(Expanded from an article published in Epian Ways August 2007)
The Semi-Tropical Spiritualists’ Tract is a hidden oasis amidst humankind’s wholesale assault on nature. “This is an uninterrupted space from Elysian Park all the way through to our hill,” says Cheryl Parisi, a resident of 25 years. “So all the wildlife is able to traverse from Elysian Park; up along the ridge, which you can see [from] Riverside; and they just come straight into this whole open area. So it’s really magnificent: there are hawks, owls. (We have an owl in the neighborhood.)” The area also has protected trees, including California Black Walnuts.
Cindy Ortiz, another long-time resident, says that one of her neighbors can hear coyotes being born every spring. She herself witnesses another spring phenomenon: “the carpet of morning doves as [they’re] feeding.”
However, this wildlife corridor would be truncated if developer and landowner Henry Nunez implements his plans for 15 two-story homes on two acres in the hillside at Allesandro and El Moran streets. This project has faced harsh opposition by neighbors, and this developer has presented compromises: he has scaled the number of planned units down from 21, he’s eliminated a road that would have cut into the hillside, and reduced the size of a retaining wall.
Yet, during a public presentation of these plans last January, one audience member likened the proposed homes to Orange County, another said the retaining wall was “like a medieval fort.” “Go away,” said a Spiritualists’ Tract resident, evoking applause. (For additional information on this meeting—and pictures of the land—see: http://redcarproperty.blogspot.com/2007_02_01_archive.html
Ortiz is afraid Nunez could also develop the third acre that he owns, which features protected Coast Live Oaks. “He always talks about donating some of the land to the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy, but he hasn’t made an attempt, and we’re going on three years now.”
There is also some controversy about the density of the project. “He wants to distort small lot sub-division,” says Parisi. “Small lot subdivision was created to allow for the development of small houses on small lots, but he wants to develop a condolike development, but using small lot sub-division, so there’ll be like an inch between each structure, but [with] the same roof.”
Parisi points out several drawbacks to new housing in this area: the close proximity to the Glendale (2) Freeway; tagging in the vicinity; “narrow, substandard streets” on the hill; risk of fire; and possibly unstable earth, which for now is retained by tree roots.
Many Echo Park residents, including some long-timers, have been unaware of this hidden oasis, which is obscured by eucalyptus trees on Allesandro at Rosebud Ave., but more and more are discovering it--whereupon they feel compelled to join the fight. “I would suggest writing Council President Garcetti [and] Mitch O’Farrel and let them know how you feel,” says Ortiz, who hopes the land can be purchased by the city. “I think there are some propositions out there, [for which] the funds will be ready in a year or so, that we can seriously look into.”
Parisi’s “ideal solution” is for the acreage to be “held as park land for the community. Maybe the trails could be developed a little bit more, so there could be a walk from Elysian Park all the way to here.” Ortiz underscores the lack of green space for the children of the community, a community that has two elementary schools (i.e., Allesandro Elementary School and Clifford Street School).
The Semi-Tropical Spiritualists’ Tract got its name from a colony of modern spiritualists who resided there starting in about 1911. “Where this developer wants to develop, there was a garden there at one time, and they used the garden as a form of modern spiritualism,” Ortiz says. “They could meditate, they could teach, they could have tours, etc.”
Many early residents were also progressives. “My house was built in 1928,” says Ortiz, “Cheryl’s was built in ‘26, and the woman who built Cheryl’s house had a significant partner. So early in the 1920s it was also recognized as a place where lesbians and gay people lived.”
Adds Parisi, “These elderly gay couples that have been on the hill forever, living their lives. Patsy was forced to leave at [age] 90. I used to go visit with her. I just adored her. She was kind of this salty old progressive, just a wonderful women. She told me that the women did a lot of physical labor themselves in building the houses.”
Artist Paul Landacre also resided here, and his house is still standing. "He incorporated some of our hill into his works,” says Ortiz.
This Wednesday, November 14th, there will be a public hearing at City Hall concerning developer Nunez’s request for “a Small Lot Subdivision - from 3 into 16 lots and a zone change from R1 to RD6 rezoning.”(1) It will take place in room 1020 at 10:30am. This issue will also be discussed at the Greater Echo Park Neighborhood Council Meeting on Tuesday, November 13th, 7pm at Logan Street School (1711 West Montana).
(1)From an announcement by Diane Edwardson.