Jenny Burman Jenny Burman
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from Echo Park

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From grassland to playground

I have always loved the look of Elysian Heights Elementary: the classic old, original school house, a one storey, narrow building with high ceilings -- it sits like it's been there forever. The main hallway is lit by schoolhouse lights like the ones people bought ten years ago for their homes from salvage (including me). And, of course, the walls and sidewalks are adorned with Room 8 (the cat) tributes, including a large, fading wall painting of the tabby. The trees around the playground are huge and leafy in warm months. It all looks sleepy and somewhat timeless. It's tempting to wonder if it's karma: the fact that within twenty-four hours two people, unprompted, told me about days gone by at Baxter and Echo Park Ave., the site of Elysian Heights Elementary. What kind of karma, I wouldn't be sure. My friend Steve Anker mentioned that there once was a dairy at Baxter and EP Ave. Cows. And, he said, the food market at Duane was a local-produce market--back in the 1920s and earlier. Then, yesterday, by chance I was talking to Sal Castro on the phone. Sal was a high school teacher for about three decades -- he's famous for having helped the kids organize the 1968 Los Angeles school blowouts, in which Latino students demanded better public education. They were reenacted recently in the 2006 HBO film Walkout. Sal lives near Dodger Stadium, and he told me that in the '50s he used to run Friday night dance parties at Elysian Heights Elementary.

Sal said:

It was mostly teen dances…well attended. It was cute. We never had any problems, never had any gang problems – in those days they had a code of ethics…. It was sponsored by the L.A. youth services… I remember there was a cat…[the famous Room 8] Elysian was so little that the principal ran two schools. They had a little statue of the cat… Every Friday, the kids decided what songs I was going to play the following week. In those days the records looked like donuts....

There are no more Friday-night dance parties at Elysian, and it's been a long time since I have played a 45. The grocery at Duane sells milk from cows in Idaho. I'd say something like plus ca change... but it isn't so.

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