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A Los Angeles Primer: Echo Park

First came the movies, then came the road-builders, then came the criminals, and now come the hipsters: people tell this same basic story about several Los Angeles neighborhoods, but half the time I hear it, I hear it with Echo Park as the subject. Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Kops anointed the place with the glamor of classic film comedy; then the freeways walled it off, if for the most part psychologically, from the wider city; then the neighborhood came to host the troubled young Latino culture in which Allison Anders set “Mi Vida Loca,” still the accepted cinematic text of modern Echo Park. But that movie came out in 1993, and the intervening twenty years have rendered much of its setting almost as unfamiliar as the one Chaplin’s Tramp stumbled gracefully through nearly eight decades before. Maybe Anders shot scenes of Mousie and Sad Girl ordering craft beer and kale salads and left them on the cutting room floor, but I doubt it.

You can eat such salads at Echo Park Lake, where a well-known Hollywood brunch joint just opened a cafĂ© to feed those made hungry by pedal-boating. In the time I’ve spent in Echo Park, I’ve sensed nothing more threatening in the offing than the prospect of falling out of one of those boats, a spill that, while gross, wouldn’t threaten your life. Besides, if you’d taken it years ago, when the lake counted as just one more of Los Angeles’ characteristically forlorn bodies of water, you’d have found it even grosser. As far as the neighborhood surrounding it has come in the past couple of decades, the newly re-engineered, re-landscaped, rehabilitated lake strikes even me, who never really experienced the bad old Echo Park, as incongruously pleasant. The same goes for media-savvy evangelist and noted Los Angeles historical character Aimee Semple McPherson’s Angelus Temple, which for ninety years has exuded its impression of vast white sweep right there on the other side of Park Avenue. If a day of water-pedaling, worship, or both, puts you in the mood for one of those aforementioned specialty ales, you won’t have to go far down Sunset to find them.

Read the whole thing at KCET Departures.

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