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It's Tough Knowing Where to Draw the East-West Line

April 18, 2002|CHRISTOPHER NOXON and LESLEE KOMAIKO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Los Feliz native Jeff Bey lives by a strict personal code: Never venture west of Highland. "I avoid the Westside like the plague," says Bey, who owns Hollywood Billiards and Silver Lake's Cafe Tropical. "I just don't have a visa for that part of town."

West L.A. resident Brian Lewis knows he's on the Eastside when he crosses La Cienega Boulevard--not that he approves of such distinctions. "I prefer not to think of Balkanistic boundaries for our city," says Lewis, editor of the Los Angeles Independent Newspaper group.

Such good intentions aside, most Angelenos have a habit of dividing the city into east and west. We do so for all sorts of reasons: to claim allegiance with our community, to draw a line between ourselves and others and simply to make sense of a sprawling, borderless metropolis. The boundary divides social circuits and political districts, even gang affiliations.

There's just one problem: No one can agree where the border falls. Depending on whom you ask, the boundary between Eastside and Westside falls as far west as the 405 Freeway or as far east as downtown L.A. Some draw a jagged line that cuts back and forth like broken glass. Some describe a border that shifts according to the time of day. Others insist upon a central buffer zone that counts as neither east nor west.

The only thing everyone can agree on is that the Westside starts at the ocean and continues through at least Brentwood. West Hollywood masseuse Penny Compton says she's always thought of the Eastside as starting at La Cienega. Venice-based real estate agent Deborah Glusker puts the boundary at Laurel Canyon, which turns into Crescent Heights Boulevard in West Hollywood. Many put the boundary at La Brea Avenue.

Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, whose 5th District straddles neighborhoods claimed as east and west, draws the line at Highland Avenue. It's a matter, he says, of pure self-determination. "I think most people in the Fairfax district think of themselves as Westsiders and most people in Hancock Park think of themselves as Eastsiders," he says. "Highland is what separates them."

Club owner and die-hard Eastsider Mitchell Frank says the line moves from La Brea to Western Avenue when the sun goes down. "You never want to go past Western at night," he says. "But during the day, it's fine to go into Hollywood."

Historically, the border fell on the eastern edge of downtown, along the banks of the Los Angeles River. Retired record shop owner Esther Wapner Arbeitel recalls growing up near downtown's Temple Street and thinking of Boyle Heights as the Eastside. And in the early days of the city, Western Avenue, which cuts through neighborhoods now thought of as the core of the Eastside, marked--what else?--the western edge of the city.

The division is most complicated in East Hollywood, Los Feliz, Silver Lake and Echo Park, areas commonly thought of as the Eastside. Though some locals cling to the Eastsider label as a badge of honor, many Latino neighbors describe themselves in different terms. Jose Almarez lives in Silver Lake, and he thinks the Eastside starts where Sunset Boulevard becomes Cesar E. Chavez Avenue, at the downtown intersection with Figueroa Street.

This is no casual distinction for Almarez. He feels so strongly about the subject that he tattooed his neighborhood on the back of his neck: "West Los Angeles."

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