They come to the shady little house on Hooper Avenue because they believe in the old ways of healing.
As they begin arriving in the twilight, they chat on the sidewalk and eat tamales, bound by their common faith that the spirits will cure where doctors have failed.
They drive from Pico-Union, Hollywood, Altadena--all to have a "consultation" with 23-year-old Genaro Cortez, who they believe holds a remarkable power to heal.
"He is my doctor, he is my brother, he is my friend, he is my priest," said Eva Baron, 64, who says she is being cured of a chronic headache.
She believes that Cortez, of Tepic, Mexico, is an espiritista, a type of faith healer common in rural Latin American villages and a rapidly growing fixture in Southern California.
Four nights a week, Baron joins mostly Mexican and Central American immigrants in front of the Templo Espiritual in a quiet South-Central neighborhood. The temple was recently gutted by fire, and Cortez now holds services in his adjacent house.
When the soft-spoken young pastor with a looming presence opens his doors in the morning, a faithful crowd of people, some of whom camped overnight, await him. They know him as Timoteo Garcia (he did not explain why he adopted that name). On Sundays, a line of more than 100 people stretches down the sidewalk while a boy sells tamales from a grocery cart.
"It's a tradition that's booming in Los Angeles," said UCLA folklorist Patrick Polk. He said he gauges the trend by the growing number of streetside botanicas, which sell the ritual candles, incense and herbs of traditional healers.
"Twenty years ago, maybe there was a dozen botanicas," Polk said. "Now there's over a hundred."
Espiritistas like Cortez are just one type of curandero, or curer, whose practices are generally a mix of Spanish tradition--handed down by the Arabs and ancient Greeks--and Native American tradition dating back to the Mayan and Incan civilizations.
Some curanderos use herbs or massage. Others claim to be psychic or use black magic. They range from grandmothers treating their families to faith healers in storefront temples to unlicensed dentists and inyectadores who give vaccines bought in Tijuana.
"Anybody can step forward and be a curer," said USC anthropologist Andrei Simic. "Some might be legitimate; others might be out there just to fleece people."
Some, like the late Don Pedrito Jaramillo of the Texas border region, become folk saints--so famous that ailing people make international pilgrimages to their homes, said Polk.
Cortez's followers come from all over the county and hear about him through word of mouth. On a recent brisk morning in his dirt driveway, more than 20 people sat in folding chairs on a piece of carpet soaked by the night's rains, holding babies and drinking coffee. Bundled in shawls, serapes and sweatshirts, they came with all manner of medical afflictions.
"I come here because my mom is sick with cervical cancer in Guatemala," said Norma Dominguez, 43, who said she spends the night in her car outside the temple four times a week. Since she began visiting Cortez, she said, her mother "looks like new. Her face looks young."
Dominguez, a factory worker, buys a $10 ticket from Cortez for every consultation, a cost she insisted is minor compared to medical bills.
Consuelo Rivera, 35, brought her sister-in-law to Cortez from Hollywood to cure her crippling arthritis. The young woman had seen doctors for years to no avail, she said.
"They gave her a lot of medicine," said Rivera. "They took liquid from her knees and ankles. My brother had to help her eat because she could not move her hands."
At the temple, Rivera said, she helped the young woman to the stage in front of about 100 people. Cortez placed his hands on her forehead, closed his eyes and prayed. Then he stood back, and the woman walked back to her seat without help, Rivera said.
"The first day she was home, she could wash dishes," she said.
Of course, these types of ceremonies have been performed, and doubted, for centuries. And there are doubters even within the field of curanderismo.
"One of the things about this field is you find a lot of rip-offs," said Oscar Reconco, a Honduran immigrant who works as a psychic and curer from his home in Echo Park. "You can put a drop of dye in water, and they'll buy it because they have faith."
But law enforcement can do little to crack down on charlatans because it would be impossible to prove in court that something or someone is not holy, prosecutors say.
"As long as it's based on some sort of fundamental religion and not some guy trying to sham, if people are really drawn to the faith healer, he's probably beyond the law," said Assistant Atty. Gen. Charlton Holland.
He said herbalists who make diagnoses and prescribe herbs for ailments might be pushing the legal limit.
"That would be real close to the practice of medicine," he said.