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The fast track to change

The Gold Line's extension to the Eastside is seen as a mixed blessing by some residents.

November 30, 2008|Hector Becerra | Becerra is a Times staff writer.

Change didn't stop, though; it only happened at a slower pace than in places including Silver Lake and Echo Park, cultural cousins to the neighborhoods east of the L.A. River. In recent years, large housing projects along 1st Street in Boyle Heights have been converted into town houses, with a mix of market rate and affordable housing. And a popular wine bar opened at Mariachi Plaza, which is being renovated as part of the Gold Line project.

East L.A.'s first Starbucks opened a few years ago.

Diana Tarango, 73, remembers when neighbors on her East L.A. street included Germans and Japanese. A third-generation Mexican American, Tarango said she misses the diversity and thinks the Eastside has too many discount stores, flower shops and taco trucks.

The Gold Line, Tarango said, will put the neighborhood on a fast track to change. "To me this is one of the best things that could happen to East L.A," she said.

"Why do we have to go to Pasadena for a Borders? Don't give me second-class retail," she said. "Does everything have to be low-income? Why not build for people who can own homes now -- condos, town houses? Because when you own something, it becomes yours and you take pride in it."

Tarango said that when she told her husband that maybe Trader Joe's could come to East L.A., he replied, "You would be the only one shopping there."

"I don't think so," she said. "I think if you offer it to people, I think they would buy into it. But if you don't offer it, you're being complacent. I'm 73, but I'm not complacent."

But Lydia Avila-Hernandez, 25, of Boyle Heights worries that for all the good the rail line will bring, it will also highlight differences between many Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans over issues that include affordable housing, street vending and even taco trucks.

"Even my own friends I grew up with, I told one of them about the Gold Line and she said, 'That's good, then white people can come and make the neighborhood better,' " Avila-Hernandez said. "I told her, 'How could you say that? Just because they're Mexicanos doesn't mean they're bad.' "

Avila-Hernandez said the Gold Line, beyond its mass transit benefits, could be a very good thing as long as the community is involved and has a voice. Otherwise, she said, it could get divisive -- even without the wholesale movement of people from other parts of L.A.

Molina said it will be important that no matter what changes take place, there be "opportunities for people living there today."

Whatever one calls it, change is necessary, she added. Molina said there's no reason that over time people in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights and East L.A. should not be able to partake of some of the things that people in places like Arcadia and Temple City do.

"People don't like always going to the corner liquor store for food products," she said. "Everyone likes a Trader Joe's. But change and opportunities have to be incorporated within the framework of the community there today, families that have been there forever."

Sandra Martinez can see both sides of the gentrification debate. A Salvadoran American who works for a health foundation, she was priced out of Echo Park. A real estate agent was able to find a duplex for her and her sister in Boyle Heights, next to the new County-USC Medical Center.

Martinez quickly grew to like her new neighborhood, with its good eateries, which included not just Mexican restaurants but also a Salvadoran one and a Middle Eastern restaurant just a few blocks away.

She discovered the new wine bar, Eastside Luv, at 1st and Boyle. The trendy, popular homegrown bar represents a kind of meeting of the past and possible future of Boyle Heights -- a place where young professionals socialize next to Mariachi Plaza with its for-hire musicians.

Next to the wine bar, itself a reminder that what people call gentrification isn't always an outside thing, is an old-school cantina, where lonesome-looking immigrant men with 10-gallon hats can be found hunkered over beers.

But though she liked some of the changes that happened in Echo Park, she found others unsavory and wouldn't want them to befall her newly adopted neighborhood. She cites the time a record store opened in her Echo Park neighborhood and she went in to look for some Latin music.

"I was struck by the fact they didn't have any, and I thought to myself, 'That's just rude!' " Martinez recalled. "I thought, 'Where do you think you are?' "

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hector.becerra@latimes.com

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