Highland Park – For a brief period in the 1970s, three collectives in this neighborhood were furious epicenters of Chicano Art – the Centro de Arte Público and the Mechicano Art Center – both on Figueroa – and Corazon Productions on Aldama Street.
Applications have now been filed with Cultural Affairs Department to declare two of those location to be cultural historical monuments. An application for the third location is currently being developed.
The move to highlight the neighborhood’s Chicano art history comes amid neighborhood gentrification and rising rents.
“There is increasingly a feeling of a sense of displacement and erasure of Latino identity in our community,” said Alexandra Madsen, who filed the first two historical-cultural applications on behalf of the Highland Park Heritage Trust.
A chunk of Highland Park is included in a historic district that is focused on neighborhood history and architecture from 1886 to 1961. But that era “does not include the many significant events that comprised the Chicano Movement in Los Angeles,” Madsen said. “This leaves culturally significant places in Chicano history at risk.”
Madsen filed applications early in September for the former sites of the Mechicano Art Center at 5337 N. Figueroa St. and the Centro de Arte Publico at 5605 N. Figueroa St. A nomination for the former Corazon Productions location on 5336 Aldama St. is now in the works, as the Heritage Trust seeks more supporting information and documentation.
Mechanico Arts Center came here from Whittier Boulevard in East L.A. in 1975, moving into a building that had originally been constructed in 1922 as an auto repair shop. The center led an active period from 1975 to 1978, focusing primarily on educating children and young adults, the application said. That corner location now contains a Feli-Mex Market.
Centro de Arte Publico had a more professional and political focus. Arriving here in 1977, Centro had members who ended up completing art project for the city and whose work has ended up in private collections and museum. These artists incude John Valadez, Judithe Hernández, Dolores Guerrero Cruz, Barbara Carrasco, and Carlos Almaraz.
The space was also decorated with pictures of Chairman Mao and Ho Chi Minh, and a group would meet there once a week to read from Karl Marx’s “Manifesto.”
This location remained active as an arts collective only until 1978, when Centro moved its headquarters downtown. One member, however – Richard Duardo – continued living in the Highland Park property, as it evolved into an underground venue for punk musicians in the 1980s. Duardo ended up creating his own record label called Fatima Recordz.
Currently, it’s the location of Stones Throw Records.
Corazon Productions developed when artist Carlos Almaraz and his girlfriend Patricia Parra moved from East L.A. and rented the Aldama Street house, according to a SurveyLA statement from 2015. It soon became an active artist commune where many Chicano artists would gather for various activities. Eventually Almaraz, Parra, and a law student named Guillermo Bejarano banded together with other artists and students and bought the house. Artists who participated in this community included Frank Romero, Gilbert Luján, Roberto de la Rocha and Judithe Hernández.
Often, properties are nominated for historical status when they are otherwise threatened with demolition or development. That’s not the case here, Madsen said.
“At the HPHT, we have sought to expand from a retroactive response … to proactive preservation,” Madsen said. “We strive to highlight and preserve historic spaces before they are threatened in order to honor and maintain the culture of our community.”