get on his cell phone. And you see parents spoiling children in disgusting ways, breaking them in at Starbucks (coffee emporium). You know, 8 years old and the parents are asking, ‘Would you like to try a latte?’ ”
Joan Huber and her husband found a “beautiful little community in a big city” when they moved to Santa Monica nearly 30 years ago, and while their town has been altered by urban troubles, the Hubers believe in “creating a neighborhood no matter what goes on around us.” Managers of several apartment complexes, the Hubers say that if one neighbor gets sick, “the others all take turns going grocery shopping, taking out the garbage, doing the laundry.” Huber had a stroke last year and, during a power outage, tried to make her way with a cane past the complex’s pool to help guide tenants into their darkened parking spaces. “I was worried about falling into the pool, and suddenly I saw all these young men helping people get up the stairs and handling the parking problem, and one of them looked over and said, ‘You didn’t really think we’d let you down, did you?’ It almost made me cry.”
Maullin says Westsiders who’ve lived in Los Angeles 10 years or more suffer “a mass nostalgia for a place that was lower density, less traffic and away from it all. From 1975 to 1990, you saw tremendous commercial development of Century City and Wilshire, which didn’t have a high-rise before 1970. People are still in denial that they live in an urban core.” It’s hard to imagine being anywhere near an urban core at author Amy Ephron’s airy Pacific Palisades home. It’s so quiet that the ear strains to focus on far-off sounds--an undulating hum, perhaps the ocean or a distant freeway. Some yards out here are really private parks, tended by gardeners, appointed with huge patios, koi ponds or pools. One can’t see the wealth inside, but one senses it at curbside. Two garbage cans on trash day is modest. Four is living right.
Ephron and her husband, TV producer Sasha Harari, moved from Malibu after the fires, their second near-disaster. She remembers grabbing “two Armani suits, two pairs of jeans, some T-shirts and the Warhols.”
Raised in Beverly Hills, Ephron seems to have worked past the nostalgia and accepted Los Angeles on its current terms. She goes to museums in Pasadena and events Downtown. But despite her mobility, she never goes to ATMs at night, parks only with a valet and never enters a 7-Eleven store. She has instructed her children, ages 9, 7 and 4, what to do if they are ever playing and someone brings out a gun (tell them to put it down and immediately go home.) “I do not think it is an elitist solution to pay $3 to park,” Ephron says. “I lived in New York for a while, and I’ve got my old New York walk back: chin up and don’t f- - - with me. I love L.A., and I do not want to decry what it has become, so I live defensively.”
When she was growing up, “Beverly Hills was a tiny village, provincial with almost no chain stores. There was the tobacco shop, the knife man. We had a great toy store, Uncle Bernie’s, with a lemonade tree that gave fresh lemonade free of charge from a rubber tree with spigots.”
Today, people in Ephron’s Beverly Hills office building “actually sit in their little offices with the doors locked.” One can feel her muted sense of loss. Ephron shakes her head. The moment passes. “Psychologically,” she says, the days of old Beverly Hills were “a long, long time ago.”
ALBERT EINSTEIN, REINCARNATED and living in Los Angeles, would be an Eastsider. Aside from physics, Einstein wrote in “Out of My Later Years” of the sin of wealth, saying that the successful man “receives a great deal from his fellowmen, usually incomparably more than corresponds to his service to them.” Which sums up how many Eastsiders feel about the Westside.
Eric Trules of Echo Park wrote a poem to express his many regrets at having spent 10 years “imprisoned” in Santa Monica, emotionally unable to give up his $422-a-month rent-controlled apartment. “I saw myself just drying up in my tiny apartment, getting old and sad,” he says. “ Ten years. “
The performance artist has since discovered that women on the Eastside--unlike women on the Westside, he says--don’t care that he doesn’t earn big bucks. His love life, “the worst” for 10 years, has suddenly taken off. “When I moved inland, the winds shifted,” he says dreamily, gazing over his smoggy view of the city toward the sea. “I feel like I’ve gone back to an earlier time where things are fertile and breeding and plants are growing and bougainvillea is blossoming.”
He cautions that the Eastside, where he is actually paying a higher rent, is not for everybody. “We hear gunshots and salsa music, alarms go off, and vicious dogs. It’s interesting and peaceful and exciting and helicopters all at once. I tell people I live in Echo Park, and they say, ‘I’ve heard of moving east to west but never the other way.’ And I tell them: ‘It doesn’t make me feel as small.’ ”
Boyd, the 70-year-old Episcopal priest, chats over wine with his companion, Mark Thompson, 41, an editor of the Advocate magazine, about why they chose an Eastside garden bungalow over the Westside. “Here in Silver Lake, it isn’t important whether you wrote a book or not,” says Boyd, whose new book, “Rich with Years,” just hit the stands. “Clothes here are very easy. Clothes there are not. There, it’s very code, and there’s a deep awareness of what’s hip and what’s not. Fame is almost a joke here. It’s an irony. If you had it, you never made a point of it. We have very close friends in West Hollywood who we relate to very closely and care very much about. Yet they are seeking something there, and I am not sure what it is.”
Thompson interrupts: “I think it’s called youth, darling.”
Artists are also drawn east, to places like Mt. Washington, Highland Park and Atwater Village, because they need cheap space. Internationally acclaimed artist Lari Pittman, whose works go for $5,000 to $35,000, and who just sold a 14-footer to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, lives on a dead-end street next to Dodger Stadium and keeps his studio at the Victor Clothing Co. building on lively Broadway in the heart of Downtown.
“I’ve had calls from people saying, ‘I’m sorry I’m late. I’m on 3rd and Broadway in Santa Monica and I can’t find you,’ ” Pittman says. “But anyone who really knows the art scene knows there is a whole generation of artists living east of La Brea. On the Westside, this studio would cost $10,000 a month. But that’s not the only reason I’m here.”
Says Pittman of Angelenos who avoid inland parts of town: “Maybe it’s time for people to grow up a little. Look at all of Manhattan. It looks worse than it is, but Manhattanites understand that about their city, and they don’t become paralyzed by it.”
That’s the psychological hurdle that Westsider Margrit Polak had to overcome when she fell in love with Eastsider Harvey Shield. Harvey, a songwriter and doo-wop singer with the Mighty Echoes, was uncertain how to persuade Margrit, a personal manager and acting coach, to abandon her condo above Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica for his flat near Downtown, site of a turn-of-the-century tuberculosis hospital.
As if to weaken Margrit by drowning her in urban angst , on their first official date Harvey took her to the Skid Row home of friends in the tattered penthouse of the Alexandria Hotel. Margrit, a New Yorker and a bohemian by nature, “was impressed.” Harvey says Margrit was “amazed that I didn’t lock my doors.” Margrit’s first thought upon moving in with Harvey was, “How quick could I get a security system installed?”
Today Harvey and Margrit are contented Eastsiders. They are renovating a massive Victorian home in Angelino Heights three miles from Downtown, and they are consciously creating a multicultural upbringing for their daughter, Sofia, who made them proud with her first three words: “Duke of Earl.”
Margrit gushes to her Westside friends about the Craftsman and Victorian manses that go for as little as $200,000. Unlike the Westside, she has found a warm neighborhood life. “We all know each other in these three square blocks,” she says, “and you can’t say that about anywhere else in L.A., can you?”
You can say it about many places in Los Angeles, including East Los Angeles, where Latinas rose up to stop a prison some years ago. The Mothers of E.L.A. still meet regularly, pursuing a dream to bring a school to the proposed prison site to train a new generation to design, build and repair the light rails, subways and electric cars of the future.
Barrio Planners’ Villalobos, who lives in East Los Angeles, says that while Latinos are winning such battles more often now, flexing their muscle as homeowners and residents, they still ask, metaphorically, “Can we afford to cross the Los Angeles River?” “My kids go to Malaga Cove in Palos Verdes,” says Villalobos, “and they’re seen as infringing on the white kids’ territory. They don’t look Arab, which is acceptable; they look Mexican. But they are adaptable. They know how to go from east to west.”
Villalobos, who named his company Barrio Planners as a joke back in the 1970s when he and his buddies were the only Latino urban planners at their college, says the Eastside needs the Westside, filled as it is with educated and monied people who can build shopping centers and finance new corporations. Yet, he also understands, the Westside needs the Eastside, bedrock of the middle and working classes. “People were crying at my mom’s house (in East L.A.) about the fires in Malibu. People were crying for Laguna Beach, and these are rich whites that these Latino working-class people were crying for. These feelings have to be explored more, because these are the feelings that will hold the city together.”
PASADENA SEEMS AN ODD candidate for providing answers to the east-west conundrum, yet increasingly, people like Villalobos cite it as the new model. City fathers have adopted a toss-out-the-rules philosophy to respond to Pasadena’s ever-growing and changing population, now more than half Latino, black and Asian. The trendy new Holly Village Apartments actually form a tunnel through which freight trains run, and the gracious docents at the Gamble House are passing their art to trainees of mostly ethnic backgrounds. Dignified Vroman’s Bookstore threw a splashy book signing for radio star Howard Stern, after West Hollywood couldn’t be bothered. In a city of just 135,000, about 1,200 nonprofit groups work to improve life. The once-staid community elected the extremely liberal Cole (critics have called him a socialist) as its leader even as the city hotly pursues the almighty dollar in classically capitalistic fashion. One result has been the revival of Old Pasadena, a smash success.
At the same time, Pasadena is fraught with the troubles that dog all cities. Last Halloween, it suffered one of the worst tragedies in its history, when gang members gunned down a group of young trick-or-treaters. Already, in the spirit of the new Pasadena, a group of mothers and fathers has formed a citywide coalition to get guns off Pasadena’s streets.
Not everything is changing. There are still more Pasadenans in the Southwest Blue Book social registry than residents of Bel-Air, Malibu and Beverly Hills combined. And it did require a public battle to budge the Tournament of Roses to diversify its fossilized white male board of directors. But the city’s new community center is filled with Latino parents taking English classes, and Pasadena’s future is now looking more like marble swirl than vanilla.
“We think we’ll make a graceful transition, so that 50 years from now the Valley Hunt Club will be rich Chinese, Mexicans and blacks,” Mayor Rick Cole says. “It has been rich whites for 100 years, but there won’t be many whites here next century, and that has to be accepted with panache. What I hope most is that the cultural and architectural institutions of Pasadena will be cherished and will survive among a group of people who look nothing like we do now. And that’s the rub for all of Los Angeles. It’s diversify or die.”
Yet even as Angelenos try to move beyond the economic and racial barriers that bifurcate the area, a lingering disdain and distrust infuse our disputes. Many are beginning to acknowledge and challenge the borders. Others are not. But the dialogue that is east versus west may one day bring down the boundaries that have made Los Angeles a tale of two cities.
East Versus West: Nose Bobs or Budweiser?
The Westside, on this chart, is defined as ZIP codes west of La Brea Avenue and south of Mulholland Drive. The Eastside is defined as ZIP codes east of La Brea Avenue, ending roughly at Atlantic Boulevard in the San Gabriel Valley.
Westside Eastside No health insurance 1 in 9 1 in 3 Paid for diet program 1 in 30 1 in 67 Has stockbroker account 1 in 4 1 in 7 Has gold/platinum card 1 in 11 1 in 25 Owns home computer 1 in 2 1 in 3 Has computer modem 1 in 5 1 in 14 Drives alone to work 1 in 2 1 in 2 Takes bus to work 1 in 27 1 in 27 Takes carpool/rail to work 1 in 8 1 in 9 Commutes 1+ hours 1 in 25 1 in 50 Commutes less than 10 mins. 1 in 7 1 in 7 Has basic cable (only) 1 in 3 1 in 5 Has pay channels 1 in 3 1 in 4 No cable TV 1 in 3 1 in 2 Visited EuroDisney 1 in 167 1 in 1000 Visited LA Zoo 1 in 7 1 in 4 Dines out 10+ time/mo. 1 in 7 1 in 12 Never uses coupons 1 in 5 1 in 3 Drinks Budweiser 1 in 10 1 in 5 Drinks Miller Draft 1 in 8 1 in 16 Drinks Heineken 1 in 13 1 in 21 Had recent emergency room visit 1 in 3 1 in 3 Had cosmetic surgery 1 in 100 1 in 167 Health-club member 1 in 4 1 in 7 Attended symphony/opera 1 in 6 1 in 11 Attended rock concert 1 in 6 1 in 6 Owns a cat 1 in 4 1 in 5 Owns a dog 1 in 3 1 in 4 Shopped at Target 1 in 4 1 in 4 Shopped at Nordstrom 1 in 3 1 in 8 Spent $1,000+ on sportswear 1 in 50 None Bought furniture from IKEA 1 in 8 1 in 21 Paid $15,000 for new car 1 in 3 1 in 4 Paid $35,000 new car 1 in 50 1 in 250 Visited Palm Springs 1 in 4 1 in 10 Visited Wine Country 1 in 10 1 in 28 No domestic trips ’93 1 in 6 1 in 2
1993 data provided by Los Angeles Times Market Research Department