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Neighborhoods: Exploring the rich history and culture of Boyle Heights

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Take Two's new series, Neighborhoods, hopes to change what we know, or think we know, about the city. First up, exploring Boyle Heights.

Millions of people live in the city, occupying diverse neighborhoods like Little Tokyo, Echo Park and Glassell Park.  But how much of the city do you really know? Take Two's new series, Neighborhoods,  hopes to change what we know, or think we know about the city. First up, Boyle Heights. Tess Vigeland Reports. 

You can't miss Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights. There's a large gazebo just outside the rainbow-hued entrance to a Gold Line subway stop, and murals cover the walls outside a bookstore and frozen yogurt stand.

When this piece of land was part of Mexico, it was known as El Paredon Blanco, or white bluffs. It's current namesake, Irishman Andrew Boyle, almost didn't make it through the Mexican American War. 

"He was from Ireland, they came looking for their father, he and his brothers and sisters. Their father left Ireland, and about a year later they went on a ship and they came to seek their father, which they never found," said Diana Ybarra, President of the Boyle Heights Historical Society. "Then he connects with an Irish group in San Patricio, Texas. They're fighting in the Mexican American War, and Andrew Boyle is captured along with several other prominent American soldiers. The Mexican soldiers are ready to shoot them in front of the firing squad, but apparently the family of Andrew Boyle, his sister, had been hospitable to the soldiers when they went to her home. So right before they're ready to pick him up and put him in front of the firing squad, a Mexican lieutenant comes and says, 'Today is your lucky day, you're going to live.'"

Andrew Boyle eventually made his way to California and paid $4,000 for 22 acres on the bluffs, where his neighbors, the Lopez and Rubio families already had farmsteads. 

"If you were to look at the old maps you would notice that the property is a hillside, and in the old days we had a free-flowing river," said Ybarra. "Just down the street our other landmark, which, this is really interesting because we had Irishmen Andrew Boyle, then we had the Lopez family, but we also had French Basque families because there was sheep herding right up here on Mt. Pleasant."

Boyle Heights was also home to Jewish and Japanese communities in the 1940s and '50s. Ybarra reads from a list of names of kids who, along with her grandparents, graduated from Roosevelt High School in the early 1940s: Greenberg, Cohen, Gless, Shapiro, Sugimoto, Arias.

"First Street, if you're looking South, was the Russian Flats at one time," said Ybarra. "In the 1940s when my parents were here, they were assimilated into the American culture, so when we were brought up we were very mainstream American and we lost a lot of our culture from our heritage, the Mexican culture. What I see now is the complete opposite. You have generations and they're bringing their culture here and almost turning things around so that they're not focused on the American culture, they're maintaining their culture, or they're being bicultural."

Three things you should do in Boyle Heights:

"Of course besides stopping at Mariachi Plaza, take a stroll along Boyle Avenue where you will see many remnants from the early history of the late 1800s, such as the Hollenbeck Palms, Hollenbeck Park and also venture up to the Breed Street Shul. There are quite a few restaurants on first street we're right across from one of the famous ones, La Serenata De Garibaldi, El Tepeyac right up here on Evergreen Avenue. It always has lines and lines of people waiting for their famous Hollenbeck burritos, which I think would feed a family of five," said Ybarra. 

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