An Old Neighborhood Is Officially Reborn


The old-timers remember the name Garvanza. So do the artists who flocked to the neighborhood decades ago. But for the most part, the name of this hilly community in northeast Los Angeles has been lost to time and the steep arroyo roads.

Now, more than 100 years after it was settled, Garvanza is back.

After a yearlong campaign, neighbors at the north end of Highland Park have succeeded in getting the city to put up signs recognizing Garvanza, one of the first suburbs of 19th century Los Angeles.


With flourish, the area was rebaptized Saturday at an official ribbon-cutting ceremony, where about 100 residents and local leaders celebrated the return of Garvanza and the signs that went up at its borders a few weeks ago.

Like many other Angelenos digging up old neighborhoods, these residents hope that the name will rekindle a sense of community and history in the area.

“I think having a distinct community identity is going to help us,” said Robert MacTavish, a Garvanza resident who helped collect 250 signatures from neighbors petitioning for the signs. “There seems to be a trend citywide for people to find their neighborhoods. It’s a recognition of the roots and history of the area.”

Bringing back Garvanza is more than an exercise in nostalgia, many said. They hope that the name will jump-start a movement to preserve the Craftsman bungalows and Victorian homes that line the hilly streets in the square-mile area.

“The one thing this city desperately needs is a sense of how it’s going to approach the future on a neighborhood basis,” said Greg Fischer, an urban historian who studies Los Angeles neighborhoods. “[These residents] are looking for a sense of place, like everybody in this city. You can’t have a sense of place without a name.”

Now a mixed-income, largely residential community wedged next to South Pasadena, the Garvanza of old was a popular neighborhood for artists and the working class.

The wild pea, or garbanzo, that covered the rolling hills above downtown Los Angeles lent its name to the area, which was dubbed Garvanza in 1886 when the land was subdivided and sold.

It was the first settlement in the area known as “the Highlands” and quickly gained the trappings of small-town life. Within a year, Garvanza had 500 residents, a prominent hotel and its own newspaper, the Garvanza Gazette. The Garvanza Improvement Assn. planted more than 500 shade trees along the streets and used a horse-drawn water cart to keep them alive.

The rustic beauty of the countryside and the breathtaking view of the Los Angeles Basin attracted many prominent citizens to Garvanza, where they built small weekend cottages near the Arroyo Seco.

Annexed into Los Angeles in 1899, the village also boasted a thriving artists community that flourished through the 1930s.

Painters and other artists flocked to study at USC’s College of Fine Arts, which was established in Garvanza at the turn of the century by William Lees Judson, who later located his stained-glass studio there. Prominent architects and intellectuals settled in the area and along the Arroyo Seco, helping power the Craftsman movement.

“It was a wonderful proletarian community, with mostly working class and artistic people,” said Walter Judson, now owner of Judson Studios, which his great-grandfather founded in 1897.

“A lot was driven by Craftsman ideals,” he said. “You had artists mixing with people who worked factory jobs, and they were trying to figure out together how they could make a simple home beautiful.”

The few people who remember living in the area when it was known as Garvanza said the spirit of the artisan community permeated the neighborhood.

Beatrice Beck lived in a big European-style hunting lodge on Avenue 66 with her mother, Madeleine Fouchaux, a painter who attended the College of Fine Arts. The wooden house with eight large stone pillars in front was the site of many Garvanza artist parties.

“If you invited 50 people, 200 would come,” laughed Beck, 74, who now lives in San Diego. “They were artists, dancers, entertainers, poets. The point of the party was that they would put on acts to entertain the rest.”

Upstairs, her mother had a large studio where she did portraits and still-life paintings.

Beck, who went to Garvanza Elementary School, remembers the area as a close-knit neighborhood. In the 1930s, she and other children would race up and down the hilly streets on roller skates and catch polliwogs in the arroyo. Yellow street cars carried Garvanza residents downtown to shop and go to the movies.

At that time, there was little indication that the name Garvanza would disappear.

There was the Garvanza Drugstore, where young people lounged at the soda fountain and bought ice creams. Many shopped at the Garvanza Five ‘n’ Dime, with wooden floorboards that squeaked and smelled like oily sawdust. There were also a hardware store, bakery, school, street and park named Garvanza.

“To me, it’s always been Garvanza,” Beck said. “It never lost its name.”

But by the middle of the century, the name Garvanza faded from use as the original families moved away and businesses that bore the name shut down. The area merged with neighboring Highland Park and few spoke of its origins.

Now, longtime resident Ben Fisher gets blank stares when he tells people he is from Garvanza.

“I still think of it as Garvanza,” said Fisher, 79, who went to Garvanza Elementary School. “I’d like to see the name regained. I think the small-town atmosphere is enhanced by names like that.”

Now that the signs are up, neighbors have more plans to popularize the name Garvanza. Residents are going to ask state Sen. Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) to help them get exit signs for Garvanza on the Pasadena Freeway. They also want to petition the Thomas Bros. map makers to include their neighborhood.

Ultimately, many would like Garvanza to be declared a historical district to preserve the century-old buildings that still line the winding streets.

“I think the grand old name of Garvanza does mean something,” Judson said. “It’s a symbol of what this used to be, and what it hasn’t quite lost and can regain. This is a neighborhood of ideals. Everyone is really pleased the name is back, even if it does mean garbanzo beans.”

Early Suburb

After a yearlong campaign, neighbors in a small part of Highland Park have succeeded in getting the city to put up signs recognizing Garvanza, one of the first suburbs of 19th century Los Angeles.