The second annual “Boyle Heights History Day” was held at the Breed Street Shul on Saturday, the event offered the community an opportunity to learn about the neighborhood’s past as well as contribute to the Boyle Heights Historical Society’s archives.
The event is a combination of poetry, music and history that “highlights the people, culture and stories of Boyle Heights,” according to the Boyle Heights Historical Society (BHHS).
“The point is to make history accessible through a cultural celebration,” current and founding BHHS president Diana Ybarra told EGP.
Photo archives from the 1850s to 1900 were on display and Society members shared their own collections of history books and artifacts. Participants were also invited to tour the Jewish temple, a historical landmark in its own right.
While there was a lot of history to be learned, there was also a chance for people with roots and ties to the neighborhood to contribute to what is known about Boyle Height’s history. Past and present residents of the community were invited to record oral histories and bring photos to be scanned for the Society’s archives. The interviews and images will ultimately be accessible online, according to Malissa Strong, the Society’s immediate past president.
Society member Rudy Martinez grew up on Echandia Street back in the 1960s and 1970s. The 1975 Roosevelt graduate says he grew up with Jewish, Armenian, Mexican, Japanese American, Russians, Italians, Greek and Egyptian neighbors.
“I got involved in the historical society a couple of years ago to share my past. One special element separates Boyle Heights from other communities … from the 1920s to the 1970s it was the most multicultural neighborhood in all of Los Angeles,” he said.
Martinez’s collection of Boyle Heights related memorabilia was among the items on display. His collection includes a variety of books on Boyle Heights and some old vinyl records. He purchased one of the records, with the song “Boyle Heights” by R&B musician Chuck Higgins, for $10 on the Internet, he said.
“Chuck Higgins had a lot of Mexican-American followers in the 1950s,” according to Martinez. He wrote “Pachucko Hop,” it was his signature song, but they misspelled Pachuco,” Martinez told EGP.
A third compilation titled “Wetback Hop” was controversial at the time, but Higgins probably didn’t mean to be offensive, Martinez said.
In the early 19th century, Boyle Heights influenced entertainment in other ways. The neighborhood was home to Majestic Studios, which produced silent films, including some starring Charlie Chaplin, Martinez said.
Event attendees also learned about historically notable persons, people like businessman and investor John Edward Hollenbeck, who lived on Boyle Avenue in the late 1880s and now has a police division and station, as well as a popular local park named after him.
Aurelia Ramirez was at the Breed Street Shul with her two daughters; one is a six-year-old Girl Scout. Speaking in Spanish, Ramirez said it was her first time at the temple, and noted that she is being exposed to the local history at the urging of her daughter.
“A parent accompanies their children and sometimes they learn a lot because of them,” she said.
While people explored the local history inside the Shul, artists Iram Navarro, Roberto Benevides, Ricardo Arro and Oscar Eagle were outside working on a mural that will show how the community has transformed over the years. Children were invited to help them paint the mural being sponsored by the Estrada Courts Mural Project.
A panel discussion, recognitions and tributes were also part of the day’s events.
The Boyle Heights History Day began in 2011, born out of a Hammer Museum residency program that Libros Schmibros—a bookstore located at Mariachi Plaza — participated in, according to the Society.
For more information or to join the organization, visit http://www.boyleheightshistoricalsociety.org/