Improvements Along First Street in Boyle Heights Begin to Take Shape

La Abuelita de Boyle Heights by Fabian Debora turns a blind eye to your jaywalking. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

La “Abuelita de Boyle Heights” (at Bailey) by Fabian Debora disapproves of your jaywalking. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Don’t you want to take a picture of me and put it on the Internet? a man wearing two casts on his arms and a “Fall Risk” wrist band asked in Spanish.

What happened to your arms? I asked.

I was attacked by witches.

Of course you were. One must be careful out here.

So, are you going to take my picture?

I took one and sent him on his way.

Today, the mission was photographing some of the newly decorated light boxes along 1st Street, not the local characters.

Sidewalk improvements are underway along 1st St. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Sidewalk improvements are definitely underway along 1st St. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The utility box project — the decorating of 9 such boxes by local artists — is part of the $12 million Eastside Access Project intended to enhance pedestrian and bicycle access along the Gold Line route through Boyle Heights. As discussed here previously, while investment in the long-overlooked area is welcome, the Eastside Access Project is not without controversy.

Questions abound about whom the investments are for, the privileging of train over bus transit, the intense Sheriff presence on trains (especially after schools let out), and the focus on beautifying the newly designated arts district rather than addressing some of residents’ long-standing concerns about access to resources. That said, the utility boxes (most of which are completed) are quite lovely and do make the stretch of 1st between the 101 freeway and Soto more enjoyable.

Lilia Ramirez' mural promises flowers and joy to those who ride free. Now, if the city could only convince taggers to offer us more uplifting messages. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Lilia Ramirez’ mural promises flowers and joy to those who ride free, hopefully tempting those stuck in their cars on the 5 fwy. Now, if the city could only convince taggers to offer us more uplifting messages. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

In the press release about the improvements, Councilmember Huizar declared, “Public Art is vitality [sic] important to the life of any great City,” and that he hoped that the new mural ordinance and a growing appreciation of street art would “spur a Citywide movement to…give our talented local artists an opportunity to show the world the amazing artistry that we have here in the City of Los Angeles.”

I hope that it means that the city will look beyond the boundaries of the “arts district” and invest in projects that both tap into the creativity of the local community and enhance their access to arts programming. Or, at least restore to glory earlier treasures, like Ernesto de la Loza’s “Bridges to East L.A.” (below).

Vyal One's piece on St. Louis joins two gorgeous murals already there. One on celebrating Boyle Heights (hidden behind the box) and the sadly faded "Bridges to East L.A." by Ernesto de la Loza (http://www.publicartinla.com/LA_murals/Silverlake/bridges.html)

Vyal One’s piece on St. Louis joins two gorgeous murals already there. One celebrating Boyle Heights (partially hidden behind the box done by de la Loza’s assistants) and the sadly faded “Bridges to East L.A.” by Ernesto de la Loza. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

I hope, too, that it means that the city will look beyond one-time beautification projects and think about the kinds of longer-term investments in the community that will result in a more improved pedestrian environment throughout the area (umm…dealing with Exide and their lead and arsenic emissions, anyone?). Even around the newly-painted light boxes, you are likely to find garbage, tagging, and (occasionally) some form of human waste.

Garbage strewn behind the utility box suggests someone needs to take Blosm's message about pollenating the earth a little more to heart. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Garbage strewn behind the utility box near the 101 fwy suggests someone needs to take Blosm’s message about pollinating the earth a little more to heart. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

While artists Raul Gonzalez, Fabian Debora, Nuke, Lilia Ramirez (LiliFlor), Vyal One, Ricardo Estrada, Blosm, Sonji Mariposa, and Carlos Callejo are doing their part to improve the visible environment, making Boyle Heights stronger as a community means investing in the entire area, not just the stretch non-locals are likely to visit.

The poster in front of Nuke's piece is indicative of some of the issues residents are still waiting to see addressed more comprehensively. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The poster for a rally to fight the over-policing of poor black and brown youth in schools on the pole in front of Nuke’s piece is indicative of some of the issues residents are still waiting to see addressed more comprehensively. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Nuke's piece sits across the street from one of the murals in the area that never fails to make me smile. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Nuke’s piece also sits across the street (State) from one of the murals in the area that never fails to make me smile. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Carlos Callejo's colorful piece greets you at the Soto station. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Carlos Callejo’s colorful piece greets you at the Soto station. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Sonji Mariposa's piece stays true to the translation of her name, "butterfly." Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Sonji Mariposa’s piece at Breed stays true to the translation of her name, “butterfly.” Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Raul Gonzalez' piece is a tribute to members of his family who are musicians as well as the wider Mariachi community. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Raul Gonzalez’ piece is a tribute to members of his family who are musicians as well as the wider Mariachi community. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog