How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

In L.A.'s Boyle Heights, hyperlocal news comes in print

Photo by By the__photographer/Flickr (Creative Commons)

An interesting experiment in bilingual journalism is taking place east of the L.A. River in Boyle Heights, this one with a sweetly old-fashioned component: a print edition.

The Boyle Heights Beat, or El Pulso de Boyle Heights in Spanish, launched this weekend. It's a collaboration between the USC Annenberg journalism school and La Opinión and is reported by 14 neighborhood high school students, kids tapped from Roosevelt High School, the Mendez Learning Center, Puente Learning Center, and the Boyle Heights Technology Academy.

It's the second hyperlocal news site of this sort launched in less than a year by USC Annenberg, which last year launched the Alhambra Source, an online community newspaper in English, Spanish and Mandarin.

But the demographics are different in Boyle Heights, a longtime immigrant port of entry that for the last several decades has been predominantly Latino. While Latinos are active smartphone users, they generally have less Internet access than other groups, hence the old-fashioned distribution approach. A tabloid print edition in Spanish and English, delivered to residents this weekend by La Opinión, compliments an English-language online edition.


Resistance to the wrecking ball in Boyle Heights' Wyvernwood apartments

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A between-buildings playground at the Wyvernwood complex, February 2011

Just as some Santa Ana residents are battling gentrification that they fear could displace Latino businesses and residents, so are some of the residents of Boyle Heights, especially those in the sprawling 1939 mega-complex known as the Wyvernwood Garden Apartments.

I've written about this place before, a 1,187-unit, 6,000-resident mini-city within a city, so huge it's often mistaken for a housing project. The privately owned complex has housed generations of immigrants in the longtime port of entry that Boyle Heights has traditionally been, starting with European Jewish immigrants and later, multiple generations of Latino families, mostly immigrants from Mexico and their descendants.

Wyvernwood has faced the wrecking ball since early 2008, when its owners announced they'd be razing the aging 70-acre complex, which includes a large amount of green space, to make room for a more dense mixed-use development of rentals, condos and retail, including high-rises. Of the 4,400 planned units, less than 700 would be set aside for affordable housing, according to preservation activists.


Shared memories of Boyle Heights' Wyvernwood

Screen shot

A post from earlier this week featured a video produced by the Los Angeles Conservancy telling the story of the Wyvernwood Garden Apartments, a unique 70-acre Boyle Heights complex built in 1939 that, for much of its existence, has been home to generations of immigrants and their Los Angeles-raised families. Much of the footage was contributed by residents who are trying to save the complex, eventually scheduled to become the site of a new condo, apartment and retail development.

In passing, I mentioned a fascinating Facebook page on which former residents, some of whom were raised amidst Wyvernwood's sprawling grassy lawns and winding paths, share memories of growing up there. The most recent entries are a few months old, but they provide such a rich slice of Eastside life, both good and bad, that they're worth sharing in detail. Here are a few, unedited.


Video: Boyle Heights' Wyvernwood apartments

The Los Angeles Conservancy has produced a video that tells the story of Boyle Heights' historic and unusual Wyvernwood Garden Apartments, a sprawling 70-acre complex built in the late 1930s where generations of immigrants have raised generations of Angelenos.

The complex, which I visited a while back, is unique in that its buildings are set among vast grassy fields, giving the place a sense of space and breathability while housing about 6,000 residents. It's an anomaly in Los Angeles, especially in this dense part of the city.

Regrettably, the complex faces the wrecking ball. The Florida-based investment company that owns it announced plans in 2008 for a $2 billion redevelopment in that would replace its 1,187 existing units with 4,400 condominiums and apartments, including high-rises, and retail space. The developer has said that demolition is not imminent, but residents have mounted a resistance.