Hidden Gem Neighborhood: Highland Park

Heritage Square Museum
Hale House & Valley Knudsen Garden Residence at Heritage Square Museum | Photo courtesy of sggrant, Flickr

Highland Park is one of L.A.’s oldest settled areas, situated in a picturesque setting between Downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena. The hilly neighborhood is located Northeast of Downtown along the Arroyo Seco, the seasonal river and watershed that begins near Mount Wilson in the San Gabriel Mountains and ends at the confluence with the Los Angeles River near Elysian Park. 

In the early 20th century, Highland Park and nearby Pasadena were known as havens for the artists and intellectuals who led the Arts & Crafts movement. Highland Park became a predominantly Latino area in the 1960s and 70s, along with many ethnic groups that called the neighborhood home. Beginning in the 2000s, Highland Park once again became a mecca for creatives, who were attracted by the historic Craftsman homes and relatively low rents. A number of trendy shops, galleries, restaurants and bars have opened along Figueroa Street and York Boulevard, recently dubbed “the coolest street in L.A.” by Condé Nast Traveler.


Photo courtesy of Audubon Center at Debs Park, Facebook

Located in L.A.’s fourth largest park, the Audubon Center at Debs Park opened in 2003 as an environmental education and conservation center for the communities of Northeast Los Angeles. More than half of the park is covered in walnut-oak woodland, grassland, and coastal sage scrub, a remnant of the native habitats that once rimmed the Los Angeles Basin. Over 140 species of birds have been recorded at the park. The nature-based education and community programs at Debs Park are designed to engage children and their families with the outdoor world. The Audubon Center is a unique gathering place and focal point for outdoor recreation, environmental education and conservation action. The center is operated by Audubon California, a state field program of the National Audubon Society. The Audubon Center is a cutting-edge green building and a model of sustainable architecture - it was certified as the nation's first LEED Platinum building from the U.S. Green Building Council, the nation's leading authority on sustainable building practices.


Photo courtesy of Avenue 50 Studio, Facebook

Located a few blocks from the Metro Rail Gold Line, Avenue 50 Studio is much more than a multicultural art gallery - it’s a vital hub of the Highland Park community. Grounded in Latino and Chicano culture, Avenue 50 and its two attached galleries - Two Tracks Studio and She Rides the Lion - have presented hundreds of shows that showcase the diverse cultures that make up the area, from international exchange exhibits to Asian and African American artists. In addition to art exhibits, the nonprofit arts organization also presents films and poetry readings, and conducts workshops in art, spoken word and other forms of creative expression.


Chicken Boy in Highland Park
Chicken Boy | Photo courtesy of Buz Carter, Flickr

The long, strange journey of Chicken Boy began on Route 66 in the 1960s. Chicken Boy was created by the same Venice-based fiberglass company that created the familiar roadside Paul Bunyan and Muffler Man statues. Chicken Boy - a customized Paul Bunyan - was perched atop his namesake fried chicken restaurant near the Grand Central Market in Downtown L.A., on Broadway (Historic Route 66) between 4th and 5th Streets. The iconic statue stood there until 1984, when the restaurant owner died. After persistent efforts, the statue was saved by art director Amy Inouye, who placed it in storage until a suitable location could be found.

Over 20 years later, Inouye relocated her design firm to a commercial space on North Figueroa Street (also Historic Route 66). In October 2007, the 22-foot-tall Chicken Boy was installed on the rooftop of Future Studio Design & Gallery, and once again beckons travelers along the Mother Road. The Chicken Boy Shop and Future Studio Gallery are open on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m.


Galco's owner John Nese and a few happy customers | Photo courtesy of Galco’s Soda Pop Stop, Facebook

Opening on York Boulevard in 1897 as an Italian grocery store, Galco’s changed “flavors” when John F. Nese took the helm of his father’s store in 1995 and lined the shelves with over 500 classic, small-batch, exotic and hard-to-find sodas. With a mission to support small soda makers, Galco’s Soda Pop Stop offers sodas from around the world, as well as traditional brands that use recipes from the 1950s, 60s and 70s with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Galco’s also features 450 unique micro craft beers, 60 types of bottled water, a selection of old-time candies and toys, as well as a full service deli with its famed “Blockbuster” sandwich. In July 2013, Galco's debuted its Soda Creation Station, featuring more than 80 different flavors. You choose your own flavors, add carbonation strength, mix, cap and label a 12 oz. bottle. The combinations are endless - you can make sodas for parties, events and special occasions.

Heritage Square Museum

Heritage Square Museum
Hale House & Valley Knudsen Garden Residence at Heritage Square Museum | Photo courtesy of sggrant, Flickr

Located in adjacent Montecito Heights, Heritage Square Museum  is a living history museum that explores the settlement and development of Southern California during its first 100 years of statehood. The eight historic structures located at the museum were constructed during the Victorian Era. They were saved from demolition and rebuilt at the museum site along the Arroyo Seco. Among the buildings is the Hale House, built in 1887 and originally located at the foot of Mt. Washington in Highland Park, just a few blocks from the museum. The Hale House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 1972. The buildings serve as a perfect background to educate the public about the everyday lives of Southern Californians from the Civil War to the early 20th Century. Guided tours of the museum are supplemented by living history performances, educational programs, hands-on training, exhibitions and special events.


Photo courtesy of Honeywood Vintage, Facebook

After building a following with her online collection of vintage ethnic embroidered clothing, designer and curator Vanessa Dingwell opened Honeywood on York Boulevard in October 2013. On the boutique’s exterior, a striking mural of a mythical West - described as "Frida Kahlo meets Gram Parsons in the desert of Joshua Tree" - invites passers-by to shop Dingwell’s collectible embroidered pieces, textiles, accessories, leather goods, and jewelry. There’s also hand-embroidered folk art from Mexico, Guatemala and Eastern Europe, and Charlie Overbey’s Dude Shop, which features vintage denim and boots for men. Honeywood is also the home of GoldDust Dresses, Dingwell’s line of one-of-a-kind, bohemian maxi dresses with partner Roxana Zal. 


The Judson Studios | Photo courtesy of Michael Locke, Flickr

The Judson Studios is a renowned fine arts studio that specializes in stained glass, located in a historic building on Ave. 66. The studio was founded in 1897 by Manchester native William Lees Judson and his three sons. It moved to its current location in 1920 and is now in its fifth generation of family ownership, currently owned by David Judson. Stained glass works from The Judson Studios can be found across the country and around the world, from residential and commercial projects, to religious spaces of all denominations. Examples of Judson stained glass can be seen at L.A. landmarks such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House and the rotunda skylight at the Natural History MuseumIn addition to stained glass, The Judson Studios also creates works in marble, mosaic, carved and etched glass, furniture and other specialty items. The studio offers workshops as well as tours, which can be booked through the studio's website. The Judson Studios building was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Landmark in 1969, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999.


Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Police Museum, Facebook

The Los Angeles Police Museum opened on York Boulevard in April 1926 as the Highland Park Police Station. The station was closed in 1983 and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) moved its Northeast Division to a new location. The building was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in January 1984, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places two months later. Restored to its original Renaissance Revival style, the museum traces the history of the LAPD with exhibits that include photographs, uniforms, badges, weapons, squad cars, a paddy wagon, and bullet-riddled vehicles.


Lummis House
Lummis House | Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Charles Fletcher Lummis was a famous author, photographer, and an activist for Native American rights and historic preservation. Lummis was the first City Editor of the Los Angeles Times, when the city had a population of only 12,000. He later became the city librarian of the Los Angeles Public Library. In 1907, Lummis founded the Southwest Museum of the American Indian, now known as the Historic Southwest Museum Mt. Washington Campus of the Autry National Center (see below). 

Lummis built his home - named El Alisal after the local sycamore trees - on the west bank of the Arroyo Seco over a 12 year period, from 1898 to 1910. The house reflects Lummis’ love of the American Southwest, with a design inspired by mission architecture and the dwellings of the Pueblo Indians. The south-facing facade is made with stones from the Arroyo. The beginnings of the Arts & Crafts movement can be seen in the hand-made wooden furniture, exposed beams and concrete floors. The Lummis House was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in September 1970, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in May 1971. The Lummis House is operated by the Historical Society of Southern California and open to the public for tours Friday-Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m.


Photo courtesy of Shopclass, Facebook

Located on York Boulevard, Shopclass is a collaboration between an importer of Dutch Mid-Century Modern, an interior designer, and a junker. The multi-faceted furniture store offers a wide assortment of vintage furniture, collectibles and accessories. Shopclass also hosts workshops that teach practical skills so you can revive your own inexpensive furniture gems.


Smith Estate | Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Perched on a hilltop location on El Mio Drive, the Smith Estate is a historic Victorian house built in 1887 and designed in the Queen Anne style. The house was originally built for Judge David Patterson Hatch, and was acquired by Charles Warren Smith, the eventual head of the Los Angeles Railway. The house would remain in the Smith family until the 1960s, hence its name. Michael Gage, who was deputy mayor under Tom Bradley, bought the house in 1988. The current owners are Tim and Mari Parker, who have maintained the Smith Estate in impeccable condition. The house was featured in the 1964 cult classic, Spider Baby, and other films. The Smith Estate was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in April 1975, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in October 1982.


Southwest Museum | Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Now part of the Autry National Center, the Southwest Museum was founded in 1907 by Charles Fletcher Lummis, who collected a vast number of Native American and Pre-Columbian artifacts during his travels and displayed them at the museum when it opened to the public in 1914. Today, the museum houses the second largest collection of Native American objects in the United States, and is widely regarded as one of the finest collections of its kind in the world. Formally known as the Historic Southwest Museum Mt. Washington Campus, the museum offers spectacular views from its hilltop location overlooking the Arroyo Seco. Constructed between 1912-1914, the Spanish-style museum building was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1984, and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004. The museum is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.


Photo courtesy of Wombleton Records, Facebook

Wombleton Records opened on York Boulevard in September 2010 and was named Best Indie Record Store in 2011 by LA Weekly. Wombleton sources original vinyl pressings and rare, used gems from international record-buying trips, with a focus on esoteric and in-demand 45s and LPs. The elegant, comfortable space mixes classic Victorian era with house plants and wood shelves, a look inspired by 1970s interior design books.