Mapping L.A.: 'One man's memories of boyhood in Boyle Heights'
When The Times relaunched Mapping L.A. this week, we asked readers to tell us what specific neighborhoods meant to them, to share an area's landmarks and hidden treasures and to let us know about the good and the bad aspects of where they live now.
Most of my family lived in Boyle Heights when I was born in 1937. My grandparents on both sides immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine, Germany and Romania, fleeing widespread pogroms against Jews between 1890 and 1910. Settling briefly in New York, Chicago and St. Louis, they came to Los Angeles and the growing Jewish community in Boyle Heights during the years around World War I. Until World War II, Boyle Heights was L.A.'s largest Jewish community. My parents' families knew each other and both attended Roosevelt High. Mom graduated two years after Dad and, through the charity of a successful cousin, became the first in my close extended family to graduate from college (UCLA in 1932, and worked as a teacher at Roosevelt High until after the war).
East Cesar E. Chavez Avenue was then known as Brooklyn Avenue, a main street of many Jewish businesses: Canter's Deli, kosher butcher shops, groceries, hardware, plumbers, tailors, etc. A great dime store on Wabash was a favorite source of toys, and the Wabash theater introduced me to my youthful interest in war movies. A Bank of America (not Jewish-owned) anchored the corner of Soto and Brooklyn, which was a main intersection of activity.
During my childhood in the late '30s and early '40s, I lived on Fickett Street behind a long-lived hardware
store on Brooklyn, in my grandparents' house, where neighbors raised goats, rabbits, ducks and chickens. In 1940 we moved to Ganahl Street, where I went to Evergreen Avenue School when it only covered a third of the block, and we lived on the same large block with some great vacant lots to play soldiers with my friends. I remember the outbreak of WWII, when, being in the kindergarten, we were all equipped with homemade little sleeping bags fully stocked with crayons, coloring books and candy bars to get us through the expected air raids. They got us through some weird, exciting air-raid drills in school that had us lying in darkened hallways and hearing stories (probably from the then raging Battle of Britain) of a classroom of children being evacuated seconds before the building collapsed. We depleted our sleeping bag supplies soon after the end of the first drill!
Back then, Ramona Boulevard, just a few blocks downhill from Ganahl, where the San Bernardino Freeway now passes, was a main four-lane thoroughfare leading to the San Gabriel Valley. A small grassy creek, the scene of my happily splashing barefooted on a day of playing hooky from first grade, was just downhill from Ramona Boulevard and led to the L.A. River miles to the west. On the vacant hills leading up to the white, shiny monument of County Hospital, a herd of goats grazed. Most exciting was the railroad yard with it's frequent irresistible steam engines and dynamic activity of railroading. The hill north and east of Boyle Heights toward City Terrace and south of Ramona had a few homes and someone's flock of (trained?) white pigeons frequently swooping and circling over the hill.
One man's memories of boyhood in Boyle Heights.