Hello. There is no single “red hill.” The hilly neighborhoods of Echo Park as well as Silver Lake were known to many people as Red Hill or Red Gulch because of the large number of communists, socialists and other progressive activists who lived here during the 1930, 1940s and 1950s. The color red was associated with communists as well as socialist, who were sometimes called Reds and their children “Red Diaper Babies.” We have several bits and pieces of Red Hill/Red Gulch history but we do not have a comprehensive story about the people and that era. So, we welcome the Echo Park Film Center’s help in this area. Here is one piece of information. It comes from an interview of a man, Joseph Schwartz, who went to Elysian Heights Elementary School (which is in Echo Park) shortly after World War II. His parents were labor organizers and this is what he recalls of his school.
Michaels: This is the twenty-fourth of July, 1999, and I'm talking with Joseph Schwartz, or Joe Schwartz. OK. So, tell me about your background: [your] folks, how you got into the movement.
Schwartz: I grew up in a trade union, communist party background, like many others. I was born in New York. I was on my father's shoulders in the May Day Parades in Union Square when I was three. I had quite a standard political education of kids of political activists of the period. I spoke for Henry Wallace in my fifth grade class, in the Elysian Heights Grammar School in the Echo Park region of Los Angeles. And in my elementary school, Henry Wallace [who many people considered too friendly with the communist run Soviet Union] won the mock election by a vote of eighteen to two.
Michaels: Was that you? Or was that the group that you were with?
Schwartz: Well, it wasn't particularly me because I was simply organized to be the speaker, and there were a lot of really good organizers even at age ten. Kids who knew how to caucus, and it was a quite progressive teacher with a--. It was a part of L.A. that was very political. It was called Red Gulch.
Michaels: OK. (Laughter.)
Schwartz: And one learned--. Well, there was an Australian teacher who was progressive and there was the head teacher, who was quite reactionary and tried to fire her, and the PTA, of course, was largely controlled--. I mean it was such a progressive environment that the PTA was able to save her job. (Inaudible.) The head teacher was isolated rather than the progressive teacher.
Michaels: This was a public school?
Schwartz: A public school. And it wasn't that--. There was a lot of fear; it was the McCarthy period. This would have been, what, 1948, and it hadn't really started. But forty-nine, fifty was a scary time for, I think, both my folks. My father was in business so he wasn't likely to be arrested, but my mother was a teacher, and she could have lost her job, possibly been arrested.
Click here to read more of this interview.