SOWK 534 Section #60427 had the wonderful opportunity of exploring the community of Highland Park. As a class we were able to explore the city at our own free-will and were encouraged interact with community and actively think about topics that will be discussed. The following blogs consist of a composition information we gathered along the way from different fliers, interviews or locals, or personal experiences and observations. Enjoy!

Boundaries and Demographics of Highland Park

Highland Park is a city located in the northeast section of Los Angeles Highland Park is a city located in the northeast section of Los Angeles that encompasses approximately 4.6 square miles of land. Though it in small, Highland Park is bordered by the cities of Eagle Rock, Glassell Park, El Sereno, Mount Washington and Montecito Heights.

Three major freeways are located at the boarders of the community; the 134 Ventura Freeway, the 2 Glendale Freeway, and the 110 Pasadena Freeway. As for the natural landscape, Highland Park is surrounded by the Santa Monica Mountains and includes part of the Los Angeles River and is located along the Arroyo Seco watercourse.

Arroyo Seco is Spanish for “dry creek”, which seems quite fitting considering that this is a predominantly Hispanic community. Prior to our exploration of the area Professor Carlos Sosa provided us with the following important demographic information.

  • The ethnic population is made up of 70% Hispanic, 13% Caucasian, 12% Asian, and 5% mixed or other ethnicities.
  • Close to 40% of the population is under the age of 18.
  • 17% of the population lives below the economic poverty level.

*Photo advertising free lunches for children
  • The median income for families in the area is $44,000.
  • Fewer that 65% of the population makes less that $60,000 annually.
  • The average family has 3.1 children.
  • The money made in the community circulates an average of three times, and then leaves. This indicates that the residents do not spend their money where they live.

Within the community of Highland Park we specifically visited the streets (and surrounding areas) of Colorado Blvd., Figueroa St., York Blvd., Cypress Ave. and Eagle Rock Blvd.
*Map of Highland Park and major streets we explored.
The following observations, feelings, and insights were obtained from this experience.

Mutual Aid

Though the area didn’t seem to have any service clubs for the community nor did we see any obvious agencies that assisted with financial support. However, many of us found several examples where we believe mutual aid was at the very least implied.

What stood out to many of the students were the many churches that represented a variety of denominations. In this seemingly small city there are churches that represent the Catholic, Christian, Protestant, Pentecostal, Jehovah’s Witness, Masonic, Evangelical, Baptist, Presbyterian and Buddhist faiths.
*Presbyterian Church serving the Filipino Communty

*Picture of a Buddhist Temple

Most of these religious institutions had predominantly displayed signs that were displayed not only in English but Korean, Spanish, and Tagalog; encouraging participation from all community members. Many of these churches offered free English and American culture classes, which suggests that churches are a good resource to those who need help obtaining citizenship or adjusting to the community.

The residential areas that we observed seemed to be extremely close to each other. Many of them being either quadroplexes and apartment complexes intermixed with single-family homes. In several areas residents we observed spending time on their porches. This spoke to the idea of mutual aid in that neighbors are out, visible, and open to the possibility of getting to know each other. In speaking with residents, some of us were told that though they were unable to provide aid in the form of financial and service support, neighbors are open, friendly, and interact freely with each other. Supporting the idea that there is a sense of community identity and a dedication to providing aid to the residents, here is an excerpt from one student’s experience:

I was in the group that went to visit Michelle Harnsberger, whose family had been conducting real estate business in Highland Park for over 80 years. She said that she'd noticed some of the factors contributing to why youth get wrapped up in the tagging culture in Highland Park. Many of the children's parents both work and may work multiple jobs. This leaves the children to care for themselves between the hours that school ends and their parents return from their jobs in the evening. For many children, there is no outlet for expression, and few organized centers for recreation. Because of this, Michelle has really seemed to take it upon herself to help the community – specifically the youth. She helped create the Highland Park skate park, which was endorsed by Tony Hawk, and now attracts numerous youth skaters from the community. Michelle also allows local teens to work summers in her business and really seems to pride herself on what she has been able to do for these individuals. In addition to this, she has created several anti-tagging groups, which go out into the community and paint over areas that have been tagged.

In return for actually taking a stand and helping the youth of Highland Park instead of castigating them, Michelle has noticed that she has become somehow protected from their tagging efforts. She claimed that she once went 2 months without the real estate building getting tagged, when they used to get taggers daily.

For the large youth population there are several facilities that cater to their recreational needs. There is the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation & Parks LA YOUTH ATHLETIC CLUB. This facility provides free youth classes for those between the ages of seven and seventeen. This club aims to engage the kids through sports and by giving them a variety of positive activities in which they can participate.

There is also a Park Recreation Center that provides a free summer lunch program, has a multipurpose sports fitness center, offers childcare, and has seasonal camps. Though not technically part of the recreation center, there is also a public pool located right next door.
Perhaps the most notable facility supporting the youth of the area is Optimist Youth Home. Optimist offers family services, a safe environment for teens and a plethora of social services. The building appears to be rather new, is in great condition, and offers a pool among other amenities. Located next door to the Optimist Youth Home is the Optimist High School that serves the children in the Optimist Home as well as foster children.

For the older members of the community there is the Highland Park Senior Citizens Center. It features an auditorium that is used for bingo and small meetings for the elderly in the community. They have a community room, a theatre stage and a kitchen. The picnic tables outside are set near a rose garden. The center also has an outside shuffleboard area, where many shuffleboard competitions have produced trophies, which can be viewed inside the center. Activities include: acting, sit down exercise, tai chi, field trips to museums and Vegas, and the social club. Many of the seniors that frequent the center have lived in the area their entire lives and gather to socialize at the center.

In the area of Mental Health, there is the Star View Community Service. This agency provides mental health services for youth and their families who have serious behavioral problems at home and/or school. It is a private agency that supported by Medi-Cal, county, state, and federal funds. It is only open Monday through Friday from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM and no information was available regarding emergency mental health services outside normal business hours.

Highland Park houses a substantial number of health clinics offering general practice care, prenatal care, family planning, pediatrics, and gynecology. The health clinics accept Medical and Medicare and offer services in English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Thai. Many offer parenting classes, free pregnancy tests, and pamphlets on various parenting interests. Throughout the area there are also numerous WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) facilities that also serve to improve the lives of the women and children of Highland Park.

Local Facilities

What struck many of us as interesting was that there was lack of visible social services available to the community. While these services may be offered, it certainly isn’t something that is visible to an outsider. There is no hospital, but many small clinics exist during normal business hours and offer an after hour emergency line. However, none seem to actually offer emergency services. As far as we could tell the closest hospital is located in the city of Glendale.

Here is a short list of the local facilities found in the community

  • The Arroyo Secco Library
  • One skateboard park
  • A recently remodeled old Movie Theater
  • The Los Angeles Police Museum and the Southwest Museum
  • Two High Schools One Continuation School
  • Four Middle School’s
  • Two fire stations
  • Just a few banks, but several paycheck advance businesses
  • Many auto repair and auto part stores
  • Several local supermarkets and small produce stores
  • A substantial number of liquor stores
  • A sufficient number of gas stations
  • At least 11 different real estate offices
  • A Veteran’s Memorial – A commemorative plaque that honored the 58 soldiers who did not return home from the Vietnam War.

Along the Eagle Rock/Highland Park boarder a considerable difference in the socio-economic status was clear. Only here can you see large chains and new businesses that are not fast food establishments. It was the only area where you could find places like Target, Starbucks, Cold Stone Creamery, and Jamba Juice. Over and over again we heard from our professor and residents about the gentrification of the Eagle Rock area and it was clear to see why.

Though we learned that nearly half the residents in the area are under eighteen years old there seemed to be insufficient educational facilities. Located off the main streets where they could be easily accessed Luther Burbank Middle School and Florence Nightingale Junior High really stood out. Both were decorated with murals depicting individuals like Martin Luther King Jr. and Frieda Kahlo. Everyone enjoyed the fact that these often under-appreciated historical figures were so valued by the schools. Their choices spoke volumes about the community and who their heroes are.

Despite the creativity of the murals the schools still appeared run down. Some were undergoing renovations, and some were little more than a collection of small trailers with no real play or lunch area. The schools all seem to be overcrowded and were never meant to accommodate the high volume of students that are enrolled. Additionally, staff is limited and technology is all but absent from the facilities. We were told that a public school had not been built in about 50 years and it showed.

Though the major supermarket chains were not present, there were supermarkets like Super A Foods. Not only did the markets offer most of the typical fare that you would find at more commercial supermarkets, but there was a variety of ethnic foods, interesting produce, and baked goods. Most of which seemed to be of Mexican or South American influence. You could purchase fresh cactus, pick up made to order tortillas, or discover a new spice that you weren’t familiar with.

We were asked to pay special attention to what foods were offered as well as the way that the food was displayed. We were told that often in areas of low socio-economic standing inexpensive (and often unhealthy) foods like liters of soda and family sized cereal boxes are displayed up front. The reasoning behind this seems to be logical. Why would you buy a $4 gallon of milk when you can buy a liter of soda for $1? Other than variety, what really stood out were the reasonable prices. It is obvious that value is of the highest importance to the customers.

For those who are looking to eat out there are many options. Whether you are in the mood for Thai, Chinese, Vegetarian, Salvadorian, Mexican, American, or Café food you can find what you want in Highland Park. There certainly isn’t any lack of fast food restaurants like Burger King and Carl’s Jr. or small taco stand type places.

What seemed great to many of us was that the proximity of certain facilities to each other. For instance, the library, the recreation center, and one of the senior citizens center were all located within a block of each other. In an area where public transportation is used extensively it seemed great to have these to close together.

As for public transportation, there seems to be both ample access and variety to choose from. In addition to a regular bus route, there are Metro Busses, a DASH line, and the Gold Line light rail. Several of the students took the public transportation and the lines all seem to be well used.

Social Control

We witnessed little police presence during our tour of Highland Park. Most of us witnessed only one or two LAPD or Sheriff Department officers patrolling the area during the entire two days there. This seemed odd considering we heard that the crime rate in Highland Park was above average. The Fire Department had a more prominent presence in Highland Park, however, so this may serve as a form of social control.

Eagle Rock had a neighborhood watch force made up of devoted community members, but we did not learn of an equivalent group in Highland Park. City Hall is located in the Eagle Rock area, but includes Highland Park in its jurisdiction. Additionally, it seemed that the types of fences surrounding private residences and apartment complexes varied depending on the neighborhoods we walked through. Although some houses in the Eagle Rock area had fences, they were generally short in height, were picket-fences, or included pleasing decorations. In contrast, in some more densely populated (as noted by the presence of mostly large apartment complexes) and poorer areas of Highland Park, the fences were notably taller, thicker, and less inviting. Most homes had bars on their windows and doors, and on one occasion, we witnessed a vicious guard dog barking atop the roof of a house.

To an extent, it seems that gangs may act as a form of social control, as gang activity influences how residents feel and act in their neighborhoods. Gang-related graffiti was evident in some parts of Highland Park, and most notably on and around the bridge located behind Loreto St. Elementary School, near the intersection of Cypress Ave. and Arroyo Seco Ave. This bridge connects Highland Park to Cypress. While riding the Highland Park DASH, we were told by one resident that this bridge is known by many as a center of gang activity and crime. This was attributed to insufficient patrolling in this part of the neighborhood.

Social Networks

The many senior adult facilities and centers likely provide social networks for the adult and senior communities.

The presence of a skate park and a skate shop in the Highland Park area highlights the informal network available for the high amount of teenage skateboarders we witnessed in the community. Skating is an activity that creates a community on its own, providing an alternative to gangs or drugs.

It seemed that most parks were being used by all ages and most families seemed to go to their local community center for local resources. For instance, many kids were at the Highland Park Recreation Center.

During our tour of Highland Park, we encountered many different types of Christian-based churches with signage in English, Korean, and Spanish. We also saw a Buddhist temple. These religious institutions that can connect to a diverse population likely serve as social networks for people in these communities.

Two residents we spoke to informed us that while they don’t feel they interact too much with their neighbors, their main social network was within their families. Both shared that much of their family also lived in the area and that they spent the most time in the community with their family. It is important to note that both these residents were Latin-American, so this may be a commonality due the high value Latino culture places on family.

While eating at Antigua Bread, we noticed that this restaurant had a resource shelf with information on their city. This shelf included advertisements, flyers, and brochures regarding parenting classes, counseling, and job training.

There is a small Weaving Studio along Lincoln Avenue. Mid-aged man and woman run the studio and also sell cultural objects such as clothes and house decorations. It is open for anyone who wants to learn weaving. Of course, visitors are always welcome, and the owners greet them with a friendly conversation. The man is a teacher and can teach any kind of style of weaving, such as Indian or Native American. They do not have large advertisements, but hobby schools and websites inform prospective students about their classes. Currently, five students take the classes and will become artists.

Identity, Civic Engagement, and Common Fate

While exploring the community of Highland Park, we were able to find and interview people who identified themselves as life-long members of the community. Two people that we interviewed were real estate broker Michelle Harnsberger that was mentioned in a previous entry and fire Captain Sanfelippo, who both grew up in Highland Park and continue to give back to their community through various forms of civic engagement.

Fire Captain Sanfelippo grew up in the community of Highland Park and continues to live in and serve his community. He explained to us that many of the same issues that he faced growing up in Highland Park are the same issues that many of today’s youth continue to face. For example, there are many different gangs in Highland Park, some of which include the Avenues, 18th street, and Florencia. Sanfelippo explained that many of these gangs seek to protect the community, which they feel is theirs. In addition to this he also explained that in recent years there have not been numerous amounts of crimes related to gangs, but rather, he explained, that the gangs pose no harm for some members of the community and actually serve as a form of protection for them.

We also encountered the following evidence of civic engagement and a sense of identity in Highland Park:
  1. A street banner on York Blvd. hung outside a popular supermarket encouraging citizen participation in a joining venture between the Neighborhood Watch and the Highland Park Chamber of Commerce. The website mentioned shows monthly "Town Hall" type meetings that residents can join in on.
  2. Various murals reflected a Latin-American identity, depicting Aztec culture and God, for instance, and Spanish words or phrases. We saw a lot of other graffiti art as well. Some businesses had signs in graffiti style. It seems that there is a move towards institutionalizing tagging, so that it becomes part of a city-guided discourse about what constitutes art. The city has commissioned a number of stunning murals (one in particular, behind the library, is a vast critique of power and literacy in Los Angeles) as well as “official” walls for tagging. There is a sense that certain community members and city officials are creating a common agenda for what civic engagement is, as well as what it is not.

Assets and Risks

While eating at Antigua Bread, a bakery and café that has been in the neighborhood for about a year. They serve coffee, a variety of pastries, and breakfast and lunch dishes. Inside this restaurant, we located a resource shelf, which consisted of a bookshelf with information about Highland Park, advertisements, flyers, and brochures regarding parenting classes, counseling, and job training, among other things.

We walked into a local skateboard shop and spoke with the owner of Transport who provided us with some insight in regards to the youth in Highland Park. The owner informed the group that 50% of his business comes from youth in the Highland Park area. In addition, the owner of Transport stated that youth who are active skateboarders “truly want to belong to something. If not, then they just give into drugs.” He informed us that there is a local skate park in Highland Park, but that he believed it would be very beneficial to build another one for the youth in the community. The shop has been in Highland Park for about three years and is pretty successful in the local community, as local skateboarders remain loyal to local shops.

The most interesting building conversion we saw was that of the City of LA Department of Recreation & Parks LA YOUTH ATHLETIC CLUB, which is located in a building that once was a county jail. Although we consider this an asset, it is located in an isolated area next to the LA River.

In addition, when traveling through Eagle Rock Blvd, we noticed homes which had been converted into law, nursing, and insurance offices.

Some risks we encountered include the following:
Abandoned businesses
Liquor stores
Residential homes in between factories
Auto junk yards
Check-cashing businesses (open 24 hours)
Lack of police presence.

Insider vs Outsider Perspective

Insider Perspective:

Many of the individuals we were fortunate enough to meet and speak with seemed to share common beliefs and values for the city in which they lived or work; a sense of community, of belonging, and of loyalty were apparent themes underlying most all of our conversations. Highland Park, regardless of its statistics pertaining to gang violence, unemployment, and homelessness, truly is HOME to many. Some of the following interviews with various individuals living and working in the community will further highlight the above:

Franklin High School: Two social workers at a Highland Park High School, Rachel Badillo and Melinda Duran, have developed a strong resource-based model to provide mental health services to students and families. The types of issues that students are dealing with are numerous, such as cutting, depression, teen pregnancy, gang violence, suicide, student shootings, etc. They had a particularly hard year, with the school community being hit by a large number of shootings since January, and in particular one shooting death of a 9th grader traumatized the 9th grade class. They both spoke of the importance of creating a strong social work team and evaluating the resources within the school community to create an authentic mental health services program: they have developed a peer-to-peer counseling program that has proven to be incredibly effective amongst the students; they have put much effort into creating student interest groups that give students creative channels; they create a Youth Forum to bring together concerned community members to dialogue about issues affecting young people; they’ve created a number of effective family therapy groups; in addition, they’ve begun a teacher education program that trains educators in dealing with student issues in the classroom. One interesting note is that Ms. Badillo spoke of a shift within district mental health services towards concentrated short-term therapy to “stabilize” situations that students find themselves in. It is unclear whether this move is due to a case overload, the bureaucratic management of mental health services for the district, or whether this serves as a supplement to the long-term therapy model.

Optimist Youth Home and Family Services: Mary Hudson is the Director of Mental Health Services at Optimist Youth Home, a residential facility treatment program that offers long-term therapy for youth within probation centers across the state. They offer specialized programs for sexual offenders and substance abuse, and generally work with youth between 6 to 18 months. They offer numerous modes of therapy, such as movement and art therapy, as well as yoga and meditation therapy. They also participate in an intramural sports program. When asked about issues of race, gender, religion, sexuality, and class that emerge within therapy, Ms. Hudson responded that she holds honest dialogues with youth and therapists about issues that emerge in therapy, and she has found that when therapists at the facility are willing to deal with these issues head on, they find that cross-cultural assumptions tend to fall away once the youth develop trust in their therapists and the young people around them. She was confident in the Optimist program, but a little more hesitant about what happens once youth leave the program. She suggested that students have had difficulties returning to their homes, and that some have requested to stay on at Optimist in an independent living program.

Fire Department Captain: The Captain of a local Fire Department offered his perspective on growing up in Highland Park. He lived in Highland Park from the 1960’s to the 1990’s, and said that he has witnessed dramatic changes in the demographics of the area. As a high school student, he saw the population change from being primarily white working class individuals to a largely Hispanic population. Beginning in the 1980’s, he explained that he started to witness an increase in gang violence. Eventually, he moved his family to the Eagle Rock area, because he felt that it was unsafe for them to reside in Highland Park. He attributes the stagnant economic growth to the gangs. According to him, people don’t want to move money and business into an area where gang violence is prevalent. He sees some improvements in the community in recent years but feels that there is much improvement yet to be made. Still, the Captain adds that he feels safe working in Highland Park, and very much considers the Highland Park area to be his home.

Michelle Harnsberger: Michelle Harnsberger of Harnsberger Real Estate was born and raised in the Highland Park area and currently lives in Mt. Washington. Michelle explained that she has never felt unsafe in the Huntington Park area, and while she is aware of some of the gang activity, she feels as though being active in the community and getting to know the people in her community have enhanced her feelings of security. Additionally, Michelle explained that she believes Highland Park to have made marked improvements as she and other link-minded individuals have created initiatives to advocate for youth and provide them with constructive alternatives to joining gangs.

Felix: On a Wednesday morning, Felix sat alongside 6 or more other men, awaiting his turn for a haircut, at a barbershop that he and the others believed to be the best in town, since its opening in 1999. Felix has lived in Highland Park since the 1970’s. And though an active member of the military, he has always returned to where he calls home. When his parents retired, and moved to El Paso, they encouraged Felix to move along with them. However, as Felix explained, he and his siblings have attachments to the area and do not intend to move. Felix elaborated on the historical value of his first home, and how unique and rich he believed Highland Park to be.

Carlos Torres: Carlos Torres, one of the owners of the Torres Barber Shop, explained that while he did not live in Highland Park, but in a neighboring city, he very much felt as though he was a part of the Highland Park community. Carlos compared Highland Park to a small town within a larger city, pointing to the mountains and hillsides that surround Highland Park. He explained that most of his customers knew each other in some way, and that one of his employees attended high school with many of their dedicated customers. Carlos seemed to take pride in the city and shared a book on Highland Park that he kept in his cabinet alongside his brushes, scissors, and other hair products. The book was titled, Images of America, Highland Park, by Charles J. Fisher. When asked why he kept the book with him, Carlos explained that he had wanted to read it, but simply hadn’t had the time. Time was clearly an issue, as was evident by the line of people awaiting their turn with Carlos and his scissors.

Imex Book Store: An employee at the Imex Book Store located in Eagle Rock shared some of her experiences with her perceived notion of gentrification in Highland Park. She seemed to be very aware of the community, and explained that Highland Park was gradually becoming more ‘trendy,’ especially many of the stores and bars on York Blvd., whose patrons tended to be from outside of the Highland Park area.

Artist: An artist who lived in Eagle Rock, but rented a studio for her artwork in Highland Park for her artwork, said that she felt perfectly safe working in the area.

Manuel: Manuel sold his home in Highland Park nearly a decade ago, after living in the community for 30 years, because he was entering retirement and needed Medi-Cal. In the 8 years he has been at Villa Piedra apartments on Eagle Rock Blvd., he has seen the rent rise from $580 to $940. He says he does not receive public housing assistance, and enjoys the comfort of living with other independent seniors. He misses Nicaragua, and frequently reminisces with his wife of the possibility of moving back, should the cost of living become unbearable. Still, he said he enjoyed being outside and admiring the environment from the view of his walker’s built in seat.

Outsider Perspective:

While exploring Highland Park, some of us were hesitant, feeling as though we may be intruding upon others’ space and time. To our great surprise, most of us felt welcomed and highly regarded. In spite of the graffiti on the walls, and the bars on the windows, we felt as sense of comfort and security – walking the streets freely. The people we saw around the neighborhood were friendly and open to speak with us. Perhaps the beauty, however, lied not only in the hill-top homes and green mountain sides, but in the true sense of community that these natural boundaries and demographics helped to create. The community, itself, appeared tightly knit, as indicated by the social gatherings at the Torres’ Barber Shop, mid-afternoon, and the various activities people could participate in at the recreation center, senior center, public pool, art parks, etc...And though many of the buildings were not well kept, perhaps it is their age and their condition that is most indicative of the history that lies in Highland Park.