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Street Fair Helps to Unite a Diverse Community

August 26, 1985|LYNN SIMROSS | Times Staff Writer

Gabriel Turegano stood in the middle of Sunset Boulevard and spoke into his walkie-talkie. His friends, all members of the Diamond Street gang in the Silver Lake area, encircled him on this steaming summer afternoon, waiting for instructions.

The boys were not planning some sophisticated street war against a rival gang. Instead, they were helping to keep the peace and control the crowds at the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance's annual street fair.

"This is like a peace sign," Turegano said over the din of a rock band performing on a stage behind him. "We have a truce going with the other gangs and they're working here, too. It's a way of trying to stay out of trouble and do something for the neighborhood."

There are few neighborhoods in Los Angeles more diverse than those in Sunset Junction, which includes the communities of Silver Lake, Echo Park and Los Feliz.

Within its boundaries is a broad spectrum of cultures, creeds and life styles that typifies the melting pot that is Los Angeles.

There are Anglos, Latinos, Asians and blacks. Some residents are poor, and live crowded together in tiny apartments. Others inhabit the expensive hillside homes in this neighborhood not far from downtown Los Angeles.

There also is a growing gay population in the area that was, in fact, responsible for starting the Sunset Junction street fair six years ago.

Promoting Community Spirit

The Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance was founded in 1979 by gay and lesbian residents who wanted to promote community spirit and to live in peaceful surroundings. Trouble between gays and Latinos began erupting as more homosexuals moved into the area.

Gay men often were taunted by youths, mostly from the Latino gangs in the area: Diamond Street, Echo Park, Toonerville and Temple Street. Some gays were mugged or beaten. Two gay men were killed in a street robbery in 1979; the year before a gay bar, the Frog Pond, was firebombed.

It was out of this violence and community uneasiness that the Sunset Alliance was born and now flourishes as a nonprofit organization. The group holds several community events each year--Christmas parties and toy drives for children, food distribution programs, graffiti paint-out drives. But its largest endeavor is the annual street fair, held on Sunset Boulevard, beginning at the east side at Maltman Avenue and ending just before Fountain Avenue. The portion of Sunset where the fair is held is closed for both days of the event, Saturday and Sunday.

Proceeds go to 12 community groups that co-sponsor the event with the Sunset Junction Neighborhood Alliance. Organizers estimated that 250,000 people attended last year's fair and predicted an increased attendance this year, even though some feared that the oppressively hot weather might diminish the crowd.

Gabriel Turegano wiped his forehead as he gave orders to a group of monitors. Then he talked about the role of the gangs.

"Now everybody is working together here and keeping out of trouble," said Turegano, one of the head monitors. "The El Centro del Pueblo community center got everybody together. It isn't just for the fair, but a permanent truce where we're all trying to work and stay out of trouble."

Gang members who live in the area have been working at the fair since its inception, enlisted by officials from the El Centro del Pueblo, Turegano explained. He was dressed in a red T-shirt that signified his status as a monitor.

Other volunteers wearing black shirts that said MONITOR patroled the boulevard and assisted with security and traffic.

"The fair gives a constructive thing to the younger kids, too," said Albert Giron of Diamond Street. "It gives them an opportunity to be something, to do something good."

Additional Diamond Street members Woody Mendoza, Danny Espinoso, Paul Andrew Nava, Cisco Reyes and Ron Portillo gathered around to explain their purpose. Not only were they working the fair, as usual, they said, but they also were helping to do a mural in Elysian Park, under the direction of El Centro del Pueblo.

"This and working on the mural are ways to get out of trouble," said Mendoza. "You spend your time in this kind of stuff and have something important to do."

Senior citizens from the area also worked as monitors, signing up youngsters to work at street barricades and run whatever last-minute errands needed to be done. Most of the seniors sat in the monitor tent, and left the walking to the younger volunteers.

Ted and Etta Pura, members of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program in Hollywood (RSVP), worked the 1984 fair and returned this year as monitors. "We do outreach senior programs," Etta Pura said. "And this is one of the requests. So far, we've signed up about 35 kids from the neighborhood (to work as monitors) this morning. They get T-shirts and $3 lunch tickets."

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