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Arts and Entertainment

Ten Things You May Not Know About Eagle Rock

Cruising around Eagle Rock. (Photo by Karol Franks via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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For what seems like forever, Eagle Rock has been said to be on the cusp of change. Cries of gentrification weren't far off; you only had to look to its neighbor down south—Highland Park—to know what was coming. It all seemed pre-destined, too; there's a bit of that youthful, college campus vibe at Occidental College, as well as an under-appreciated spread of restaurants (hat tip to Casa Bianca). All the pieces were in place.

But then the recession happened, and it seemed that the tide of change was stemmed. Ever since, the neighborhood seems to exist on both ends of the spectrum. On one hand, there's still that cozy, small-town feel. On the other, it was the location of a short-lived HBO series that starred Mark Duplass, the progenitor a practitioner of "mumblecore." "It’s the place where hipsters go to die or raise kids—which some people consider the same thing," Duplass, an actual resident, told the L.A. Times.

Whichever way you see Eagle Rock, it has all the hallmarks of an L.A. neighborhood, which is to say it's ethnically diverse, has an undervalued architectural background, and bears a past of hosting celebrities before they'd made it big. Here are some things you may not know about the area:

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(Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
There Really Is A Rock (And An Eagle)

While Silver Lake isn't named after a lake filled with mercury, and while Echo Park isn't home to some aural phenomenon, Eagle Rock gets its name from a very literal source: an indentation on a rocky outcropping on the northern edge of town casts a shadow that, during certain parts of the day, resembles an eagle in mid-flight. The boulder was a focal point in more ways than one; beginning in 1917, Easter services were held by locals on top of the rock, though that tradition has faded since.

The rock was also notable for catching the eye of Ludwig Salvator, Archduke of Austria, during his travels to Southern California in the 1870s. Salvator, known for his explorations of the Mediterranean islands, drew one of the earliest-known depictions of Eagle Rock's geological wonder, then known as the Piedra Gorda.

Aside from Austrian royalty, it also garnered the attention of another noted explorer and historian:

In 1996, the City of Los Angeles more or less purchased the rock, paying $700,000 to a developer who had intentions of building an apartment complex at the foot of the boulder.

Obama Delivered His First Big Speech Here (And It Was Kind Of Bonkers)

During Barack Obama's tenure as our President (seems like a long time ago, doesn't it?), he'd spoken before the American public, Parliament, and even Led Zeppelin. Always cool and collected, he delivered every speech with total aplomb.

Did he hone his oratory talents at Occidental College? Obama was a student at the Eagle Rock school from 1979 to 1981. And on February 18, 1981 he was tapped to be the opening speaker at a campus rally that decried Occidental's investments in companies that had ties in apartheid South Africa. The demonstration was also expected to touch on the lack of diversity among the campus' faculty. This appearance, as claimed by both the New Yorker and the university, marked the first time that Obama delivered a public speech on civil matters.

The speech, however, was a poor indicator of things to come. As a former student recalled, Obama spoke in "declarative spurts," and exhibited none of the steely poise that he'd be known for in his later years. Also, he'd hardly gotten in a few sentences when a couple of white students dressed in paramilitary uniforms rushed the stage and dragged him off. This was all staged. Though, as Obama recounted later on in Dreams from My Father, “I really wanted to stay up there. I had so much more to say.”

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The Greater Los Angeles Agency On Deafness in Eagle Rock. (Via Google Earth)
It Had Once Housed A Retirement Home For Teetotalers

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union is regarded as one of the first women-led organizations in America that strove for social reform. While there was a heavy Christian background to the movement, its main focus was on the curbing of alcohol consumption, and in turn preserving the family structure at home. At its height, the nation-wide organization had approximately 700,000 members, and in 1927 it built an all-women retirement home in the Southland for some of its Californian cardholders. That home, situated at 2235 Norwalk Ave in Eagle Rock, had three stories and over 100 rooms, and even gave off a hint of that Mediterranean Revival flair.

The temperance movement lost steam as the 20th century came to a close; by the 1990s there were only 40,000 members across the United States. This shift was reflected at the Eagle Rock home; with most of the centenarians gone, the home took on a less austere tone. As documented by the L.A. Times, residents now gathered around the piano to sing "of sentiment instead of sobriety" (saucy!). Some of the women even admitted to drinking when they visited relatives, though alcohol was still forbidden on the premises.

The house would later be transferred to the Greater Los Angeles Agency On Deafness in the '90s.

Eagle Rock Recreational Center. (Photo by Britta Gustafson via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
Some Big Name Architects Had Left Their Mark Here

When it comes to its architectural heritage, L.A. can get a bad rep for its profusion of strip malls and kitschy novelties (think: "mimetic" structures like Randy's Donuts). What gets overlooked is that, tucked away in the belly of our suburbs, there's a rich history of mindful and inventive design. This is certainly true for Eagle Rock, what with its diverse spread of quaint Craftsman bungalows, tasteful Spanish Revival pads, and other homes of note.

Several prominent architects had stopped by to leave their mark here. Much of Occidental College was planned out by Myron Hunt, who'd also had a big hand in designing, among other things, the Ambassador Hotel, the Huntington Library, the Rose Bowl, and the earliest buildings of the Caltech campus. The most surprising project, however, probably belongs to Richard Neutra, who designed the Eagle Rock Recreation Center. Can we take a moment here? Neutra, famed for his sleek and Spartan creations, isn't exactly associated with a small town atmosphere. In fact, you're perhaps most acquainted with Neutra through the movies, in which his homes are often portrayed as the dwellings of high rollers and shifty villains. In Eagle Rock, however, you can play flag football and take flute lessons at a Neutra-designed building. As noted by the Los Angeles Conservancy, the building is as practical as it is visually unique:

It is essentially a pavilion, with a series of walls that can be hand-cranked up like double-hung windows to open the interior to the outside. The result is an ideal design solution for the multipurpose facility, which over the years has housed everything from plays to basketball games.

(Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
This Is Where Those Sparkletts Trucks Come From

The trucks are unmistakable. They're overwhelmingly green, with the "Sparkletts" name embedded in a patch of twinkling, aqua-blue sequins. For Angelenos, the bottled water company is so ubiquitous that we may mistake it as having a national presence. In reality, the water is only delivered to the Southwest region, with some locales out in Texas.

Where does it come from? Eagle Rock. According to the L.A. Times, Sparkletts got its start in the 1920s when an Eagle Rock resident by the name of Burton N. Arnds Sr. (try saying that five times fast) began complaining about the taste of municipal water. Arnds would later develop a bottling plant that got its water from a well by York Boulevard and Avenue 48. By 1929, he broke ground on a bigger plant on the 4500 block of Lincoln Avenue.

The plant, decorated with domes to evoke a Moorish flair, is still in operation today.

John Steinbeck Moved Out To Eagle Rock To Take On A Weird AF Entrepreneurial Project

Steinbeck. (Wikipedia Commons)
It's not quite the bohemian enclave that Silver Lake is, but Eagle Rock has always been on the horizon for the creative set who are looking to escape the bustle and high prices of the big city. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, when they were still fledgling screenwriters, wrote Good Will Hunting in a house on Hill Drive. And actor Luke Wilson and director Terry Gilliam (Brazil, 12 Monkeys) both call Occidental their alma mater.

Going farther back, you'll also find that Pulitzer Prize winner John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden) had spent multiple stints in Eagle Rock. Before he'd made his way as a renowned author, he'd toiled away with dead-end manuscripts in the neighborhood, and had spent some time teaching at Occidental. He also participated in all the usual literary cliches—getting soused, contributing to a tumultuous marriage, et cetera.

Here's one thing that you wouldn't expect: in his first serious attempt to eke out a living in Southern California, he moved from San Francisco to Eagle Rock on the heels of an entrepreneurial project. Working with his friend Carlton "Dook" Sheffield, they struck up an idea to make plaster moldings of people's heads (no, we're not sure how this could possibly make money). According to the Eagle Rock Historical Society, the start-up gained enough momentum for them to build a "staff" (which they dubbed the "Faster Master Plaster Casters"), and they laid their hopes on some substance called Negocol, a Swiss product that was supposed to allow for a more precise molding. Unfortunately, funding for the project was basically nil, and in-fighting among the staff (mostly over money) brought the whole enterprise down. We're glad Steinbeck found another calling.

There Used To Be A Filipino Radio Station Here

Eagle Rock is home to the largest population of Filipino-Americans in the greater L.A. area. According to the L.A. Times, nearly 17% of the population is comprised of people with Filipino background. It's said that the migration of Filipinos to Eagle Rock began about 40 years ago, when immigrants were lured to the area by affordable homes and the proximity to downtown.

A good indicator of a city's makeup comes from its shops. Likewise, you can find on Jollibee on Colorado Boulevard, as well as the sprawling, Filipino-centric Seafood City. Newcomer EagleRock.Kitchen is there too, and stalwarts like Barrio Fiesta of Manila and Kusina Filipina are just a short jaunt from the neighborhood.

There's also the Philippine Village on Eagle Rock Boulevard, a commercial building that's described by The Eastsider as "commercial hub for the area’s Filipino community." For a while Radio Manila was a tenant here. The radio station, founded in 1988, was touted as the only Filipino-American radio station that was operating 24 hours a day. Not only did it focus on community news, it also established a line between Filipino Americans and their relatives in the Philippines; people overseas were invited to relay messages on-air.

Sadly, Radio Manila shuttered its website sometime after 2013, and Philippine Village may be demolished to make way for a number of townhomes.

It Has Ties With Some Of L.A.'s Most Notorious Serial Killers

Today, Eagle Rock is regarded as a sleepy, tucked-away town that's also a safe place to raise a family. In the past six months, for example, Eagle Rock has less instances of violent crimes than 159 other neighborhoods in the County (areas such as Silver Lake, Los Feliz, and Sawtelle fared worse).

There were times, however, when the community was gripped by fear, and much of it stemmed from some of L.A.'s most well-known serial killers. The neighborhood was where Richard Ramirez (the "Night Stalker") began his murder spree after he'd broken into an apartment and killed an elderly woman in 1984. Ramirez would later be caught and charged with 14 murders that were spread across the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys.

Before Ramirez had terrorized Los Angeles, cousins Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi (dubbed the "Hillside Stranglers") abducted in 1977 two teenage girls who had just left the Eagle Rock Plaza. The victims were later found on a hillside near Dodger Stadium. In total, Buono and Bianchi would be responsible for 10 murders that occurred across the County (actor Peter Lorre's daughter was a target, but she managed to escape). Both cousins were later convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Buono died of a heart attack in 2002 while serving his sentence.

Hod Rod Culture Is A Part Of Eagle Rock's Past (And Present)

As noted at Amoeba's history blog, hot rod culture has been a part of the city's makeup since the 1940s. This was in part fueled by Colorado Boulevard, which afforded plenty of road for hot rodding.

Hot rod clubs were in abundance, as evidenced by this enthusiasts website that has collected a number of club plaques (a kind of coat of arms). The colorful names ranged from the "Kadavers" to the "Head Hunters"—we're guessing they didn't participate in any Kiwanis bake sales. A couple of these clubs are still in existence today. As reported by the L.A. Times, the Eagle Rock Trompers were revived in 2003 after a long hiatus.

The "Dinkey." (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection)
It Used To Have Its Own Trolley Line

We're aware of the complicated history of the Pacific Electric Railway (and its rumbling streetcars). But what about the Eagle Rock "dinkey"?

Beginning in 1909, the Glendale and Montrose Railway Company (G&M) operated a two-mile line that ran from Colorado and Eagle Rock boulevards in Eagle Rock (before the city had become a part of Los Angeles) to Colorado and Wilson Avenue in Glendale. The trolley was also dubbed—rather unceremoniously—the "galloping goose" because of its precarious ride.

G&M would make a stab at expansion: southward lines were also developed to link up with other rail lines in Los Angeles. The company also increased its network in the northeast region; lines went into La Cresenta, and one line made a stop at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

The company's lifespan, however, was brief. The depression took a fatal shot at G&M, and no more cars were running after 1930.

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