1800s and Before
The first inhabitants of East Hollywood were the native AmericanTongva people, who lived in the region of what we now know as Los Angeles. The area spanning from modern-day Hollywood to Atwater Village was a Tongva village known as Cahug-Na (meaning, “Place of the hill”). The Spanish settlers who arrived in the 1700s gave the area its hispanicized name, “Cahuenga.”
In 1887, just 37 years after California gained statehood, a town named Prospect Park was established to the east of the then-newly named rancho called Hollywood, located some four miles northwest of Los Angeles. Prospect Park encompassed the northern part of today’s East Hollywood, as well as most of today’s Los Feliz. That year, a steam rail line known as the Cahuenga Valley Railroadconnected Los Angeles with Hollywood and ran through East Hollywood via County Road (now known as Western Avenue).
By 1900, Hollywood was a farming village of 500 people. Crops also grew in nearby Prospect Park: oranges, avocados, bananas and wheat grew on the site of what is now Los Angeles City College, and north toward the present Los Feliz area. Prospect Park was renamed “East Hollywood” to more closely associate itself with the booming town to the west which even then was on its way to legendary status.
The southern part of today’s East Hollywood was part of a town known as Colegrove, founded by Cornelius Cole, a friend of President Abraham Lincoln. Colegrove was originally located in central Hollywood but it eventually stretched as east as Hoover Street and as south as 10th Street (today’s Olympic Blvd).
In 1910, the towns of Hollywood and East Hollywood voted to be annexed to the City of Los Angeles. Colegrove also chose to join the growing city in order to have access to its water system, which had just opened the Los Angeles Aqueduct, piping in water from Owens Valley to the north.
In the ‘Teens, East Hollywood, now a part of the growing city, started to develop. In 1914,Children’s Hospital relocated to Vermont Avenue and Sunset Boulevard from downtown Los Angeles and opened its new, expanded facility on February 7.
In 1917, the community was predominantly white/Anglo-Saxon. Less than four percent of its residents were nonwhite (mostly African-American or Japanese).
The nascent motion picture industry grew up in East Hollywood as well – the Fine Arts Studios was located here, at the present-day site of Vons Supermarket at Virgil and Sunset. The set of its most famous film, Intolerance, was located catacorner – where the Vista Theatre now stands. The William Fox Studio (predecessor to 20th Century Fox) stood on Sunset and Western Avenue (now the Food-4-Lesss supermarket). The Charles Ray Productions studio was located where the KCET Channel 28 studios are now located.
The Los Angeles Normal School, an institution which trained teachers, moved from Downtown Los Angeles to a former farmland along Vermont Avenue in the ‘Teens. In 1919, the school was acquired by the University of California Regents and was designated the “University of California, Southern Branch.”
The Roaring ‘20s also became a time when the world came to East Hollywood. Halfway around the world, as the Bolsheviks established the Soviet Union, Russian immigrants who fled their motherland during the communist revolution came to East Hollywood. Survivors of the 1915 Armenian Genocide by the Turkish Ottoman Empire found their new home here, establishing our Armenian community.
In 1927, oil heiress Aline Barnsdall donated her 11-acre property on Olive Hill to the City of Los Angeles to be used for arts and recreation, creating Barnsdall Art Park.
In 1929, the University of California Southern Branch, seeing the need for a much larger campus, relocated twelve miles west in a ranch named Westwood, and became UCLA. The old campus then became Los Angeles Junior College, later renamed Los Angeles City College.
In 1930, East L.A.’s Kaspare Cohn Hospital moved to a new building on Fountain Avenue and renamed itself the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital.
Despite the Great Depression in the early 1930s, a single-family home building boom was going on here in East Hollywood – most of our homes were built during this period.
East Hollywood was home to a Japanese-American community dating back to the ‘Teens. Centered around the Melrose/Virgil area, businesses such as markets, florists/nurseries and restaurants were present here. But suddenly, as Americans of Japanese descent were relocated to internment camps during World War II, the community vanished. Following the war, after being released from the camps, most of them never returned here.
The Cahuenga Parkway (now known as the Hollywood Freeway) was built from 1947-1949 and affected the area considerably. Houses were razed, and residents were forced to relocate.
The 1950’s saw modern-day East Hollywood take shape. Kaiser Hospital was built along Sunset Boulevard in 1953. L.A. City College’s campus expanded. Most of the area’s apartment buildings were built during the 1950s, a sign of the increased urban density of the neighborhood.
The dominance of the private automobile also made is presence in the 1950s. Aside from the newly-opened Hollywood Freeway, the last of the five streetcar lines that once served East Hollywood, discontinued service during this decade.
In the 1960’s, the neighborhood’s demographic makeup continued to change, spurred on by increased levels of immigration. The area’s white residents gradually moved to suburbs such as the San Fernando Valley and Orange County. Blacks and new arrivals from China, India, The Philippines, South Korea and Thailand, as well as people from Mexico and Guatemala, moved in. Immigrants from the Armenian diaspora moved from places like Lebanon, Greece, The Soviet Union and France to East Hollywood.
In the early 1970’s, East Hollywood became the place where many newly arrived immigrants found their first home and began the difficult task of adapting to life in America.
In 1970, 53.3 per cent of area residents were either foreign-born or had foreign-born parents. More than 25 per cent spoke Spanish as their native language; more than 20 per cent were Asians: Japanese Chinese, Filipinos, Koreans and Thai. There was a stable Arab population and natives of Russia, France, Greece, Hungary, and Poland also arrived. The black population comprised about 5 percent and centered around the area directly adjacent to the Cahuenga library.
In 1976, The Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, after having merged with the Westside’s Mt. Sinai Hospital, moved out of its building on Fountain Avenue into a new hospital complex near Beverly Hills, becoming Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Today the old Cedars of Lebanon building is now the Church of Scientology.
Since then, there have been a large increase in Asians, especially Koreans and Filipinos. New immigrants from Russia, mainly Armenian and Jewish, also arrived. The Arab population has increased, while Armenians from Arabic-speaking countries were on the rise.
There was relative prosperity in East Hollywood during the 1980s — more immigrant businesses sprang up, but at the same time the consequences of economy also shifted things around. The closure of the Ralphs supermarket on Santa Monica and Vermont was a great loss to residents in the area, who had to go a few blocks farther for their grocery needs. Banks also moved out of the area, due to mergers and demographic shifts. And many negative signs of urbanization — namely gang violence, homelessness and increased traffic and pollution — were more evident in the ’80s.
The wave of immigration to East Hollywood that started in the 1960s had turned East Hollywood into one of, if not, the most ethnically diverse community in Los Angeles, and perhaps the entire United States.
In July of 1984, East Hollywood shared the Olympic glory as thousands of residents witnessed the torch relay pass through Vermont Avenue on its way to the Coliseum.
In April 1992, the Los Angeles Riots changed East Hollywood forever, as many of its businesses were looted and burned, primarily around the Santa Monica/Vermont intersection and in other parts of the area. The 1994 Northridge earthquake also caused further damage, severely damaging several buildings along Hollywood Boulevard. But despite the destruction, East Hollywood sprang back.
The late ’90s saw a period of recovery and growth fueled by the nationwide economic boom. Businesses destroyed by the Riots and the earthquake were soon rebuilt or repaired. In 1996 Cahuenga Library reopened after several years of renovation. That same year, the East Hollywood Community Association was established by concerned residents who wanted to make a difference in improving the neighborhood. In the summer of 1999, the Metro Red Line subway stations at Santa Monica/Vermont, Sunset/Vermont and Hollywood/Western gave East Hollywood increased transportation options and a link to the rest of the region via the new Metro Rail system.
On October 27, 1999, the City of Los Angeles officially designated a 6-block stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between Normandie and Western avenues as “Thai Town.”
On October 6, 2000, a large portion of East Hollywood was officially designated as “Little Armenia” to celebrate and recognize the contributions of Armenian community businesses, organizations and institutions, which date back as old as over 50 years in the area.
The East Hollywood Neighborhood Council, formed in 2001 and certified as the 89th neighborhood council in the City of Los Angeles on April 19, 2007, became a way for the historically underserved neighborhood to not only find a voice in the City, but to establish an identity built on its unique and unrivaled diversity.
East Hollywood continues to grow. Its institutions such as Kaiser Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Los Angeles City College and Barnsdall Park are either expanding or being renovated, and new elementary schools have been built along Santa Monica Boulevard, while more businesses are finding East Hollywood to be a great area to locate to. In the mid-2000s, the hip “Hel-Mel” corner at Heliotrope Drive and Melrose Avenue emerged, which includes bicycle shops, cafes, restaurants and an ice cream parlor.
Towards the latter part of the decade, East Hollywood started showing signs of becoming a more established community. In 2009, the first annual East Hollywood ArtCycle festival showcased the community’s art galleries and bicycle culture, while the L.A.Medical Center Farmer’s Market at Barnsdall Art Park gave the community its first weekly certified farmer’s market. In October 2010, the Hel-Mel corner was the western terminus of CicLAvia, a 7.5-mile event which enabled people to enjoy car-free streets from East Hollywood to Boyle Heights via Downtown L.A for the very first time.
Now with over 48,000 residents, the challenge for the future is not only to improve the quality of life for its residents, but to accommodate for an even larger population expected in the decades to come.