Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Casa del Mexicano

I was driving in Boyle Heights one day in 2011, when a mysterious dome appeared above the houses, streets, cars and garbage cans.   I had to see what it was.  I came to it from the side first.  

There were murals around the parking lot.

While I was photographing the murals outside, a nice man invited me to see the inside.  He let me bring my dog in with me.  The murals inside were just beautiful.  I was bedazzled.

It looked like the dome was still in progress.

There was a basement too, but my dog thought it was too scary, so this is all I saw of it.

The man told me it was a community center, La Casa del Mexicano, and was used for various classes and performances.  "Come back any time," he said, but I never did.  

I was certainly not the first person to admire these murals, or to photograph them.  I found Noche Bohemia  posted by Monique on Blogs by Latinas.  She was as much in awe of the murals as I was.

There are more pictures on the Eleven Shadows Blog. Daina Beth Solomon wrote about lucha libre taking place there. 

The muralist is Hugo Martinez Tecoatl, and the L.A. Times wrote about him in 2010.  He was living in La Casa del Mexicano and being paid $100 a week while working on the murals.  He needed better scaffolding before he could paint the inside of the dome.

 I took a picture of the front on the way out.

In spite of the friendly invitation, I did not go back there until I saw it was on this map of endangered buildings.  I found out why it was considered an endangered building. Just a few months after my visit, the building went into foreclosure. Martha and Ruben Soriano had been running The Comite de Beneficencia Mexcana, the organization that owned the building.  The man I met was probably Ruben.  They had taken out a $175,00 loan and had fallen behind on the payments.  They also owed Los Angeles County nearly $50,000 in unpaid property taxes. The  mortgage holder, Brownstone Mortgage of Santa Ana planned to auction the building Feb. 18 for $280,000 — the cost of the loan plus the unpaid taxes, which the lender paid in order to rescue the house from being sold at a county auction. 
After the Comite de Beneficencia filed for bankruptcy,  the auction was postponed, and the case was turned over to the State Attorney General.  In late 2012, the state attorney general's office concluded its investigation and removed the Sorianos from the property. It dissolved the Comite de Beneficencia Mexicana Inc. and handed the Casa over to the East Los Angeles Community Corp., an affordable housing developer.  This article in the Eastern Group Publications explains it better than the Times did.  E.L.A.C.C.  is the organization that restored the Cumings Block or Mariachi Hotel.  Some have complained that the units are now too expensive for working mariachis to afford, but the building itself looks good after years of shabbiness.

In December 2013, Las  Posadas was celebrated at La Casa.  The L.A. Times reported.  Hugo Martinez Tecoatl participated.  He said he wants to finish his murals.  It would be tragic if they were lost.

I learned a little bit about the building's history before I went back to see it again.

It had been built in 1904 as the Euclid Heights Methodist Church.  Young Rev. Fred Ross started the church in a tent in 1903 . Although Boyle Heights was a well established neighborhood, this Euclid Heights area was in the early stages of development for residences.  By Mar. 1904 the new congregation has over 30 members, and 100 children attending Sunday School, and the cornerstone of the building was laid.  They celebrated their 40th anniversary in 1943, but disappeared, at least from the L.A. Times, after 1950.  I had hoped to find pictures of the church in its early days, but haven't found any yet.

Meanwhile, La Casa Mexicano got started in the 1940s in a large building on the corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue (formerly Brooklyn Avenue) and Gage Street.    This building later housed  Self-Help Graphics. La Casa del Mexicano appears to have moved into the church building in 1951.

Then I looked for more information about Hugo Martinez Tecoatl. He participated in the Frogtown Art Walk in 2011.  I was saddened by the news that a mural he was painting on 1st and Savannah in Boyle Heights had been painted over before he even finished it.

The most surprising thing I learned was that I had seen his work four years before my visit to La
Casa del Mexicano.  I'd not only seen it, but I'd photographed it on a walk along the L.A.River in "Frogtown," or Elysian Valley.

 Sadly, his work was being destroyed by taggers.

I could find nothing left of it the next time I was there.

La Casa del Mexicano was closed last time I visited.  Here's the full frontal view.

The East Los Angeles Community Corporation describes La Casa del Mexicano as a 12,000 square foot community center, in pre-development stages."  They don't update their website very often, though.  To find out what's really going on there, I'd probably have to actually call them up on the telephone.

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Former Bucket

For the first few years I lived in my current house, I thought I was living in Eagle Rock.  It turns out I really live in Glassell Park.  It was an honest mistake.  I'd never heard of Glassell Park until I moved there.

Eagle Rock Blvd. runs between Eagle Rock and Glassell Park, then segues into Cypress Ave.  In the years before 1923, when Eagle Rock was annexed to Los Angeles, it was called Central Avenue.  One of the landmarks of Eagle Rock was "The Bucket" hamburger stand.  I had eaten there even before I lived in the neighborhood. When Esotouric posted this map of endangered buildings in Los Angeles, I was surprised to see this building at 4541 Eagle Rock Blvd. was on the list.   It's less than a mile away from me, and I had no idea.  It is an example of programatic architecture in which a building is designed to look like something else.  The original Brown Derby on Wilshire Blvd. is a well-remembered  example.

This 1972 photograph is from the Occidental College collection.

The Bucket opened in 1935, shaped like a lunch bucket of that era. No one seems to have a picture of the place when there was a handle on top, but this one, taken in 1986, shows a hinge on the side.  Maybe the handle was lost when this sign was put up.  I don't know anything about its early history, but sometime in the 1960s it was purchased by Julio Maeso, who became famous for insulting his customers as well as for his hamburgers and the brilliantly orange colored mustard and garlic sauce he served them with.  I remember the first time I ate there, before I moved into the neighborhood.  Julio was liberal with his insults to my husband, but nice to me, for some reason.  I wasn't crazy about the famous Julio Burger, but I loved the potato salad which was the special of the day.  When Julio sold The Bucket in 1995, the City Council Approved a resolution honoring him, saying "Julio Maeso, owner and founder of the Bucket, a popular hamburger stand in Eagle Rock that is about to be sold. The good-natured wisecracks that Maeso directs at his customers are part of the charm of the 25-year-old Bucket. The resolution was presented by Councilman Mike Hernandez, a longtime customer."

Younger people bought The Bucket.  They continued to serve the Julio Burger with its sauce. They added The Cardiac Burger to the menu.  It had fried onions and mushrooms, bacon and grilled ham on top of gigantic beef patties, served open faced with lettuce and tomato on the buns.    I think it changed ownership more than once after that, but kept the menu.  George Eckley was the owner when it was reviewed in 2009. According to the Eagle Rock Patch, Eckley had owned it 5 or 6 years when it closed at the beginning of October, 2013.

The next day, the Patch reported that it closed over a dispute about a parking place.

John Ho of Rosemead man went around Southern California in 2012 targeting small businesses in Southern California for alleged violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990. He sued The Bucket for not having an accessible parking place.  He filed hundreds of similar lawsuits.  He was one of a number of litigants bringing similar lawsuits thoughout the state.  Anthony Santillo owned the property where The Bucket did business.  He settled the lawsuit for $20,000 and wanted Eckley to cover the expenses.  When Eckley refused to pay, Santillo evicted him.  Another such  plaintiff, Tim Lee Conn, was revealed to have claimed fraudulently.  after that, Governor Brown placed limitations on the amount of damages that could be claimed.  When Eckley left, he kept the rights to the name, and the former Bucket became Dee-Dee's Dive, which didn't last very long. I decided the best way to find out the current status of the former Bucket was just to go there.

It's now called The Patio.  On New Year's Day, I saw plenty of people eating there.  I  passed up the opportunity myself, because I had more food in my refrigerator than money in my pocket.

The menu no longer includes the Cardiac.  There is a Portobello Burger though, and you can add bacon, a fried egg, or avocado to any burger.

The Patio's patio looks nice, but it make the former Bucket looks much less bucket-like.  If it were mine, I'd restore the handles and call it "The Lunch Pail."

Here is another picture which turned up on Facebook a while ago--