Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Are there any frogs left in Frogtown?

Of all the neighborhoods along the L.A. River, Elysian Valley or Frogtown, lives most intimately with the river.  It is like an island, between the Golden State Freeway and the river, between tow bridges, Fletcher Avenue and Riverside-Figueroa. This is where the first pocket parks along the river were made, and now is the launch point for kayaking.  Even before the bike path was opened, the service road along the river was a popular walking and bicycling place, often accessed through holes cut in chain link fences.

The frogs came to Frogtown in 1954, according to local residents interviewed in the 1980's by the L.A.Times.  That was the year land was cleared for the Golden State Freeway, which isolates the little neighborhood from the rest of the city. Many streets, like Allesandro used to go across Riverside Dr. and into the hills above the valley.

Before the freeway was built, the neighborhood didn't seem to have any particular name.  It was part of Rancho Los Feliz. Later, the farmers came, including Jesse Hunter in 1849, fresh from the gold fields.  His heirs continued to farm the land, or sell it to the railroads,  into the 1920's.  Then came the small tracts and the little houses.  These humble subdivisions didn't get the heavy promotion that larger ones got.  

  This one was built in 1920.  In 1939, it rented for $30 a month, more than the average, which was $25.  Many people associate the horizontal fencing with gentrification.

Like so many others, this one got a coat of stucco sometime after it was built in 1925. The rent in 1939 was only $18 per month.

This one was moved here from South Central Los Angeles by the current owner's great-grandmother.  

At the corner of Knox and Blake.

 This won't be here much longer.  That's a notice of demolition on the fence.

This one is currently receiving a fresh coat of green paint.  

while this sits under the moon with white roses in front.

 I took this in 2007, and don't know whether this house with its sweet little porch is still there.
Or this example of the hedge-trimmer's art

The City of Los Angeles has held on to some of the land in frog town, on Dorris Place.  The Dorris Place Elementary School is there, along with the Department of Building and Safety, and the Sewer Maintanace Facility.  Once there was what they called The Parental School which was the place where they sent bad kids who weren't quite bad enough for reform school.  Later, the Inebriate Farm was placed there, to be succeeded by the Los Feliz Hospital for Women.  It treated women for sexually transmitted diseases.  I don't know where their male counterparts went.  It was a NIMBY kind of place, and neighbors complained of the disgrace. It was founded in 1918 with great idealism, but by 1924, it was described as dilapidated.  It was a place from which women escaped, five of them in1919, nine of them in 1921.  In 1921 there was a kidnapping which was actually a rescue. In 1927,  Grace Kenney, arrested for "masquerading," that is, wearing men's clothing, escaped.   Her name was never in the paper again, so we don't know whether she returned to her husband and baby daughter or not.   In 1932 there was a "near riot," and the place was abandoned the next year.  Pleas for its re-opening followed.

Dorris Place Elementary School is a handsome building with a beautiful front entrance.

Frogtown is one of a few neighborhoods in L.A. where industrial buildings mix with residences.  One of the first was the 4S bakery.  It was founded in 1922 by four men whose names all started with S.  It moved from downtown to Elysian Valley in 1926.  At some point they merged with Bimbo bakeries.

I spoke with the property owner on his way out.  He says people still come around looking for the bakery, and he even still gets mail for the 4S employee group.  He saved the old awning from its days as Bimbo.  He's also a dog lover, like myself.  A new development is planned here.  

Most of the factories came after the land use map of 1939 was published, and the L.A. River was channelized.  Many were built in the area that was subject to flooding before channelization.  

You can't always tell what they are up to behind the chain link fences

Sky Lifts will help you get high

but what do they do at ameco


and what will they make of all this stuff?

Frogtown residents like to draw faces on chairs

and write aphorisms on mattresses

They decorate their garden walls

Place a bow on a lawn sculpture.

paint each brick a different color

or leave an enigmatic message on the wall of an abandoned parking lot.

decorate a fence with butterflies

or paper cranes

There's plenty of local color.

The circus was painted on a silver wall.

She is with Jesus now. I found the location of this wall.  It's painted solid green now.

  As far back as 1989, the L.A. Times noticed that artists were moving into frog town. The downtown arts district was becoming too expensive even then.  Frogtown began holding an annual ArtWalk in 2005. Unfortunately, the 2015 ArtWalk was canceled.  

 Hugo Martinez Tecoatl has participated in the art walk, in 2011 and other years.   In 2006 he painted a wonderful mural along the bike path when it was still just a service road.

I photographed this much of it in 2007.  There had been more but it was all tagged up.  Since then, the mural has completely disappeared.  There is another, at the corner of Riverside and Riverdale.  It's still there and looks like there have been attempts at maintenance.

Hugo Martinez Tecoatl also painted great murals at the Casa Mexicana.

It's a time of change in  Frogtown.  Riverhouse is under construction.

Even though it's painted a murky, rather frog like, shade of green, it looms ominously over the little houses of the neighborhood.

The project's website says, "Be a pioneer, become one of the first to own a home on the L.A. River and witness its revitalization first hand."  They forget that even before Jesse Hunter bought land here with his gold rush earnings in 1849, it was not an uninhabited wilderness.

On the other hand, it wasn't a beautiful spot before

Here are a few links about Frogtown:

Way back in 2007, when I was ambling down the river in frog town, Atwater
Village Newbie predicted it was on the way to becoming the next hipster place.

In 2010, Will Coley interviewed long-time residents for his video mapping Frogtown.

In Aug. 2014, L.A. Weekly described Frogtown as L.A.s hottest new neighborhood, but the residents declined the honor. 

KPPC reported on the June 10, 2015 Zoning Hearing

Residents are not embracing change, according to the August 3, 2015 Community Beacon.

On August 14, 2015 Curbed reported on zoning changes 

A local resident has assured me there are still frogs in Frogtown, though not as many as there had been in an earlier time.  I can only hope the things I like about Frogtown will still be there in years to come. 


  1. I never cease to be amazed at the amount of time and effort (and skill) some people put into their street art.

  2. Funny to see the plaster head of my boyfriend, artist Steve Appleton, laying in the weeds behind a fence..remnants of an old full body casting project---