An Excavation of East Hollywood, Part I

This is the first of a three part series.

All photos are specific to a particular pocket of Los Angeles known as East Hollywood, and are courtesy of publicly available collections at the University of Southern California Libraries and California Historical Society, as well as at Los Angeles Public Library with the exception of two: The first, taken at LACC by L.A. Times photographer B.I. Oliver on March 13, 1969, and the second, taken by J. Benton Adams at Vermont & Santa Monica, circa 1998.

Before Los Angeles was called as such by Spanish settlers,“the city” is supposed to have been known as Yaangna village, at least by Tongva folks with respect to what we now refer to as the L.A. river. This is according to Cindi Moar Alvitre, a descendant of the Tongva and Cal State L.A. lecturer of Indian American studies. An excerpt from Alvitre’s essay, “Coyote Tours,” from back in 2015 notes:

“Yaangna was the principal ancestral village that moved along the Los Angeles River for countless generations, before the water was confined and silenced in a concrete sarcophagus, separating the people from that which gives life. In pre-contact times people moved slowly, with the seasons, the food, and ultimately, the water.”

Alvitre also points out that Spanish invasion of the land in the late eighteenth century, which would eventually lead to “Los Angeles,” continually pushed out native or indigenous people farther away from their ancestral lands. For a time, the dispossessed communities found refuge along their ancestors’ storied riverbed. In Alvitre’s words:

“Colonization and missionization accelerated the pace of relocation as native people tried to outrun the colonizers, always clinging to the river…Yaangna became a refugee camp for tribal families seeking some sense of tradition.”

Finally, Cahuenga, the name given to our special little library on Santa Monica boulevard, is Tongva for “place of the hill.” Cahuenga is also supposed to be related to Kaweewesh, describing “fox.” So one can think of Cahuenga as “hill of the foxes.” Of course, more people think of the “Cahuenga pass” in Hollywood when that word comes up, but hey, I guess that does show the link between Humphrey’s Hollywood and our “East Hollywood.”

A few archival images of the area show hilly farsides, both before and up to the area’s time as a major site of lemon groves, hence Lemon Grove Park and such. The rest is history, as they say, although in a past that’s not yet past for our communities. At least, not if we’ve got anything to say about it.

J.T.

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