Saturday, November 19, 2011

Manny's Lincoln Heights


This is Manny Rodriguez. Other than the first six years of his life spent in Mexico, Lincoln Heights (or at least that same zip code) has always been his home. He's a community activist, preservationist, and talented raconteur.

His childhood was spent in a one room apartment, here, on the second floor.


“And by one room," he said, "I don’t mean one bedroom, one living room, one dining room; I mean, one room.” And the one room was on one floor that his family shared with 12 other people.

"As embarrassed as I was to let my friends know where I lived, I realize we were relatively happy there. Everyone looked after everyone else. We celebrated holidays together, and would set up a huge table for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I had a good childhood."

It was the early 70’s. He learned English by watching cartoons (if I'm not mistaken, he called it the Bullwinkle Academy), and attended local school. Well, sometimes he attended school. And sometimes he went to a Dodger game. The stadium was and still is within walking distance.

After school and on weekends, he and his buddies explored old railroad stations and junk yards. For pocket money, they stole ice cream bars off the truck at the nearby Swiss Miss dairy and sold them to families picnicking at the park.

Manny and his friends played baseball at a field near the railroad tracks, the same field where teenagers, members of the Eastlake Gang, played handball. Though interaction was minimal, the gangsters made sure the boys weren’t bothered.



The men who camped by the railroad tracks (“We called them hoboes"), also watched them play. "When they were sober, they'd give us pointers, as in -- ‘Hey, that’s not the way to catch a ball. Here, let me show you.’”

Like the gangsters, the hoboes kept a protective eye on “their boys,” and chased out anyone who might be trouble.

Manny stayed in Lincoln Heights through high school and college. He married a girl from Lincoln Heights and now they have a son and a daughter, and a house in the hills of Montecito Heights. (His children live a very structured, protected life. It's hard when you have a dad who knows all the tricks, because that means you get away with nothing.)



Though now in a private high school, Manny's daughter attended the local Sacred Heart Elementary School, as had her mother before her. Manny has a friend from childhood who is dying of ALS. The friend commissioned this mural as a legacy to his community and his wife and children. It's on the wall at the Sacred Heart playground. Throughout, it tells two histories --one public, one personal. That's the man and his family at the mural's heart.

Going back and forth to work, I must have driven through Lincoln heights 3,000 times of more.


And I’d notice things – intriguing, mysterious, beautiful, messy, and ugly things -- but not with undivided attention. Whatever I saw was in direct competition with the car radio, phone, pager, and my own eternal internal dialog. I never stopped because, for reasons I can no longer fathom, it seemed vitally important that I rush to meet the stress waiting for me on the other side.

"What's the story behind the park at the base of the Broadway Bridge?" I'd wonder, driving past. Then a month later, "What's the story with the park at the base of the Broadway Bridge," too distracted to just stop the car and settle this question once and for all.


Manny saw one of my posts on Lincoln Heights recently and sent an email.

"If you want a tour, let me know. I love to show off my community."

So yes, I said. Yes.



He's giving me a second tour in December. I figure I should have at least another 2,999 questions left to ask.

36 comments:

  1. Manny's fascinating story, your photos - wow what a fabulous post! So glad he got in touch and you took a tour. Wish I could join you in December for his next one. As the 70s hit says, I want more more more!

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  2. I'm blown away. Absolutely great.

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  3. "Manny saw one of my posts on Lincoln Heights recently and sent an email." What??

    I guess I must've been out of town, or just out of it, for those past LH posts since I don't recall those at all! But now I see - some of your best work! I look 4ward to your next installment on that neighborhood.

    Btw, KB, does LH have a blogger? ;)

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  4. So glad to see this. Manny is quite the storyteller and your photos do justice to his tour. Happy to see the Neighborhood Music Settlement. I took lessons there long ago.

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  5. Any kid could do a lot worse than learn English from Rocky, Bullwinkle and Mr. Peabody. Boris and Natasha not so much.

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  6. I did stop at Plaza De La Raza back in the mid-80's

    Just before the first book of her existence was published...

    Just before Maddona knew who she was...


    I saw a one person show of Frieda Kahlo, in the Park's boat house...

    True Story

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  7. And give Manny a heads up for my next visit as well!
    Great story you great raconteur you!

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  8. You'd love it, Virg. It's thanks to people like Manny that Lincoln Heights is hanging on to pieces of its remarkable history (and some of the surrounding open space, as well). Katie, I'll let you know the date, just in case you find yourself down south.

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  9. Manny is the greatest--really loves his neighborhood and puts his actions where his heart is. I like the way you make the post about him because he deserves it, and he would never do it that way himself. He would make it about the neighborhood, the history, the people.

    I'm so glad you posted this because now I can post some of my pics from the tour.

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  10. If you're taking people along, sign me up.

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  11. It's nice to find someone who knows about an area. Beautiful photos.

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  12. "The park at the base of the Broadway Bridge." Do you mean the long park as you cross over toward downtown? At one time it was the rail yard. A few years ago part of it was planted with corn as part of an art-related thing I believe. For many years it was just a big vacant field, then they planted grass in one tiny area and put a picnic table there. Later they put in more grass and made it a park. I observed all this from the Gold Line.

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  13. I'll sign you up Earl.

    No, the park on the other (east) side of the bridge, the one with the pool. Apparently that pool has always only been 3-1/2 feet deep because it's so near the tracks they're afraid of flooding. There's an underground tunnel that leads to a small park on the other side. When Manny first moved here, they had tennis courts that no one ever used. Now it's a playground.

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  14. OK, I see where you mean. Google maps calls it "Downey Recreation Center." Seems to have two parts.

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  15. Richard Rodriguez's "Aria" is a fine essay on your and Manny's point about "two histories --one public, one personal," though RR focuses on two languages, which amount to two histories. It's so calm, wise, and appealing--it should be required reading for dual-language-phobes.

    Nice story here!

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  16. It's lovely to meet Manny. His warm and generous nature shows through the invitation he sent you, let alone the rest of it. Enjoy your next visit with him ~ looks like you'll have quite the entourage!

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  17. Manny's full of local knowledge, and knows almost all the people in the area, it seems. He's truly a pillar of the community there. Seems like kids in the good old days had so much fun, running wild.

    I loved the tour, and learnt so much. He was such an interesting guide.

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  18. Great story AH. Makes you wonder just what we, the collective , can deal with when we have no choices, other than "paper or plastic?". Thank g, no choice there no more neither...Thanks. th

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  19. What an excellent post, with Manny's story and your photos! So well done!

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  20. Wow, that's fabulous.
    Banjo-am such a fan of RR--will have to look up the essay--

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  21. for a sec i thought a baseball outfielder suddenly took an interest in Lincoln Heights. but this is even better, a true homegrown community activist. thanks for sharing his tour!

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  22. Wow, I had dinner at that old house just Tuesday night, my first time ever in Lincoln Heights. Wonderful to learn about the neighborhood through Manny's tour.

    My dad's name is Manny. Funny, he used to sneak out of school to see the Dodgers back in Brooklyn. He talks about his old neighborhood with the same pride as Manny Rodriquez. Great post, Karin.

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  23. Banjo & Des, I'll have to add that book to the list.

    Alex & Susan & Roberta, yes, everyone who has the chance should put on the brakes next time they're in the neighborhood and explore. Next time we'll be going up some of those steep streets and take a look at the old houses and mansions, some of which date back to the 1800's.

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  24. Oh, and Petrea will be posting some of the LH photos all next week.

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  25. This is such a great post, Karin - you have this uncanny ability of perfectly juxtaposing humor with poignancy in all of your writings. Wish we had more Mannys in this dissonant and ever more contentious world of ours! Very much looking forward to your next update on LH.

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  26. Susan: you had dinner at that old Victorian on Broadway? Tell us more! It seemed like such an interesting place. I like your story about your dad, too.

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  27. The old Victorian is a restaurant, Susan, or you just knocked on the door and asked for dinner? Either way, what kind of food?

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  28. Hi Karin. Petrea sent me over here, and I'm so glad she did. What a wonderful story, I enjoyed it very much.

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  29. It's an intentional community that hosts all sorts of funky events: http://thechurchoffashion.com/main/

    The dinner I went to was a fundraiser for NELA:
    http://nela-transition.wikispaces.com/

    I didn't know about HM157 or NELA, but heard about dinner though an Arroyo Food Co-op connection. Vegan, locally produced of course.

    Looks like they have community dinners every Tuesday night:
    https://www.facebook.com/TheArroyoLowdown?sk=wall#!/TuesdayDinners

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  30. Historical Monument 157. Interesting.

    http://www.laweekly.com/bestof/2009/award/best-underground-date-night-722222/

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  31. Of course I have to comment on your excellent photos and then there are those squiggly bits in between them...

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  32. I know, PJ! What's up with that? I've written a very strong email to Blogger: "Please explain the incomprehensible letters showing up betwixt and between my latest over-exposed photos."

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  33. What a great way to see and learn about one of the old sections of LA with such interesting history!!!

    Manny sounds like a delightful guide!!! (and a wonderful person!!!)

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  34. What a beautiful story. I can't wait for the second part, although I have a feeling there are many more parts...

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  35. It was my pleasure to walk the streets of Lincoln Heights with three lovely ladies at my side. I had a great time pointing out our 'hood's share of cool architecture, art, dives and more. I get a kick in watching others discover my backyard and I always see something new, too. I'm currently working with a couple of LH life-long residents in creating a lesson plan of the history of this community and offering it to the local schools. I can't wait for the next tour!!

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