Thursday, November 23, 2006

Where I Live

In October, 2006, when I fractured my elbow I couldn't drive for two weeks, so I started walking my neighborhood both to buy my groceries and vitamins and to give myself some exercise. Starting at where Melrose Avenue meets Western Avenue, I went a few doors west of Melrose to the Melrose Cafe Bakery that sells delicious fresh pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) baked on the premises.

After enjoying pan dulce, I started walking south down Western Avenue through blocks of small Korean-owned furniture shops with Korean/English signs along with a few Latino-owned shops with Spanish/English signs. In the surrounding blocks the largest ehtnic group who live here are Latinos, then Asians--Koreans and Filipinos-and lastly Anglos.

After two blocks of Korean-owned furniture shops, I arrive at Rincocito Guatamalteco Restaurante, which has a a big sign saying "Bienvidos" (welcome), 473 No. Western at Maplewood Avenue on the northwest corner. A few weeks ago I ate at this small Guatemalan restaurant having a great meal of chicken with onions, beans, rice and Guatemalan tortillas. Next door to Rincocito Gautemalteco is Las Amigas (The Friends) market, one of many small markets, with a sign "carniceria" (meat) on the outside. Sure enough, Las Amigas has a butcher section having chicken, fish, and meat as well as produce, canned goods, and sundries. Across the street is a 7-11 minimarket with a ATM. Even with my arm in a half-cast, I have no problem getting groceries or fast cash from nearby ATMs.

Across the street on the northeast corner is Korean Sah Buddhist Temple, a tan building with a blue and gold cupola and a big sign that for few months this year celebrated the Buddha's birthday. On the southeast corner is a minimall with Thai B-B-Q original restaurant, and, yes, the barbeque chicken lunch was inexpensive and quite good. On the southwest corner is a Korean b-b-que restaurant. I've eaten there also: excellent Korean b-b-que where the beef, chicken, and vegetables were cooked at a little stove at our table. I'm not alone in my love for the diverse foods of this city. Los Angeles even has restaurant critic, Jonathan Gold, whose writing about the city's ethnic foods in the "La Weekly" won him a Pulitzer Prize, so my fascination with international foods is widely shared in my city. Gold has shown us that we live in a gastronomic wonderland of international foods in Los Angeles; my neighborhood is right in the middle of this wonderland.

On the eastside of Western for the next blocks is the World Mission University and Theological Seminary, a three-story brown brick building, and its attached Oriental Mission Church, a one-story brick building. These two buildings take up the whole block. On the westside of the street is a row of one-story shops: Joy Curtain, a curtain store; Angie's Beauty Salon; Royal Rug Gallery; Canu Picture Frame shop, which also sells antique Japanese teapots; and Kappa photo studio. The first weekend in my cast, I decided to give myself a treat, so I went to Angie's to have my hair washed and curled--I sure felt better!

Now we're at Rosewood Avenue and Western with a minimall in the southwest corner that has two interesting shops: Tiji Hair Salon, which uses natural beauty products; and Coffee 'n More, a tiny Korean coffee house tucked in the corner. I love to pick up a English-language newspaper at 7-11 (the newstands only hold Korean and Spanish newspapers). The clerks at 7-11 are Bengali speakers. Then I hole up at Coffee 'n More with green tea and a muffin. The minimall has another tiny market, a Korean video/DVD store, and a make-up shop.

Going south on the westside of Western I pass A & B Motors Group Inc. which rents cars and takes up the rest of the block up to Elmwood Avenue. The namer of the these streets loved tree names: Maplewood, Rosewood, Elmwood. Across Elmwood is a Giant Dollar store, just like a 99 cents store but one penny more. Last time I visited I got Alta Dena milk, milk from one of the best dairies in Southern California, as well as a Halloween mask. I love that store! The huge Western Coin Laundry-Lavenderia- takes up the rest of the block--two huge coin laundromats, but I didn't need it as I have a washing machine and dryer in the basement of my apartment building.

Across Western is a Kentucky Friend Chicken within great postmodernist architecture--the most beautiful building housing a Kentucky Fried Chicken in the world! A huge gray metal rectangle faces the 1st story; the 2nd story is a weird gray stucco boat-like-shape that seems to be sailing out over Western; and the third story is small rectangular square topped with a little triangle hat. No segment has anything logically to do with any another segment! Great! This building is a piece of sculpture!

South of KFC on the eastside of Western there is a line of one-story shops including Juan's Shoe Repair. I took some old shoes to Juan's but he said they were too old to repair. On the westside is another line of shops including on the corner a dry cleaner/alterations shop; Jun's Watches, which sells, repairs and cleans watches; and Clinical Central de Accupuntar with signs for accupuncture in Korean, Spanish and English. Beverly Boulevard is the northern edge of Koreatown, the shopping center of Los Angeles's large Korean population.

We're now at the next main street, Beverly Boulevard. After I first fractured my elbow, I walked to buy Vitamin E from Ethical Drugs, a small Korean-owned drugstore, that occupies the southeast corner. As I left, I realized how few small drugstores/pharmacies are left since many have been driven out of businesses by the huge chains. Just south of Ethical Drugs is Piper Restaurant, a 24-hour old-style Anglo coffeeshop, which has been in this spot for decades, long before this area became Koreatown. Novelist James Elroy grew up in this area before it became Koreatown and wrote about the neighborhood before the huge waves of immigrants from Korea and Latin America reshaped this part of Los Angeles.

In the next block of Western just south of Beverly Boulevard on the eastside is Coffee Inc., a little coffeehouse with sidewalk tables, and Music House, a store that sells Korean DVD/CDs. On the southwest corner of Western and Beverly is Center Bank, a bank with Korean signs on its facade; Walter Kim Optomery; Kids' Furniture, which sells awfully attractive furniture; and Hills Beauty Club, a three-story yellow stucco building that looks intruiging. Is the beauty club a private Korean spa? Continuing down the westside of Western I pass another minimal including Pho 2000 restaurant with a sign advertising "Vietnamese original noodles." Yes, I would love to eat there one day. Past the minimall is World Pet and Grooming shop.

I usually hurry past the shops on this block because I want to get to two shops on the next block. I head down to HK Supermarket, one of the institutions of Koreatown--a huge supermarket with a pharmacy, a fast food Korean deli, a huge fish selection, a line of newspapers stands, and it's open from 7 am -12 pm. In China I visited a tea village, sampled green tea grown in the village, and bought a box of green tea leaves as a gift for my mom but she had run out. At HK Supermarket they had a great supply of boxes of green tea.

Across from HK Supermarket on the westside is a minimall with the French Baguette, a Korean bakery/cafe that bakes and sells wonderful French and Asian pastries which I recently ate. The bakery, open from 7 am-8 pm Monday-Saturday and 7 am-7:30 pm Sunday, has a few tables inside and a tiny patio outside, fresh organic regular and decaf coffee, and a sign outside telling what pastries or breads are freshly baked hour by hour. The French Baguette as well as HK Supermarket are beloved neighborhood institutions.

On the eastside of Western past HK is New World Camping store that also sells fish tackls, a 100% hand carwash, and Western Appliance for refrigerators, stove, and dryers. On the westide is Callahan's hardware, an independent hardware store. Callahan advertises on its facade that it sells supplies for plumbing and electrical work, has paints, and sells janitorial supplies. Inside are narrow stacks of hardware. They give advice too, telling me once how to fix a broken bookcase. After one has painted and cleaned an apartment with paints from Callahan, one can surely furnish one's apartment from the Western Avenue stores.

I continue south on to the Nat King Cole post office that looks like a fortress! The post office was named after the singer who was the first black resident of the wealthy nearby neighborhood Hancock Park. Some whites treated the great singer badly for moving into a white neighborhood. Los Angeles had housing segregation from 1920s to the 1950s; blacks, Asians, Latinos and Jews were forbidden from buying houses in white Christian neighborhoods, and Cole was part of the big battle against this white racism.

Mike Davis, a critic of Los Angeles, has an angry rant in his book City of Quartz about the new Los Angeles architecture that looks like fortresses as a result of 1992 riots that generated a lot of fear on the streets. Well, he's right about the Nat King Cole post office on Western that is just north of 3rd street. For 1/2 a block the brown stone facade encloses and protects the parking lot for P.O. trucks only. Past the fortress parking lot is more brown brick and then a tiny opening leading to the post office proper with another tiny opening on the opposite side leading to the back parking lot for customers. During the 1992 riots the Korean-owned stores in this stretch of Western were looted by blacks and Latinos; now the Korean owners seem to be reaching out more with Spanish signs and hiring Latinos as clerks in some of the small stores. Koreans, blacks and Latinos were all victims of white racism.

On the corner of 3rd and Western is a clothing outlet. I needed some socks once, so I entered, but it had only men's socks and women's and men's sports clothing. On the southwest corner is Western Village, a two-story minimall with Joyanne Sushi, NY pizza restaurant, a bridal/quincenera dress shop, a herb shop, and a medical supply shop. In the next four blocks of Western up to Wilshire the small furniture shops are replaced by bridal and medical supply shops yet the minimalls abound. The next minmall on the right has Coffee Break, another Korean coffeehouse I've tried. What distinguishes this coffeehouse is the huge lush light green chairs and table in the long, thin outer room with bamboo shoots on both walls. I felt like a queen sinking into a comfortable chair to drink my green tea.

At 5th street is California Market, another grand Koreatown supermarket with even better hours than HK: California Market is open from 7 am- 2:00 am. At 5th Street, two blocks before Wilshire, I see my first chain store in blocks: Carl's Junior fast food. And then a H& R block on the eastside of the street. I realize except for Kentucky Friend Chicken this mile-long strip only has small locally-owned stores for its residents but that changes as we approach the big office buildings on Wilshire.

As I come to 6th I do see on the eastide Gourmet Coffee that advertises "Seattles Best Coffee," but still looks small and locally-owned; Magic Tabacco and Cigarettes and Ace Hardware sit on the westside. Comida Saldorean Restaurant that advertises Salvadorean, Mexican and American food is on Sixth Street a few stores west of Western. The minimall at 6th and Western still has locally-owned shops--another acupuncture shop and a Korean restuaurant. But also I see more chain stores including Kidsland, a chain store for children's furtniture and toys, and a block away is a 24-hour Ralphs supermarket.

At Wilshire and Western is the subway stop and the Wiltern Theater in a beautiful green art deco building the the 1930s; a lot of people worked hard to save the Wiltern from getting demolished. Now, the glorious building glorifies the corner, and the Theater has great rock 'n roll shows.

I sit resting on a bus bench at the corner of Wilshire and Western. My neighborhood has within walking distance the basics: small grocery stores, a drugstore/pharmacy, a hardware store, a laundromat, a post office, a watch repair, a dry cleaners, ATMs, a beauty salon, a shoe repair, a 99 cents or a Giant Dollar store, and a 24-hour restaurant. Even with a fractured elbow I was able to walk to buy my groceries and vitamins, get my shoes looked at the shoe repair, repair my watches, buy stamps, have a good lunch at the Thai b-b-q, buy Halloween masks and gifts at the Giant Dollar, and have my hair done. Most of the shop are small, independent and Korean-owned but Latinos also have some splendid shops. Koreans and Latinos with their tradition of entrepreneurship revived this mile and 1/2 of Western with their many small shops.

What does this strip of Western lack? I pondered that once my arm healed and I began driving, yet I promised I would still walk my neighborhood. We lack a stationary store as well as few decent clothing stores where the neighbors can buy a pair of socks, a shirt, or pants. I'd also like to see a good bookstore and a $3 movie theater. Once upon a time this area did have movie theaters and also an ice skating rink, but what happened to them? Western Avenue also lacks amenities: a row of trees (or even saplings) and a few benches for weary walkers as on nearby Larchmont Boulevard, and a few miniparks such as on Santa Monica Boulevard West Hollywood.

Walking I learned to love this part of Koreatown with its two beautiful buildings--the Wiltern and the Kentucky Fried Chicken postmodernist chicken shack. Finally, I loved its diverse reasonable wonderful restaurants, and all those coffee houses, bakeries and cafes. My city neighborhood goes beyond the basics to have great food and some wonderful architecture! I love its richness in food and culture: Mexican, Guatemalan, Korean, Thai, Japanese, Italian, Vietnamese, Anglo-American, and Salvadorean. Besides, Western Avenue from Wilshire Boulevard to Melrose Avenue is a great neighborhood to walk in!


Lyle Daggett said...

I loved this walking tour of your neighborhood! (Made me hungry.)


Ripper777 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ripper777 said...

I believe Melrose and Western is considered East Hollywood and not Koreatown. Western and Beverly is the boarder between my hood, K-town, and the grimy East Hollywood neighborhood.

If you want to experience the Real Koreatown, walk east from Western and 6th to 6th & Vermont. Also walk 3rd and Western down to Pico and Western.

Sky Minor said...

Great expose! Come up to Los Feliz and make the same trek!