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Echo Park Tableaux

Street level views of one of L.A.'s most vibrant communities, before it becomes the next Silver Lake

November 03, 2002|VINCE BEISER | Photographer Gregg Segal and writer Vince Beiser last collaborated for the magazine on a photo essay about life on Fremont Street in Las Vegas. More photographs of Echo Park are available at greggsegal.com.

ECHO PARK IS ONE OF LOS ANGELES' OLDEST AND MOST INTRIGUING neighborhoods, a down-market collage of small dance clubs and family-run restaurants, low-key hipster hangouts and storefront tarot card readers. Its grocery stores sell menudo mix alongside pickled lotus stalks. Its Methodist church offers services in four languages.

The neighborhood, bounded roughly by Riverside Drive and Temple Street to the north and south, Benton Way and Elysian Park to the west and east, has long been a blue-collar stronghold of Chinese, Filipino and Mexican and Central American immigrants. In the last few years, however, an infiltration has begun. Several independent galleries, a designer clothing boutique, a skate shop, a hipster record store and an arty cafe have sprouted amid the Asian grocery stores and Mexican dress shops. By all appearances, the early stages of the classic cycle of urban gentrification have begun: pioneering artists and young urbanites move into a low-rent ethnic neighborhood and make it interesting and appealing for higher-end yuppies, who drive prices up and earlier inhabitants out until the area loses its distinct character.

Echo Park's undeniable ugly side--its gangs and graffiti and shabbiness--may keep the upscale invasion from progressing too far. Though many residents say the streets have grown much safer in recent years, Echo Park's notorious gangs are still busy. The LAPD logged hundreds of gang-related crimes in the neighborhood, including a half-dozen murders, in the last two years.

Yet despite those problems, rents and housing prices are shooting up, forcing some longtime residents to move. And the neighborhood has acquired the ultimate symbol of gentrification as generification: its first Starbucks.

Here's a look at Echo Park and nearby streets before they fade to hip.

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