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A cool, cryptic kind of allure

October 17, 2002|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

The place

If you want hipster swank, go to Silver Lake, but if you're looking for pre-gentrification grunge and cryptic cool, Highland Park is the ticket. Ask for a cup of coffee at a local bakery, and you could be handed a jar of Nescafe. Ask for a bottle of red wine at a liquor store, and you might be directed toward the cooler. Look in a store window, and there could be power tools displayed along with knitting supplies. The beauty of Highland Park is its eclecticism. Craftsman homes dot the neighborhood, which is built alongside acres of parks and a main drag that is alive with eateries, art galleries and shops.

Where to find it

Nestled north of downtown and south of Eagle Rock, Highland Park is bounded by South Pasadena to the east and Mount Washington to the west.

The main drag

North Figueroa Street -- a hodgepodge of auto body shops, hoochie-mama clothing stores, taco joints -- even a Buddhist temple.


On almost any night, the locus of activity is Mr. T's Bowl -- an ancient bowling alley whose lanes were long ago replaced with a stage for little-known bands to rock out. A couple blocks up the road is Richard's Hofbrau, a brick-interior dive where patrons shoot pool and knock back drinks to one of the best jukeboxes in town. In between the two is the Highland Theater, with a trio of screens showing first-run movies.

Great eats

Every block appears to have its own Mexican restaurant, but Villa Sombrero, with margaritas as big as your head and guacamole made before your eyes, is both fun and tasty. During the days, Ricos Marisco's, an aqua-blue taco truck, parks along Sycamore Grove Park, serving some of the best seafood tostadas in town. La Palapa, a hole-in-the-wall juice joint, blends fresh fruits and veggies in delicious combinations. And the fastest waiters in the west work at Folliero's, delivering not the best but ridiculously cheap Italian in an old-school pizzeria. Back at Mr. T's Bowl, twin sisters Katie and Lecie Williams serve comfort food with a twist at the Gutter, the tiny dinette counter they operate tucked just inside the door.

The arts

Highland Park was a hub of the Southern California arts-and-crafts movement. Take a drive along Sycamore Terrace to look at some of the area's more pristine Craftsman-era residences. Judson Studios has been making stained glass for the better part of a century, and its gallery is open to the public. On a more modern tip, several art galleries have sprung up recently, including the drive-by window space, Oranges and Sardines.


Named for its rolling hills and elevation, Highland Park was grazing land for sheep and cattle until the area was developed in the 1880s, at which point a community of artists, writers and intellectuals moved in. Among them was Charles Lummis, who walked from Cincinnati to L.A. in 1884 and settled in the area. His estate, the Lummis Home, is now a museum. The opening of the Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940 ushered in the era of the freeway, prompting residents to move to the suburbs and causing the neighborhood to fall into disrepair. Architecturally significant homes were replaced with apartment buildings in the '50s, '60s and '70s, attracting a lower-income element. In 1982, the Highland Park Heritage Trust was organized to preserve the area's architecture. The neighborhood is now the largest historic district in L.A., with 60 local sites on the City's Historic Cultural Monument List -- most of them private residences.



Highland Park

1. Ricos Marisco's

North Figueroa Street, south of Sycamore Terrace.

2. Folliero's Pizza

5566 N. Figueroa St.,

(323) 254-0505.

3. Highland Theater

5604 N. Figueroa St.,

(323) 256-6383.

4. Mr. T's Bowl and the Gutter

5621 1/2 N. Figueroa St.,

(323) 256-7561.

5. La Palapa

5729 N. Figueroa St.,

(323) 257-6331.

6. Richard's Hofbrau

5922 N. Figueroa St.,

(323) 254-4800.

Also in the area:

Judson Studios, 200 S. Avenue 66, (323) 255-0131;

Lummis Home, 200 E. Avenue 43, (323) 222-0546;

Oranges and Sardines, 5400 Monte Vista St.;

Villa Sombrero, 6101 York Blvd., (323) 256-9784

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