Deed Restrictions in Los Angeles

Red Car On Santa Monica Blvd - 1940
Red Car on Santa Monica Boulevard, ‘East Hollywood’; 1940

T-RACES, or the Testbed for the Redlining Archives of California’s Exclusionary Spaces, is a powerful map and treasure cove of historical documents showing how cities like Los Angeles were developed over the course of the 20th century, particularly during the years just before World War II. The archives contain ‘area descriptions’ of L.A. neighborhoods as seen by city and county officials of the National Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC); to learn more about the HOLC, readers can visit Design and Violence, where my treasure hunt for the documents began.

I’ve gathered a few of the area descriptions of the “Los Feliz” and “East Hollywood” neighborhoods, respectively, all of them dated in 1939, and they are startling reads. It’s fascinating to see the old vecindades distinguished by their racial and class makeup. For example, in the Los Feliz neighborhood, the absence of “foreign families” or “negros” based on the “deed restrictions” banning their presence, as well as single-family residential zoning, lead to a “high green” or attractive rating for the HOLC:

“[In Los Feliz] …Deed restrictions cover both improvement costs and racial elements. Zoning is single-family residential. Conveniences are as available as is desirable in a multi-car garage neighborhood. This area was subdivided some 15 years ago, and was engineered and platted to contour resulting in well arranged and improved streets. Construction, maintenance and architectural designs are of the highest quality. Population is of a high character and many of the city’ s wealthiest citizens reside here. Values shown above are somewhat conjectural as size and location of homesite affects prices. This also applies to rentals as quality of tenant is a large consideration. With a convenient location, ideal building sites and high caliber deed restrictions, this area should continue indefinitely to attract a substantial type of resident. On the basis of present development and future prospects area is accorded a “high green ” grade.”

By contrast, in East Hollywood, for the ‘concentration of Jewish families’, along with 5 & 6 room dwellings, or apartment buildings with 5 to 6 units, a “medial yellow” or “only fairly” attractive grade is accorded.

“[In East Hollywood] …There are no deed restrictions and zoning, while mainly single-family, also permits all types of multi-family residential structures in different parts and is also “spot zoned” for business and provides for numerous institutional developments. Two of the largest hospitals in the city are located within the area. Conveniences are all readily available. This area was originally largely occupied by the old Sullivan Farm and was subdivided approximately 25 years ago. Divided by and surrounded with business thoroughfares this far-flung area contains a miscellaneous array of multi-family residential development; however, the pre-dominating type of residence is 5 & 6 room dwellings which are generally of standard construction and fairly well maintained. It is said to be one of the community’s best rental districts. Rumors of scattered Japanese and Negro residents were not confirmed as none were located except upon the business thoroughfares. There is a concentration of Jewish families between Melrose and Santa Monica Blvd. east of Western Avenue. The population in general is heterogeneous, as is also the aspects of the improvements. There is a fair percentage of owner occupancy and many homes are still occupied by original owners. There is a decided trend at present toward business and income properties; however, it is thought that the major part of the area will remain predominantly single-family for many years to come. The area is accorded a “medial yellow” grade.”

Such standards beg the question, just who is the HOLC describing these conditions to?

That is, just who determines that ‘negros’, ‘foreign’ and ‘Jewish’ people and their dwellings reduce the overall quality of life? In literature it’s called the white gaze, or the white imagination that dictates a certain narrative or reality.

With these frameworks in mind, I was excited to read about just how the vecindad my family and I would come to call home during the eighties when mom and pops arrived here fared ‘in the ratings’.

In the eyes of the HOLC, the neighborhood was considered ‘blighted’ for 15% of its residency consisting of ‘foreign’ families, and for 10% of it consisting of ‘negros’, as well as for the neighborhood’s multiple family dwellings and bungalows. This led to a “medial red” or mostly unattractive rating.

“[In East Hollywood] …The few deed restrictions which have not expired are irregular and largely non-effective. The major portion of area is zoned for single family dwellings, but multiple family dwellings are permitted in scattered sections. Conveniences are all readily available. This district was subdivided over 25 years ago as a popular price home district and has largely maintained the characteristics. Many of the improvements are of substandard construction and maintenance is spotted, being generally of a poor quality. Scattered throughout the area are a number of small “B” grade apartments, bungalow courts and other multi-family dwellings. The population is highly heterogeneous with more than a sprinkling of subversive racial elements, there being several concentrations of Japanese and Negroes within the district. There is also quite a Jewish population adjacent to the synagogue which is located in the northern part. While by no means a slum district, the area is definitely blighted and is accorded a “medial red” grade.”

On the one hand, it’s astounding to think that there used to be more Japanese and Black people in the neighborhood. On the other hand, it’s sobering to consider how World War II and the Japanese interment which followed removed such communities from the area. When one considers these events and the subsequent or concurrent modernization that followed or accompanied the war, such as the building of the first freeway in America in the Arroyo Seco Parkway in 1940, one can see how modern development has always been a matter of some violence on communities and restrictions of their space for the benefit of others.

It’s rarely ever easy to take another field trip through the historical foundations which led to our modern dilemmas with access to space. But in order to know where we’re going, we have to know where we come from, Los Angeles.



Redlining in Los Angeles

Redlining Los Angeles - UCLA Luskin

“The exclusionary housing market confined minorities to neighborhoods such as Watts. The resulting residential segregation enabled the government to practice another form of institutionalized racism, the redlining of home mortgages insurance. The Home Owners Loan Corporation designated minority neighborhoods (those shaded in black and gray in the map in this section) as being unfit for home financing, which, with racially restrictive covenants, excluded people of color from the housing boom that afforded many white households their first house (Katznelson, 2005; Rothstein, 2017). This place-based discrimination created major barriers for people of color to build home equity even within racially isolated neighborhoods, and was a contributor to the racial wealth gap (Oliver and Shapiro, 2006).”

The Los Angeles we know in the 21st century is not just some place that arrived from out of the blue one summer day, but an environment that was built out through specifically racist laws, designations, and customs over the course of decades, particularly during the 20th century.

In this case, redlining, the discriminatory practice of denying services or assistance to people based on their racial or ethnic background, is precisely responsible for the historically Black and under-served population still associated with “South-Central” Los Angeles.

In 2018, any Angeleno taking a walk through neighborhoods like Watts can still feel the legacy of The City’s redlining, as well as the anger and frustration towards such flagrant acts of sabotage and abandon against a people and their community.

Yet with reports such as UCLA Luskin’s, the spirit of Mike Davis’s City of Quartz lives on. From there, our work can continue.

So let us continue to get to work, Los Angeles.

It’s the next thirty years of the pueblo that are waiting on us.


South Los Angeles since The Sixties

UCLA Luskin - SLA.png

“More than a half century since the Kerner Commission, the history of
South Los Angeles continues to be laden with broken promises and only
modest improvements. Despite the huge efforts of residents, activists
and others, the burden of under-investment and neglect continue to
limit economic opportunity for too many Angelenos. This prescient
report serves as an important reminder of the profound challenges
that remain.”

We have to know this, Los Angeles.


Twenty (-Six) Years After the L.A. Riots: How Things Have Changed

Originally published April 26, 2012

The time could not be more fitting. I just got home after one of those more frustrating nights, or, you know, one of those nights where you just want to burst through your door to run to your bed and take hold of your pillows. Not because you want to cry into them, but because you want to scream into them.

Or you know, one of those nights where you just really need a good walk, or just a really good drink, or just any god-damn really good something because god damn it can be so fucked up out there sometimes. You know, one of those nights where you have to tell someone what the hell just happened to you.

Yeah, let me tell you.

Earlier today I posted a couple of articles about the Los Angeles riots of 1992. It came to my attention that twenty years ago, just this same weekend, the streets of my beloved city burst into flames and destruction following the outrageous verdict of the Rodney King case.

I was probably what, a single year old, in a cradle somewhere, crying.

It’s likely. But what I’ll tell you with certainty is that I wasn’t crying about the apocalypse right outside of the apartment at the time. What I’m sure about is that I wasn’t crying for Rodney King, or for any of the families who had their business looted, or for any of the racist jurors who denied Rodney some dignity. No way.

But tonight, twenty years later, I do precisely just that.

Because well, when I had a moment to really think about the city today, and when I had a moment to place into perspective all of the madness we’ve been through together, when I thought about our time out these streets, not to mention our time out through its schools, with its businesses, and elsewhere, well it started to really hurt, in this way.

The fact of the matter is, L.A. hasn’t learned shit since Rodney King in 1992.

Nothing has changed.


And that might sound a bit extreme, and just a little pessimistic, but this is where we seriously have to stop bullshitting ourselves when it comes to “anniversaries” like these. Honestly, when it comes to reflection and critical thought about such tragic moments, those of us who consider ourselves learned of history should have enough respect for the real people who suffered the real horror of the spaces in times that we only know as stories, to say what the real deal is today, no matter how unpleasant the truth might be.

The truth today being that despite all this time, we as a people in Los Angeles haven’t learned jack shit.

That nothing has changed, and that in fact, things are arguably worse now than they were before.

Because while conditions in L.A. in 2012 might seem like they’re better than they were in 1992, racial tensions today are as high as they’ve ever been, with not only the police department and their injustice system still targeting people of color based on racial profiling, but with so much of our white supremacy firmly intact in and out of L.A.’s jail cells.

Consider this. From 1992 to 1997 alone, incarceration in California rose by 30 percent, and what did those prisoners look like? Those were Black and Brown people of California, with the former being sent to our state’s prisons at a starkly higher rate.

Think about that for a second, as tonight, at this very moment right now, there are more Black and Brown people sitting in California’s prisons than any other ethnic group of this state. Does that feel at all animalistic, or teeming with animosity somehow? It is.

And think about those Black and Brown skinned people a little more for a second, and imagine what those cells look like, and what those cafeterias look like, and what those yards look like.

They stand divided, separated by race, always just a hair away from erupting into some of the ugliest melees the ground of this land will ever come to know.

In fact, it’s only been a little over two years since a prison riot in Chino left over 55 people critically injured after severe stabbing wounds that involved over 250 brawling inmates. What do you think those hospitalized people looked like? They were Black and Brown men. They’re always Black and Brown in California. So for anyone wondering if racial tension and hostile policing in L.A. continues, it’s crystal clear that they are still firmly in place here, it’s just that they’re more concealed now is all…

But now, most people we know won’t ever find out about any incidents like these, or if they do find out, they won’t ever really care because well, that’s what happens when you get incarcerated, right? That’s why you should be a good citizen and just get a good job and obey the law, right?

Well, don’t we wish things were so simple, because unfortunately the fact of that matter prisons exist far beyond the steel bolted doors of California’ jail cells. Unfortunately, prison as a policing and power culture is everywhere, and most destructively, it’s in the blind mind of the arrogant White man who’s had to care for absolutely no one’s reality in Los Angeles but his own.

Similarly to a prison, it’s disconnected from the rest of the world, where he has little to no space to consider the rest of his fellow human beings. More frighteningly, this prison mentality asserts that in order to do well in this life, he must kill or be killed.

As a result, it is this same prison mentality that has incarcerated the human race more than any other group in time in all the history of civilization, and which has kept L.A. right down that same shithole from 1992 and even before then, burying us deeper in it as time goes on.

This prison mentality has robbed the world of so much of its life, love, beauty and innocence.

And this evening, this prison [mentality] ruined my night.

Earlier today, at around 9pm, at a Starbucks in Hollywood, a Black man wanted to use the restroom. He was a classy gentleman from out of town, probably in his mid to late thirties, clad in that traveling business kind of outfit, with a fine collar shirt, creased dress pants and dress shoes, and who just wanted to charge his phone and relieve himself before he headed back out to enjoy the city for a bit.

I had the fortune of being seated next to him for a moment. I was on my computer, checking a few of my notifications, and actually writing a response to a question about one of those articles I told you I posted up earlier. I was also just browsing for a little bit, just picking up sources here and there, and learning of some of the numbers and dates that I presented earlier in this piece.

Out of the blue, the black gentleman tapped me on the shoulder, and he said, “excuse me my man, I don’t mean to bother you, but would you happen to know the code to the restroom? Apparently you need to buy something to have the access code.”

It’s funny, I didn’t have the code because I actually hadn’t bought anything myself at the Starbucks either since I only planned on sitting there for a moment to write the response and then go home. It was a long Saturday after work.

I thought it was strange that the man needed to buy something in order to get the code, and instinctively, I told him I thought that policy was bullshit.

He agreed with me, and we laughed about it for a moment, before he got up from his chair to go ask someone else. Unfortunately for the gentleman, that someone else didn’t have the code either. I felt bad for him, but what could I do? I just got back to my browsing and brushed the moment off.

About a minute later however, after asking maybe the third person for the code without getting a hold of it, the gentleman came back and sat down right as I spotted someone coming out of the restroom. And well my friends, this someone coming out of the restroom just so happened to be a white man. He was in jeans and a blazer, wearing some expensive boots, and probably in his mid to late forties.

I motioned to the Black gentleman to ask the guy as I figured he had to have known the code to the restroom seeing as he had just gotten out of there, and so the black gentleman went up to the man and began to ask, as politely as he had done so with me, when before he could even finish his greeting the white man cut and waved him off saying he didn’t have the code.

On seeing this: instinctively, I thought ‘fuck that’.

Fuck that because I get paid to be nice to customers all day but I wasn’t at work then and I didn’t like how he responded to the Black gentleman. He cut him off before he could finish speaking, and then had the nerve to stick his hand out to him like he didn’t deserve the time.

And well, something came over me, because I had to call bullshit, and so I looked the white man straight in the eyes and said to him, “You’re a lying piece of garbage, I just saw you come out of the restroom.”

And oh if you could have seen the look on this guy’s face, you’d think someone had just spit at him.

He said “Excuse me?”

And I repeated what I said, except louder, “YOU’RE A LYING PIECE OF GARBAGE, I JUST SAW YOU COME OUT OF THE RESTROOM.”

And that’s where things just took a turn.

After giving me the evil eye a few times, he headed back to his table and apparently considered his options.

He chose to be a prisoner, as he walked over to one of the baristas, pointed at me and the Black gentleman, and complained.

As he stuck his index finger pointing me out at me from near the counter, I stuck my middle finger out at him. Seriously, fuck him. The Black gentlemen agreed.

And well my friends, of course the barista he complained to just so happened to be a young white woman in her twenties. She looked over at us for a second and got on the phone.

I repeat, she looked over at us, and instead of asking us if there was a problem, she got on the phone.

But whatever, right? What are they gonna do? I hadn’t done anything wrong, and neither had the Black gentleman. In fact, right afterwards, he finally decided to make a purchase so he could use the restroom, buying a cookie for himself.

When he came back to sit down after finally relieving himself, he was laughing at the absurdity of it all, and I told him that I apologized on behalf of my city.

“It’s alright man, you’re cool people,” he said, and just before I was about to ask him for his name, guess who came marching through the Starbucks door.

Two police officers. Both white, both ready to kick some ass the way they like to do.

On making eye contact with them from across the counter the barista pointed at me and the gentleman, and then at the white man. One of the police officers went over and spoke to the man, while the other stood in front of the table in front of me and the gentleman.

At that point, I was just disgusted. I feared for my safety as the big white cop harassed me with that infamous big white death stare, and I got my things to just get up and leave.

“Sit down, you’re not going anywhere,” he said.

Of course not. It was his town, and I was just his subject.

But you know what? Fuck that anyway. I didn’t do anything except call a douchebag a douchebag, and I told the cops just that. The Black gentlemen didn’t do anything either, and in fact he had bought the freaking cookie too, so to hell with their entitlement.

But of course, what we said or what the truth was didn’t matter, because we weren’t tall white men in blazers and jeans in expensive boots.

No, we were a Black gentlemen in dress clothes and a little brown kid with a laptop and a backpack.

Their town, their subjects. Oh, how things have changed.

After speaking to the barista again, the cops told us we had to leave. I was two steps ahead of them. As you can probably guess, I didn’t want to be where I knew I wasn’t wanted, so I just packed up my stuff and stood up to head out.

“This is wrong though man, we didn’t do anything wrong,” I told one of the police officers.

“That’s just how it is,” said the cop.

Ah right, that’s just how it is. Silly of me to forget that.

I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to the black gentleman since he was busy requesting to speak to the manager. When the cops diverted their attention to him, I just walked the hell on out.

As I crossed the street two more cops came out of a squad car parked in the middle of the road heading in the direction of the store. I didn’t look any of them in the eye. As they walked right past me, I just sped up my pace.

And well, it’s crazy, because twenty years ago just this same weekend when the streets of L.A. fell in mayhem to this shit, I was just learning how to walk.

Twenty years later, as the saga continues, I’m just learning how to walk away.