Residents of this unquestionably urban neighborhood appreciate its leafy charms but worry about overdevelopment.
Exploring the Streets of Echo Park
Beth Coller for The New York Times
Densely populated and unquestionably urban, Echo Park defies convention. Anchored by an eponymous lake dotted with swan boats and lotus flowers, and wrapped like a hug around Los Angeles’s second-largest park, the neighborhood is also a nature-lover’s refuge in the heart of the city.
It is close to Downtown Los Angeles and gritty Skid Row, and bisected by bustling Sunset Boulevard and all its trendy shops and restaurants. But its topography is hills and leafy slopes; its streets ascend into secret staircases; and at its core, say residents, the neighborhood is a flora-filled L.A. treasure hiding in plain sight.
N. Benton Way
By The New York Times
Scott Listfield had been living in Echo Park for about a week when he went for a short walk and suddenly found himself surrounded by eucalyptus and cedar trees. There were walking trails and red-tailed hawks and an overlook with sweeping views of Downtown Los Angeles. He had stumbled into 600-acre Elysian Park, the oldest green lung in the city.
“I was shocked,” said Mr. Listfield, 43, a painter and illustrator. “We’re here in the city and in 10 minutes I walked and suddenly felt like I was up in the mountains. It’s an amazing benefit to the neighborhood I didn’t even know we had.”
Mr. Listfield and his wife moved to Echo Park in 2018 from their native Boston. Mr. Listfield had been traveling to Los Angeles a few times a year for art shows when he decided to escape the East Coast winters for good and make a home here.
A 2.8-mile looped hike through Elysian Park takes you to Angel’s Point, which offers sweeping views of downtown Los Angeles and Dodger Stadium.Credit…Beth Coller for The New York Times
He had a peripheral knowledge of the area. “Los Angeles is really 20 or 30 cities awkwardly glued together,” he said. “There were parts of town we knew relatively well and parts we had never been to at all, including Echo Park.”
The couple were searching for a home that had a separate studio space for painting, and were also eager to find an area that resembled Somerville, Mass., the eclectic Boston suburb they had called home. “I hate to call it the Brooklyn of Boston, but there’s always a Brooklyn of somewhere, right?” he said with a laugh. When they drove into Echo Park the first day, he was immediately taken with its walkability and the liveliness of its streets.
“In Los Angeles people drive everywhere and neither one of us were super keen on that idea,” Mr. Listfield said. “We drove into Echo Park and were like, wow, this reminds us of home, just with sunshine and mountains and palm trees.”
Shortly after, they paid $815,000 for a three-bedroom, three-bath condo on Echo Park Avenue, within easy distance of bakeries, cafes and a small market. A separate downstairs area of the home serves as Mr. Listfield’s studio. They don’t have a backyard, but they have a dog-walking trail in the back of the condo for their dog, and as Mr. Listfield quickly learned, Elysian Park is a mere 10 minutes away.
“I could live in a suburban house and paint, that would probably be fine,” he said. “But since I work from home I like to walk out the door and feel that there is a creative energy happening around me in the neighborhood. And we could tell immediately that this was a creative place.”
Kelsey Payne, a video editor, made her own cross-country move to Echo Park with her husband, Ian, a software developer, in early 2019, after both grew tired of the East Coast. For them, it wasn’t the green parks that sealed the deal — it was the green space on their new property.
The couple, both avid gardeners, carefully packed their SUV with plants and drove them 2,800 miles from their previous home in Brooklyn. They paid $1.2 million for a two-bedroom, 100-year-old Craftsman that is accessible only by a stair street, and in the back they have pine, grapefruit, lemon, persimmon and loquat trees. She has plans for much more.
“We really wanted private outdoor space,” said Ms. Payne, 30. “Here, we actually have an outdoor kitchen space so we want to do a whole vegetable garden. We still have a lot of work to do on the house, but it’s Southern California, so I can plant year-round.”
What You’ll Find
Echo Park is dense — 43,000 residents share 2.4 square miles — and some of its priciest real estate can be found tucked into the hills that unfurl as you head north toward Elysian Heights, a neighborhood within the neighborhood. Here, the grade on some streets is so steep that cars can’t pass, and you’ll find the stair streets, which offer residents a workout as they climb up to their homes.
1901 SANTA INEZ STREET | A two-bedroom, two-bath house built in 1922 on 0.04 acres, is listed for $875,000. 323-755-6305.Credit…Beth Coller for The New York Times
The northern half of Echo Park is wedged between the Glendale Freeway, Interstate 5 and Elysian Park. Its western border runs along North Alvarado Street and the Hollywood Freeway (Route 101). To the east, it’s bordered by Elysian Park and Stadium Way, which leads to Dodger Stadium.
The Echo Park Lake reopened in 2013 after a two-year, $45 million refurbishment, revitalizing a community green space. On weekends, its shores are packed with picnickers, and couples enjoy swan boats out on the water.
Angelino Heights, which sits below Sunset Boulevard in the neighborhood’s southeast corner, is one of Los Angeles’s oldest pockets, with a collection of century-old Victorian homes. An entire block of Carroll Avenue there is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and includes the Sanders House, which was featured in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video and the TV show “Charmed.”
1298 3/4 SUNSET BOULEVARD | A two-bedroom, one bath house on 0.06 acres, is listed for $699,000. 323-842-4001Credit…Beth Coller for The New York Times
In the southwest corner of Echo Park lies Historic Filipinotown, which was at the nexus of Filipino immigrant life in the early 20th century and today has a majority Hispanic population.
“The housing stock is so varied and so interesting,” said Alyssa Valentine, 42, a listing agent with Compass Real Estate. “You’ve got Victorian homes, midcentury homes, and you’ve got architects who have really used the area as a playground.”
What You’ll Pay
As of September, 294 single-family homes had been sold in 2019 at a median sales price of $997,000, according to Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants. The highest sale of the year was $3.5 million; the lowest was $430,000.
1515 LAKE SHORE AVENUE, NO. 5 | A three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath house, built in 2018 on 0.07 acres, listed for $1,199,000. 323-842-4001.Credit…Beth Coller for The New York Times
During the same period in 2016, 327 homes sold at a median price of $875,000, with a high of $2.595 million and a low of $240,000.
Renters can find studio apartments in the $1,300 to $2,100 range; two-bedroom apartments for around $2,800; and two- and three-bedroom detached homes between $3,000 and $6,000 a month.
1336 N SUTHERLAND STREET | A four-bedroom, two-bath house with a guest cottage, built in 1924 on 0.31 acres, listed for $1.4 million. 424-230-3700.Credit…Beth Coller for The New York Times
Make the steep climb up Avon Street in Elysian Heights, and you’ll notice dozens of identical signs on homeowners’ lawns that say “Save Kite Hill.” Much of Echo Park, it feels, has banded together against a developer who wishes to build a sprawling home and an access road on this one-acre spot, which for decades has been one of the last open spaces around.
With housing prices rising and this tightly packed neighborhood growing ever more dense, many residents are keen to avoid the overdeveloped effects of gentrification that have impacted nearby neighborhoods.
“There’s a huge effort to make sure Echo Park remains Echo Park,” said Kenya Reeves-Costa, 41, who leads the realty team The LA Homegirl, which is affiliated with Keller Williams, and who lives in Echo Park with her husband, Orlando, and their 6-year-old daughter. “People want to be part of this community.”
In Echo Park, Ms. Reeves-Costa said, neighbors look out for one another, and the players of daily life — the street sweepers, bakers and grocery clerks — make an effort to get to know you. “My husband says it’s like Sesame Street,” she said. “Everyone knows my kid and my dog. My daughter loves walking down the street and waving at everyone.”
Stories Books and Cafe, on Sunset, is a bookstore/coffeeshop hybrid with a wide selection of both new and used titles, and a tidy cafe menu that includes wine, beer, sandwiches and mezze.Credit…Beth Coller for The New York Times
Like many neighborhoods in central and east Los Angeles, Echo Park has seen rapid gentrification and price increases over the past decade; today it is shifting from a majority Latino neighborhood to one that is more racially diverse.
Longtime residents of the community say that much of the character that defined the area in the 1980s and 1990s has been erased.
Natalia Molina, a professor of American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California, grew up in Echo Park and is working on a book exploring the neighborhood’s shifting populations. Her grandmother opened a restaurant in Echo Park in 1951, and her mother still lives there in a rent-controlled apartment. When Ms. Molina, 48, was ready to buy her own home, however, she looked elsewhere, opting to purchase in Altadena.
Some newer residents, she said, seem to believe “that nothing really existed before gentrification, and that’s the part that gets a lot of us. It doesn’t feel like the same neighborhood anymore.”
Today along Sunset Boulevard there are many new additions, including third-wave coffeehouses, vegan Popsicle stalls and vintage clothing shops.
Still, Rob Kallick, 40, whose realty and architecture firm, Take Sunset, focuses on East Los Angeles, said the vibe in Echo Park remains entirely its own. “There’s an authenticity to it, and it’s symbolic of what makes L.A. special and great in some ways, and also shows some of the challenges the city has,” he said. “It’s all there in one neighborhood.”
Echo Park students are served by the Los Angeles Unified School District, the largest public school system in California and the second-largest in the United States, with more than 700,000 students.
There are five public elementary schools within Echo Park, including the Clifford Math & Technology Magnet school, as well as two charter elementary schools.
For high school, many Echo Park students head to the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities, which is on the campus of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools, a complex of six pilot schools clustered together. On last year’s Smarter Balanced exams, 46.2 percent of the school’s students met standards in English, above the district average of 42.4 percent, and 16 percent met standards in math, below the district average of 31.7 percent.
Echo Park sits adjacent to Downtown Los Angeles; the 3.5-mile drive takes 12 minutes without traffic but can be double that during rush hour. A commute to the city’s west side will take 20 minutes during off-peak hours, but can stretch to over an hour when the freeways are busy.
A number of city buses serve the area; fares are $1.75 each way or $100 for a 30-day pass.
Echo Park has a long history of arts and counterculturalism. The neighborhood grew out of Edendale, a defunct historic district made up of what is now Los Angeles’s hipster trifecta: Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz. In the 1910s, Edendale was the epicenter of the silent-film industry, housing the West Coast’s first film studio.
Echo Park Lake was originally a reservoir for drinking water. The surrounding park was first landscaped in 1892, and by the 1920s a construction flurry had brought new homes and community centers to its surrounding streets. The area was a bastion for artists and communists in the years leading up to World War II. Decades of decline came after, but in the 1990s, with the creation of the Echo Park Historical Society and, later, the refurbishment of the lake, new businesses and housing development followed.
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