Historic Echo Park
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Calif-Cubano
 #1 

In the early to mid-1960s, Sunset Blvd in "Downtown" Echo Park became the Cuban business center for the newly arriving Cuban emigre es settling in So Cal. From Echo Park Ave to Alvarado there were many Cuban owned businesses. I spent much of my early teen years in the area despite living in Pasadena because my father was co-owner of Mena's Jewelers, then Mena's Toys located at 1702 W. Sunset, the ground floor of Jensen's Rec Center, the toy shop was in the lobby of Jensen's with the entrance by the stairwell. The owners were Olalio Mena and Larry C Gomez-for a few years before relinquishing his share to the Mena family, Olalio and his sons-Jimmy and Richie Mena.

On the same block, between Logan & Lemoyne Sts, heading west was Madrid's Restaurant, a Spanish-Cuban eatery run by Chef Doce who in Cuba was famous for creating the delicious dessert, "tocinillo del cielo", a flan like custard translated to "fatback from heaven" although it was a creamy whipped egg concoction. Further down was a Cuban owned linens and notions shop, on the corner was the small neighborhood 5 and 10 Cent store. Crossing Lemoyne was El Caramelo,a Cuban restaurant and coffee shop, which in the early 1970s closed down and Habana Bakery moved its location there from its original Pico-Alvardo site, they continued the restaurant and expanded the coffee shop to include baked goods. Next to them was Alamar's Jewelry which did extremely well, the Cuban owner Sotero Machin became an important community leader and was a founder of the Cuban Chamber of Commerce, they expanded to open a furniture store, then travel agency as well.

On Glendale Ave beneath the Sunset Blvd bridge was a small jewelry repair shop where several Cuban bench jewelers including the famed musician still active, Orlando Lopez-"Mazacote" did work there for both Alamar's, Mena's and others.

From Jensen's heading east towards Dodger Stadium was the original location of Pioneer Chicken, an extremely popular chain until the early 90s that had as spoke persons, Chick Hearn and Orenthal James Simpson, alto few of them still exist, the first location of Echo Park Ave and Sunset is still going strong. Another block down on Sunset on the north side of the street by McDuff St was the legendary Puerto Rican Restaurant Tonyita's, then just before Stadium Way was a Cuban owned music instrument store Valjee's.

In the 1960s it was common to see Caribbean-Latino ballplayers who came to town to play against the Dodgers walking along Sunset Bl, also whenever a Cuban musician like Celia Cruz came to play Los Angeles they too would visit Echo Park

In 1976, the Cuban Chamber of Commerce was able to get a bust of Cuban Independence War hero and Poet Laureate, Jose Marti in Echo Park,a bust that still stands on the Glendale Avenue side, north end, which is why to this day the Annual Cuban Festival is held in Echo Park around Cuba's traditional independence day, May 20th.

Once again heading west on Sunset past Alvarado towards Silver Lake there was a Cuban night club on Coronado and Sunset named Sans Souci then it became the Havana something, Nights? can't recall, on Coronado and Alvarado-not sure if that is still Echo Park, was the Pan American Restaurant, a short lived establishment of the early to mid-60s which was Los Angeles' first Cuban restaurant. back to Sunset Bl on the bottom of the hill just past Rampart and before getting to Silver Lake Bl was El Batey Bodega, a Cuban owned market.

Once can not talk about Echo Park's past without including the Cuban Connection, I am proud and fortunate to have been there and experience it first hand because of my father's involvement.
Calif-Cubano
 #2 
I wrote <<< on Coronado and Alvarado-not sure if that is still Echo Park, was the Pan American Restaurant, a short lived establishment of the early to mid-60s which was Los Angeles' first Cuban restaurant. >>>>

ooooops. that should be Coronado and Temple, obviously Coronado and Alvarado run parellel to each other and Pico is part of the Union-Pico district where there was also a few Cuban owned businesses, El Colamao Restaurant, Musica Latina and on Vermont near Pico was the first Liborio's Market, now a supermarket chain throughout So Cal, Las Vegas and Metro Denver.
sal valdez
 #3 
i grew up right off sunset on marion ave. in the 60'a. we used to shop at the pioneer market and frequent the businesses close by on sunset, some cuban owned. there was a juwelry store close to Logan. the owner was cuban nd her daughtwe was a classmate of mine at our lady ofLoretto elementary school which is still in the area. across from pioneer market was a great outdoor newstand where i used to buy my comic books.
sal valdez
 #4 
i grew up right off sunset on marion ave. in the 60'a. we used to shop at the pioneer market and frequent the businesses close by on sunset, some cuban owned. there was a jewelry store close to Logan. the owner was cuban and her daughtwe was a classmate of mine at our lady of Loretto elementary school which is still in the area. across from pioneer market was a great outdoor newstand where i used to buy my comic books.
sal valdez
 #5 
on sunset blvd. there was a jewelry store owned by a cuban family. one or more of the children attended our lady of loretto elem. school, where i also attended. any information on this store or family? thanks
Alberto J. Recio
 #6 

I grew up in this neighborhood too! We went to Rosemont Elementary School West of the park on Rosemont and Temple, Virgil Jr. High and Belmont High School. All three of us kids graduated from Ole Crown Hill (Belmont High School), class' of 84, 85 and 86. We lived on 1900 block of Kent Street between Bonnie Brae and Alvarado Street for a while from like.. 1970 to 1974 or so. Then we moved to a house between Kent St and Bellevue at 716 N. Alvarado St. till the mid 80's. Our house was next to an alley but was demolished to make way for the development of an automotive maintenance center. It's still located there now!

I remember one night when they were filming one of the last episodes of "The Blue Night" starring George Kennedy at the Kent Street Market. Traffic was so scarce in them days, that one of the grips on the set had his foot runned over on Alvarado St. He was walking around in the middle of the street, luckily he limped away from that one. He didn't see the car coming. I also remember seeing an episode of CHIPs being filmed in Echo Park Lake..I believe the car drove into the Lake and Ponch or Larry swam in after them for the rescue. Sometime in the mid 70's I recall John Wayne being in the news one evening and the fact that he was fatally ill. I believe it was intestinal cancer. He was being treated at Queen of Angeles Hospital (The Original) on Bellevue near Benton Way or Rosemont. I recall watching the news helicopters circling the hospital and I could watch all this from our front porch on Alvarado St. I believe John Wayne died at the Queen of Angeles Hospital (now The Dream Center). As a young teen my mom took me to the hospital once. We had no insurance and they didn't turn us away. I had swallowed a mouthful of gasoline working on a car I had. The nurse just took my vitals and told my mom to give me some milk. I was belching (Regular) for the rest of the night and managed to survive the scare.

My folks last lived on a few houses or duplexes along Lemoyne Street near Sunset and Logan Elementary. This was while I was in the Navy stationed in San Diego (1987) and my time overseas in Naples, Italy (1988-1996). When I came back from overseas in 1996 a lot had changed in the neighborhood post earthquake and the riots. I have since moved to the High Deserts North of Los Angeles. We do come back to the neighborhood to run into old friends at The Annual Cuban Music Festival. Some years we run into folks that we haven't seen for 15 years or better. I remember back in 1980 the big protest rally that we had around the Lake during The Marielle Boat lift..the protest was to free the refugees. Chants at the March that day were "Pa'riva, Pa bajo Fidel par carajo!" "Down with Fidel!" It was estimated that there were about 40,000 Cubans in Los Angeles County around that time. If you would have seen the presence you would have sworn they were all at Echo Park Lake on that day. Cubiches from all over L. A. County. We are still significantly small numbers here in Los Angeles. To think that at one time, most of our concentration was right here in Echo Park. However, Echo Park was not selected to be named Little Havana (West). Instead our Philipino counterpart have always had a greater presence...hence Philipino Town.

Yes I remember that streach of Sunset very well...do you remember the (Kenney or Canada Shoes?) that was next to Woolworth run by an older Cuban man and his wife? I can't remember his name. Then across the Street from the Woolworth was a little record store run by a blonde Cuban lady, she was close friend of my mom and we use to get a lot of our 45's and Lp's there. This was long before the big chain Record stores got really big. I believe the lady's name was Elda and the Store was Pacific Records. This store has been a hair dresser's salon and a clothes shop in recent years. At the middle of the block on the Southside between Mena's and Woolworth was "El Madrid" Restaurante as you stated. I remember the tall Old waiter that had been there forever it seemed. His name was "Amador" a really nice sweet old guy. My dad even waitered there for a spell...not more than a month or so. What he really liked to do was hang out and sing old Bolleros there and at El Carmelo. My favorite dish on the menu was their Cuban/Spanish Style shrimp fried rice. Last time I was in the neighborhood I noticed that the Old yellow square sign minus the Madrid name was still on the building. It use to point downstairs to the restaurant.

We got a few of our early Christmas presents at Mena's. The real early ones, since we were dirt poor at La Caridad over on Temple Street near Vidal's Restaurant. Remember Gerry's Department Store (though it wasn't Cuban) you could get good clothes right in the neighborhood without going downtown or to the infamous Glendale Galleria. Gerry's was "The Bomb" on Echo park and Sunset caddy corner from Pioneer Market. I remember the old Pioneer Market building that came right up to the edge of the sidewalk. It had those old school corner stones at every entrance and corner of the building. Then they knocked it down to make the new market. I use to love that Pioneer Chicken and those deep fried burritos for less than a buck. Around the Corner from Pioneer Market going towards Logan was a Barber shop that I use to use...(Andy's?) my main Barber Shop was Robert's Barber Shop next door to Studio Uno, West of Alvarado on Sunset. Next door to the Barber Shop was Louie's Motorcycle Shop. I remember many a times sitting in that Barber's Chair when the Bikers next door would come over and have a good story to share with Robert. Robert was a class act of a Barber, Old school all the way. Straight Razor, honing strap, that nice warm lather machine. I would come up from San Diego and still get my haircut with Robert even after I joined the Navy. He was the best! This was also the place where I copped a look at my first Playboy Magazine.

Around the corner from Mena's Sporting Goods was also..where everybody in the neighborhood got rid of what ails them it was a clinic...Clinica Hacamimi?! (forgive my spelling if it's not right). The one thing about Dr. Hacamimi...you were not leaving there without getting a shot. He cured what ailed you! West of Echo Park Avenue near La Vitta Terrace was our Dentist. Dr. Adalberto Ramos. He was a Dentist that practiced in Cuba and came here and reestablished his practice. I remember when I was in the Navy. They were impressed with some of my dental work including my one prostetic teeth. I thought he was a fine dentist..he never talked down to you and I was a kid. He made you feel at ease.

Now it's all history. The neighborhood has changed a lot. People had a little more pride. The street were cleaner than they are now. Now you have all these vendors selling corn cob everywhere. They throw the rubbish on the street..wrappers, drink cups you name it. All the name brand stores are now some type of low end 99 cent store. Carmelo changed hands too many times and the quality of food went down the drain. It isn't even Carmelo anymore. Graffiti has always been a slight problem but I think it is really out of hand and degrades the neighborhood. Portos Bakery started out back in the early 70's near Silverlake and Sunset. They're doing really good although no longer there...they are in Glendale!


Echo Park is going through change, change is constant. Some change for the better and other not so much. All I hope is that Echo Park never loses its charm and that organizations such as yours help preserve it's significant past in LA history. I know that for Cubans in Los Angeles especially those of us that came here in the 60's or early 70's. Echo Park will forever be a very special place in our hearts.

buenos recuerdos!

Very respectfully,

Alberto Recio

 

Alberto J. Recio
 #7 

I grew up in this neighborhood too! We went to Rosemont Elementary School West of the park on Rosemont and Temple, Virgil Jr. High and Belmont High School. All three of us kids graduated from Ole Crown Hill (Belmont High School), class' of 84, 85 and 86. We lived on 1900 block of Kent Street between Bonnie Brae and Alvarado Street for a while from like.. 1970 to 1974 or so. Then we moved to a house between Kent St and Bellevue at 716 N. Alvarado St. till the mid 80's. Our house was next to an alley but was demolished to make way for the development of an automotive maintenance center. It's still located there now!

I remember one night when they were filming one of the last episodes of "The Blue Night" starring George Kennedy at the Kent Street Market. Traffic was so scarce in them days, that one of the grips on the set had his foot runned over on Alvarado St. He was walking around in the middle of the street, luckily he limped away from that one. He didn't see the car coming. I also remember seeing an episode of CHIPs being filmed in Echo Park Lake..I believe the car drove into the Lake and Ponch or Larry swam in after them for the rescue. Sometime in the mid 70's I recall John Wayne being in the news one evening and the fact that he was fatally ill. I believe it was intestinal cancer. He was being treated at Queen of Angeles Hospital (The Original) on Bellevue near Benton Way or Rosemont. I recall watching the news helicopters circling the hospital and I could watch all this from our front porch on Alvarado St. I believe John Wayne died at the Queen of Angeles Hospital (now The Dream Center). As a young teen my mom took me to the hospital once. We had no insurance and they didn't turn us away. I had swallowed a mouthful of gasoline working on a car I had. The nurse just took my vitals and told my mom to give me some milk. I was belching (Regular) for the rest of the night and managed to survive the scare.

My folks last lived on a few houses or duplexes along Lemoyne Street near Sunset and Logan Elementary. This was while I was in the Navy stationed in San Diego (1987) and my time overseas in Naples, Italy (1988-1996). When I came back from overseas in 1996 a lot had changed in the neighborhood post earthquake and the riots. I have since moved to the High Deserts North of Los Angeles. We do come back to the neighborhood to run into old friends at The Annual Cuban Music Festival. Some years we run into folks that we haven't seen for 15 years or better. I remember back in 1980 the big protest rally that we had around the Lake during The Marielle Boat lift..the protest was to free the refugees. Chants at the March that day were "Pa'riva, Pa bajo Fidel par carajo!" "Down with Fidel!" It was estimated that there were about 40,000 Cubans in Los Angeles County around that time. If you would have seen the presence you would have sworn they were all at Echo Park Lake on that day. Cubiches from all over L. A. County. We are still significantly small numbers here in Los Angeles. To think that at one time, most of our concentration was right here in Echo Park. However, Echo Park was not selected to be named Little Havana (West). Instead our Philipino counterpart have always had a greater presence...hence Philipino Town.

Yes I remember that streach of Sunset very well...do you remember the (Kenney or Canada Shoes?) that was next to Woolworth run by an older Cuban man and his wife? I can't remember his name. Then across the Street from the Woolworth was a little record store run by a blonde Cuban lady, she was close friend of my mom and we use to get a lot of our 45's and Lp's there. This was long before the big chain Record stores got really big. I believe the lady's name was Elda and the Store was Pacific Records. This store has been a hair dresser's salon and a clothes shop in recent years. At the middle of the block on the Southside between Mena's and Woolworth was "El Madrid" Restaurante as you stated. I remember the tall Old waiter that had been there forever it seemed. His name was "Amador" a really nice sweet old guy. My dad even waitered there for a spell...not more than a month or so. What he really liked to do was hang out and sing old Bolleros there and at El Carmelo. My favorite dish on the menu was their Cuban/Spanish Style shrimp fried rice. Last time I was in the neighborhood I noticed that the Old yellow square sign minus the Madrid name was still on the building. It use to point downstairs to the restaurant.

We got a few of our early Christmas presents at Mena's. The real early ones, since we were dirt poor at La Caridad over on Temple Street near Vidal's Restaurant. Remember Gerry's Department Store (though it wasn't Cuban) you could get good clothes right in the neighborhood without going downtown or to the infamous Glendale Galleria. Gerry's was "The Bomb" on Echo park and Sunset caddy corner from Pioneer Market. I remember the old Pioneer Market building that came right up to the edge of the sidewalk. It had those old school corner stones at every entrance and corner of the building. Then they knocked it down to make the new market. I use to love that Pioneer Chicken and those deep fried burritos for less than a buck. Around the Corner from Pioneer Market going towards Logan was a Barber shop that I use to use...(Andy's?) my main Barber Shop was Robert's Barber Shop next to Studio Uno, West of Alvarado on Sunset. Next door to the Barber Shop was Louie's Motorcycle Shop. I remember many a times sitting in that Barber's Chair when the Bikers next door would come over and have a good story to share with Robert. Robert was a class act of a Barber, Old school all the way. Straight Razor, honing strap, that nice warm lather machine. I would come up from San Diego and still get my haircut with Robert even after I joined the Navy. He was the best! This was also the place where I copped a look at my first Playboy Magazine.

Around the corner from Mena's Sporting Goods was also..where everybody in the neighborhood got rid of what ails them it was a clinic...Clinica Hacamimi?! (forgive my spelling if it's not right). The one thing about Dr. Hacamimi...you were not leaving there without getting a shot. He cured what ailed you! West of Echo Park Avenue near La Vitta Terrace was our Dentist. Dr. Adalberto Ramos. He was a Dentist that practiced in Cuba and came here and reestablished his practice. I remember when I was in the Navy. They were impressed with some of my dental work including my one prostetic tooth. I thought he was a fine dentist..he never talked down to you and I was a kid. He made you feel at ease.

Now it's all history. The neighborhood has changed a lot. People had a little more pride. The street were cleaner than they are now. Now you have all these vendors selling corn cob everywhere. They throw the rubbish on the street..wrappers, drink cups you name it. All the name brand stores are now some type of low end 99 cent store. Carmelo changed hands too many times and the quality of food went down the drain. It isn't even Carmelo anymore. Graffiti has always been a slight problem but I think it is really out of hand and degrades the neighborhood. Portos Bakery started out back in the early 70's near Silverlake and Sunset. They're doing really good although no longer there...they are in Glendale!


Echo Park is going through change, change is constant. Some change for the better and other not so much. All I hope is that Echo Park never loses its charm and that organizations such as yours help preserve it's significant past in LA history. I know that for Cubans in Los Angeles especially those of us that came here in the 60's or early 70's. Echo Park will forever be a very special place in our hearts.

buenos recuerdos!

Very respectfully,

Alberto Recio

 

Sheila
 #8 
Hola, he estado leyendo este post y me parece muy interesante, alguien pudiera decirme quienes son los actuales duenos de la joyeria Leon diamons en sunset blv  y el Batey Bodega. Gracias
Eliza
 #9 
Hola Me gustaria saber de la familia que eran duenos o todavia lo son del Batey. Son de apellido Pack. Saludos
Thomas Jentzsch
 #10 
Bumping this topic, because we need your help.

As we found out just yesterday, the Mena family was probably behind an Atari 2600 game (Air Raid from Men-A-Vision) which now became a high priced (>30k!) collectors icon. The game must have been created around 1982. Now we are trying to get some new background information about the game's origin.

Do you know anything about this game or video games being sold their in general? Or can you give us any additional information about the Mena family or their shops?

Thanks in advance!
Thomas Jentzsch
RAUL PAVON
 #11 
Don't know if this is the right person or place but Mena toys owner if I can remember when I was a kid he was my god father according to my mom I used to visit him downstairs when I was a kid hope his family is doing well wonder if he is still alive
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