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Seeds of hope to be planted in Los Angeles' notorious Drew Street neighborhood

Where Avenues gang activities once were plotted, city staffers hope to see community garden plots.

April 10, 2011|By Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times
  • Crews dismantle the house at 3304 Drew St. in Glassell Park. Two years later, a nonprofit group hopes to plant a garden at the site.
Crews dismantle the house at 3304 Drew St. in Glassell Park. Two years later,… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

For years, a small house at 3304 Drew St. in Glassell Park was the center of a drug dealing and gang intimidation network that made its two-block stretch among the scariest in all Los Angeles, authorities say.

Then police arrested the occupants — a family of career criminals — and the city declared the building a nuisance. The house was eventually bulldozed.

Now, two years later, a nonprofit group hopes to plant a community garden on the site.

On Friday, more than 20 people met at the lot to plan the garden, which is scheduled to open in mid-June.

"We're hoping for good things from this," said Paola Alquicira, 76, from Tlalchapa, in Guerrero, Mexico, who has lived in a cottage on Drew for 34 years. "We've never had much on this street."

The garden was the brainchild of staffers at Councilman Eric Garcetti's office. The idea emerged after Wells Fargo donated the property to the city last fall, said Mitch O'Farrell, a Garcetti community advisor. The garden is being organized by the Los Angeles Community Garden Council, which has helped start some 80 such gardens around the county.

The community garden is the latest chapter in the long saga of two-block Drew Street, which has involved drugs, immigration, gangs and, lately, rebirth.

Beginning in the 1980s, Drew and nearby streets became home to hundreds of immigrants from Tlalchapa. Drew Street was so well known for its crime and violence that people back in Tlalchapa called it the Barrio Bajo — the Low Neighborhood.

Among those who immigrated from Tlalchapa was Maria Leon, who, along with her 13 children, directed much of the criminal activity along Drew Street, authorities say, running a clique of the notorious Avenues gang.

Their home was known as the Satellite House for its immense satellite television dish. When officers once raided the house, they found, along with guns and drug paraphernalia, surveillance cameras and a shrine to Jesus Malverde, the unofficial patron saint of Mexican drug traffickers.

Ultimately, Leon was sentenced to 100 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to racketeering and conspiracy. Her oldest six sons are all in prison or dead from gang-related violence.

Much has changed along Drew Street. The hardest gang members are now dead or in federal prison. Menacing youths in hoodies no longer lurk along the cramped street.

The planned garden plot still must be weeded, graded and divided into lots — all work planned for the next two months, said Miguel Luna of the Los Angeles Community Garden Council.

For people on the street from rural areas like Guerrero, the garden can be "a reconnection with the culture of agriculture," particularly for many residents who have lived decades in cramped apartments on Drew, Luna said. Also, "it's about putting [the past] behind us and looking to the future."

sam.quinones@latimes.com

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