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Mayberry, Shmayberry

Eagle Rock Lies Poised to Be the Next Hot Place. That Could Spell Big Changes for a Retail Wasteland With a Distinct Inferiority Complex. It Could Also Mean the End of Affordable Bungalows, an Eclectic Population and Many Small-Town Moments.

July 29, 2001|DAVE GARDETTA | Dave Gardetta last wrote for the magazine about four longtime plant collectors

Early last summer, after moving to Eagle Rock with her family from Los Feliz, Patricia Neal went looking for a good cup of coffee and instead found an empty storefront at the corner of Eagle Rock and Colorado boulevards. It turned out there was no good coffee in Eagle Rock--like everyone else in the little town last summer, Neal drove to the Starbucks in Glendale for her cup--but the storefront, she thought, held possibilities.

Neal had lived through the revitalization of Los Feliz during the 1990s, had watched as clubs and organic restaurants and coffee houses and Madonna moved into her neighborhood and changed its tone--mostly for the better, she believed. "Suddenly," she says, "there were platforms for the community to meet in at night."

Neal thought she had landed in Mayberry when she arrived in Eagle Rock. There were little kids on scooters everywhere and men confabbing over crab grass on front lawns, and someone on her block walked over and presented her with a box of See's candies the day she arrived. (Her first day in Los Feliz, the city presented her with a parking ticket).

It was pleasant, but, standing in front of the wind-swept storefront on that summer morning, Neal thought maybe Mayberry needed a platform of its own. She imagined a coffeehouse where people could hang out, surrounded by thought-provoking signs that read, "Where's your future going?"

Patricia Neal looks out of place in Eagle Rock. She has geek-chic black glasses like the ones Web designers wear in TV ads, clunky shoes that are cute on her, and a dress style that is best described as "casual futuristic." In short, she looks like everyone in Los Feliz. A lot of people these days think she looks like the future of Eagle Rock, and on that subject she is not casual.

"This place has real possibilities," Neal says, as if we were sauntering through a fixer-upper. "It just takes a want and a need and an entrepreneurial drive to get it done." Neal gets excited when she talks about the future--her voice rises and her body appears to be coming undone. "Right now, the feng shui of Eagle Rock is just not working for me. There are a lot of creative people moving here, but there's also an old-school mentality. There aren't any places for people to go when they leave their houses. And there's no consistent design. Definitely, the feng shui of the area is not working for me. Except for Swork."

Swork is the name of Neal's new coffeehouse, which she opened in the empty storefront on Colorado Boulevard and that now blinks out like a bright sign advertising where Eagle Rock's future may be going. Suddenly, there are three platforms to find good coffee on Colorado Boulevard. Besides Swork, artist Kim Dingle and her partner, Aude Charles, have opened Fatty's, a cafe and newsstand, and there is a sunny French bakery that serves little croissants and cafe au lait named Beaujolais Boulangerie.

Coffee has come to Eagle Rock just as it landed in Los Feliz a decade ago, making some people wonder if Eagle Rock will be remade into a Left Bank across the L.A. River by hordes of hipsters fleeing high rents, or at least become something more like Glendale.

Can such a thing happen in a town where 99% of the people have never heard of the Dust Brothers, Sofia Coppola, the Fetish Club or Fred 62, who don't know that a lunch pail can be a purse or that a good park is one where you actually let the dogs in?

Certainly the signs are there. "The last time I heard, home prices here were rising at around 16% annually," says Eric Toro, who sells real estate in Eagle Rock. "But that isn't stopping the artists and people in the Industry who are fleeing Los Feliz's housing market--right now there aren't enough homes here to fill the demand."

"Fifteen years ago, a few activists here planted the seeds for what is just beginning to happen," says Jeff Samudio, a partner at Design Aid Architects who has lived in Eagle Rock all of his life and worked as an activist to change it. "But to see people actually investing in the neighborhood now? Most of us really thought that would never happen."

*

BUT SHOULD IT HAPPEN? IT MAY BE THAT EAGLE ROCK WON'T tip all the way, that it will remain one of those rare American neighborhoods where the pleasure of living comes from the frisson of social groups rubbing up against each other. San Francisco's Mission District was like that 10 years ago, as was New York's Williamsburg neighborhood and Los Feliz itself. Now they're theme parks for young urban professionals.

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