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.

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