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Alissa Walker's Neighborhood Guide to LA's Historic Filipinotown

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The Gizmodo writer and famed pedestrian shares the secrets of her "incredibly friendly" neighborhood

The People's Guide offers tours of Los Angeles neighborhoods led by loyal readers, favorite bloggers, and other luminaries of our choosing. Introducing us to Historic Filipinotown is Gizmodo Senior Writer, Design East of La Brea cofounder, and famed pedestrian Alissa Walker. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

How long have you lived in Historic Filipinotown?

About four months.

How did you come to live in HiFi?

My husband and I had been renting in Silver Lake for seven years and we wanted to buy a house. After we had a baby last year we kind of gave up on living anywhere near Silver Lake, pushing our search farther and farther out—then ended up bidding on a house in HiFi and got it. I knew the area well, and had walked many of the streets, but I had just assumed that, like Silver Lake, it was also out of our price range.

What do you like best about the neighborhood?

Incredibly friendly neighbors. There are lots of families on our street who made us feel welcome right away. We have met people who have lived in the same house for decades or grew up on the next street over. There are hills and views but it feels very dense and compact. It has some of the most varied housing stock I’ve seen in the city, with Victorian mansions and Craftsman bungalows and Art Deco apartments and pastel dingbats and new mixed-use developments all on the same street. It’s an easy walk to Silver Lake, Echo Park, and Koreatown, and quick bus or train ride to just about anywhere else. I also love that it feels under-the-radar: I love living in a place where about half the time I tell people where I live, I have to explain the entire history of the neighborhood.

What do you like least about the neighborhood?

Despite its name, and the fact that Filipino families have lived here for a century, Historic Filipinotown is a "new" neighborhood that was created by special designation in 2002. Before that it was simply an isolated part of Silver Lake and Echo Park that was sheared off by construction of the 101 freeway. Because freeways are the absolute worst, the 101 tore a gash through the heart of this community and the area became a chronically underserved part of the city. This means there are still a lot of empty storefronts and abandoned houses that need love. We don’t have enough parks, so maybe a cap park over the 101 would help to fix some of the damage. We also need a farmers market.

Better for buyers or renters?

I know plenty of people who rent in the neighborhood, but I will say that this is probably one of the few places that’s this centrally located where you can still get a relatively reasonable price on a single-family home if you are looking to buy.

Tell us something we don't know about HiFi.

There is probably a lot I don’t know about HiFi. But I recently found out something that made me even more excited to live here: There is a wonderful plan to create something called the North Westlake Design District that will encompass all of HiFi, along Temple, Beverly, and 3rd Street. This is a plan to ensure that the cultural and architectural heritage of the neighborhood remains intact, while planning for smart development that will help bring much-needed services to the area. It focuses on amplifying what already makes the neighborhood great—walkable streets, old storefronts, creative and hand-painted signage—and prioritizing certain things we need like parks, housing, restaurants, outdoor seating, and better infrastructure.

Local customs of note?

The coolest thing I’ve seen in HiFi are the jeepney tours, which are organized by the Pilipino Workers Center. You get to ride around HiFi in an awesome blinged-out vintage jeep. Jeepney stands for jeep plus jitney, and in the Philippines these are used as on-demand public transportation—the original Uber, and way cooler! You can rent a jeepney through the Pilipino Workers Center, and they also have these awesome events like a recent mixology class using Filipino ingredients. Who needs a DASH bus? HiFi should have a fleet of jeepneys that serve as local transit!

Hidden gems in HiFi?

One of the best hidden secrets is not so secret anymore: There are dozens of murals which are attracting international attention. Jason Ostro from the Gabba Gallery has been working with property owners and street artists to convert alleys and the sides of buildings into these massive outdoor galleries. People are coming here from all over to see this art now. Also, not really hidden but definitely gems, are a lot of the restaurants, including Dollar Hits which is a truck serving Filipino street food, and the Hungry Pig which makes delicious BBQ (and has a really good beer selection). And I’m super excited about the imminent opening of Genever, a cocktail bar owned and operated by three Filipino women.

Do you need a car to get around?

I don’t use a car to get around, and I think that most people would probably agree that it’s pretty easy. The buses are plentiful, it’s not too far to the Red Line, and there’s good bike accessibility on the 4th and 7th Street bikeways. A lot of the streets had streetcars around here so the dream would be to run some kind of light rail or add more bike infrastructure to take advantage of all that space.

Where are the best places to chill and/or experience the outdoors in HiFi?

As I said before, HiFi is a fun place to walk, but it's park-deprived. We have a few good small playgrounds and skate parks, but you have to walk into Silver Lake or Koreatown for actual parks. However, I am going to go ahead and claim Vista Hermosa as part of HiFi, even though I think it’s technically outside of the boundaries. It’s one of the best parks in the city, and so beloved by the neighborhood. You truly feel like you are in the wilderness. I am going to repeat this: We need parks and public space, badly. There’s a developer who is turning the former Temple Community Hospital into condos and the hope is that he will convert part of the hillside into a park and restore the public staircases which have been blocked off for years. I also would love to see the owner of the Medusa Lounge, a former German beer hall, open up the huge and underutilized outdoor space as a beer garden during the week.

Who wouldn't be happy living here?

If you are looking for a neighborhood where you can drive to a 24 Hour Fitness or hit up Buffalo Wild Wings, this is not the place for you. But if you want to be part of an awesome piece of LA history, meet the friendliest people in the entire city, and help shape a community that needs invested residents, please move here!