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Curbed Cup 1st round: (2) Boyle Heights vs. (16) Watts

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Which neighborhood should advance? Vote now!

Mariachis play near a mural at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights.
Mariachis play near a mural at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images

Boyle Heights

One of the city's most historic neighborhoods, Boyle Heights sits across from Downtown on the other side of the Fourth Street bridge. It has been such a melting pot, it has been likened to Ellis Island. But it’s best known for its roots as a Jewish community that became predominately Mexican American. Now Boyle Heights is emerging as an enclave for artists who are drawn to its rich cultural history and cheap rent. They’re inking affordable, longterm leases in its warehouses and factories.

Boyle Heights also has a long, proud history of organizing, a tradition that continues today as residents fight the force of gentrification they believe the art galleries will usher in. Some changes, including the transformation of a massive Sears complex into a mixed-use community, are already in the works. But residents have successfully organized to block such projects as Metro's contentious redesign of Mariachi Plaza.

Stories of Boyle Heights residents dealing with the changes are captured in a new, fictional web series that counts America Ferrera among its producers. It will screen next year at Sundance Film Festival.


When LA foodie king Roy Choi and partner Daniel Patterson opened up a new restaurant in Watts at the beginning of the year, many saw it as a symbolic turning point for one of the city’s poorest and most disenfranchised neighborhoods. Some hailed the innovative eatery, called LocoL, as a brilliant solution to the food deserts—areas heavy on fast food but low on grocery stores—that have plagued low income neighborhoods. Others worried it would attract hipsters to the area and accelerate gentrification. Sometimes, writers expressed both views in the same article.

But a single restaurant is unlikely to singlehandedly reshape an area as vast and complicated as Watts. After the Watts Rebellion of 1965, Carey McWilliams called it “The Forgotten Slum.” Today, many of the issues that afflicted the community in 1965 persist, but it’s hard to call the area forgotten.

Work is beginning on a massive mixed use project that will replace the aging (and lead-contaminated) Jordan Downs Housing Project. The redevelopment aims to make the area more pedestrian and transit-friendly—as does a green streets initiative that recently received nearly $3 million in funding from LA County. That plan is part of a broader project called Watts Re:Imagined that would establish 103rd Street as the neighborhood’s central thoroughfare, with easy connections to parks and public transit—not to mention Simon Rodia’s famous towers.

This year, Watts also played host to a CicLAvia event, and the East Side Riders, a neighborhood bicycling club, has been working with city officials to establish more bike lanes in the area. It retains a strong sense of community, bolstered by public centers like the Watts Towers Arts Center and the Watts Labor Community Action Committee Center.