Throughout modern times, there has been a confluence of factors that distill a creative fervor, a time and place that becomes greater than itself. The artistic effluence ripples for generations to come. Paris in the Twenties. Greenwich Village in the Fifties. Venice Beach in the Seventies. Chelsea in the Eighties. Right here, right now, Echo Park in Los Angeles is a mad bonfire of energy and passion, a white flame that can burn no brighter.
The sunlight that falls on Echo Park is golden. A number of factors have created this moment. An economic boom and a crash. Rising real estate prices. Hard gang warfare. Poverty. Regentrification. Rent control. And history.
A century ago, the rolling hills and valleys of Echo Park were considered out of town, in the country, though just a few miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. This seclusion fostered a home for wild-minded freethinkers. Communes flourished. Start-up religions, nudist colonies, health food fads and good luck cults called it Ground Zero. So did evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Echo Park was also known as Red Hill for its population of Bolsheviks. Always a working class neighborhood, Echo Park got left behind when Los Angeles drifted westward toward the sea. Today, the terrain reigns.
A few new cafes, art spots and homegrown retail stores are creating a walking neighborhood. This morning, at coffeehouse Chango, a pal elbowed me in the ribs and exclaimed, "Dude, I've never seen so many good lookin' art chicks." There is a hum to the neighborhood, an energetic breeze that blows through the sharp turns, dead ends and steep climb of these hills. Echo Park is a concentration of creatives.
He looks like a teen skater. She is a fashion plate. The wildly-mannered couple, pushing their brand new baby boy down Echo Park Boulevard, do not look like Ozzie and Harriet. Proud Pop is Gaston Nouges. When he is not changing diapers, he is half of Ball-Nouges, the artist-architects who roam Los Angeles like a Panzer tank. Stylish Mama Charon is a stylist and arts impresario with a ready bowl of kombucha.
Street king Shep Fairey lives here, as does his advertising agency Studio Number One and his gallery Subliminal Projects. Most excitingly, so does Sharktoof, soul-searcher Cryptik, old-school DUCE and slap-happy-sweet Phil Lumbang. If you wanna call yourself a street artist of any note, one must have tossed a dozen cans in Echo Park first.
John Dentino is a direct cinema documentary filmmaker struggling to finish his gritty film, 'Illusion Travels by Boxcar.' The bills are piling up and the credit cards are maxed out in a last push to finish the grand effort. Grants, hard to apply for and harder to get, are not really an option. Nor is commercial funding, for Dentino's subject matter lacks celebrity appeal. 'Illusion Travels by Boxcar' follows a cracker barrel of Oklahoma white trash and their addictions. If you recast it with a crack-addicted Helen Mirren, it wouldn't be a doc.
Poetry and derision. Keith Niles has no illusions about the poet's life. This hard-writing, smart-ass runs the famous Sunday afternoon 'Little Joy' open mike at the Silverlake Lounge, a local hole that Charles Bukowski would have been proud to puke in. Niles wants to do a CD for this year's anniversary anthology. Naturally, the effort should include the work of myself, cleverly comic Andy Sell, the devilish Jim Priest, Buffy Visick playing her battery-powered Mormon Organ and the romantic prose of actor Ben Crowley.
The real coup for the Little Joy CD would have to include Leslie Stevens. Beguiling Leslie is a songwriter who frequently performs new work at the open mike. Not only is she is wise, witty and soulful, Leslie is breaking out. She keeps pushing her band, Leslie and the Badgers, to the next glorious mile. She is infectious and she's gonna be famous. Want proof? Click here.
Charles Rappleye was once known as a cop-busting, crime-chasing reporter covering the Rampart Scandal. A short evolution later, he is now a much honored non-fiction historical writer. Charlie is touring with his new Simon and Schuster book, 'Robert Morris' a biography of the financier of the Revolutionary War. Rappleye is finding a renewed appreciation for the architects of these United States. So should we.
The door of the Short Stop, the bar with a scandalous Rampart past, is governed by Peter Jae. He looks tough, but it's really easy to make him laugh. The actor is the star of the internet phenom 'K-Town Cowboys', a Koreatown version of Entourage. Just smile happy and the menacing hulk turns into a sugar dumpling.
Dutch photographer Monica Nouwens now lives out in the open. Five years ago she was dodging immigration, but now she has been accepted as an 'Alien With Extraordinary Abilities In The Arts And Sciences'. She juggles jobs and assignments for architects and art magazines, but it is her Otis students that inspire how she spends her time.
Too young to be cynical of the fashion machine, Nicole Alexandra is designing, cutting fabric, hawking and hustling. What's a girl with talent to do?
Artists Dave Burns, Matias Viegener and Austin Young, a.k.a. 'Fallen Fruit' the activist arts project to map public edibles in the hood, are exhausted after the media lovemaking of their LACMA invasion. Whoa! The boys got their simple start at Echo Park's famous Machine Projects.
The trio got a mention in the upstart Artillery Magazine, also based in E.P. Editor Tulsa Kinney's art rag is getting so plump that newsstands are licking their chops. God bless the bold entrepreneur in these difficult times.
These are but a small few of the many artists, musicians, actors and writers who are lucky to be living in Echo Park right now. The mad nights and late days are as brilliant and lasting as the sunlight that sparkles off Echo Park Lake. These are the times to be remembered. As forces change the environment, the bohemianism of Echo Park is soon to be only a treasured memory of history. And so it goes.
GORDY GRUNDY is an Echo Park based artist and writer for Artillery Magazine and Coagula. He has broken bread and a few jaws with everyone mentioned in this article. His visual and literary work can be found at www.GordyGrundy.com. He is the President of the Newport Beach Historical Society amongst other things.