History of the Neighborhood

As the second-largest city in the United States, Los Angeles is diverse, global and vast. What makes up this international metropolis are the many old and thriving neighborhoods scattered near the Pacific coast, the San Fernando Valley, the glistening Downtown skyscrapers and everywhere else in between. The Byzantine Latino Quarter is one of these many communities that make the City of Angels unique. 

Early 20th Century

Like so many neighborhoods adjacent to the city center, the Byzantine Latino Quarter was among one of Los Angeles’ first suburbs, primarily characterized by farmland. Its early residents included European immigrants and Mexican-Americans. The area was known as Pico Heights and by the turn of the 20th century development started to occur. Pico Boulevard was and remains a major thoroughfare. In fact, Pico Boulevard was once hailed as the “backbone of Los Angeles” and envisioned as a main street that would connect the downtown to the beach and serve as a shopping destination.  

 

 


The area became highly desirable because of its proximity to the city center and access to the yellow streetcar on Pico Boulevard, which allowed easy transit to downtown and adjacent neighborhoods. In addition, masterfully crafted homes in Queen Anne style and Mission Revival dotted the landscape. 

 

 




It is also important to note that three major Catholic institutions, St. Thomas Apostle Church, Loyola High School and Bishop-Conaty Our Lady of Loretto High School, opened their doors in Pico Heights in the between 1905 and the 1920s. The church and schools continue to draw thousands of people to the area every week.
 



Mid 20th Century

The population of the area began to change as the City continued to grow and develop.  By the 1950s, Greek immigrants settled in the neighborhood. Many opened businesses, including Papa Cristo’s, which helped the area flourish. In 1952 St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, located on Pico Boulevard and Normandie Avenue, opened its doors and became the center of activity. Today, St. Sophia continues to serve the Greek community in Southern California.

 



Late 20th Century

Slowly, Pico Heights transformed from the suburb it was in the early 20th century to a diverse and urban community. From 1970 to 1990, Pico Heights experienced a significant increase in population and demographic shifts.  During this time immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua began to call Pico Heights their home.

As the population changed, so did the physical environment. Pico Boulevard remained a retail-oriented street, with many businesses catering to the recently arrived immigrants. Spanish and Korean language signs replaced signage and advertisement in English. In the residential neighborhoods, single-family homes became multi-unit dwellings to accommodate the increase in population and, for many, the need to cut down on housing costs. 

The community name Pico Heights soon faded as surrounding neighborhoods started to organize and claim their own identities. For example, the neighborhood bordered by Vermont Avenue on the east, 110 FWY on the west, Olympic Boulevard on the north and Washington Boulevard on the south, just a few blocks east of St. Sophia Cathedral, became known as Pico-Union in the 1970s. And the community bordered by Vermont Avenue on the east, Western Avenue on the west, Third Street on the north and Olympic Boulevard on the south, just two blocks south from Papa Cristo’s, became known as Koreatown, also in the 1970s. 



Birth of the Byzantine Latino Quarter

In the 1990s, local residents, church leaders from St. Sophia Cathedral and St. Thomas, representatives from community-based organizations and business owners partnered to address and tackle the deteriorating physical and social conditions of the area. Damaged sidewalks, trash, poorly maintained trees and unsafe crosswalks plagued Pico Boulevard, the center of business activity, and the residential communities. Drug dealers and gangs were also prevalent. In partnership with the University of California, Los Angeles and Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative, stakeholders developed a community plan to outline the needs of the neighborhood and strategies to address them. They identified fostering community pride as one of the key strategies to beautify the neighborhood and combat crime. And in 1997, the community adopted the name Byzantine Latino Quarter. The State of California formally recognized the new community. The boundaries are 11th Street to the north, Venice Boulevard to the south, Vermont Avenue to the east and Western Ave to the west. 

Byzantine Latino Quarter Al Ritmo Manny Soprano PR Group
Today

Today the Byzantine Latino Quarter continues to be a unique community. Pico Boulevard, in particular, reflects the history, complexity, diversity and spirit of the area. Trash, graffiti and drug dealers no longer dominate the landscape. Instead, through collective community action and investments by the city and local groups, murals, street banners, mosaic planters, crosswalk enhancements, bus shelters and plazas with benches at two major intersections define the environment. Equally defining is the community’s role is shaping its future. Neighborhood leaders, property and business owners, community-based organizations and local elected officials continue to work in partnership to ensure the Byzantine Latino Quarter and surrounding communities are safe, beautiful and places where residents and businesses alike can thrive. 

Next time you bike, drive or walk on Pico Boulevard, look beyond the congestion and take in the sights of moms attending a zumba class in a renovated storefront, the smells of food from Mexico, Cuba, and Greece, just to name a few, and enjoy visiting the numerous historical landmarks that highlight the uniqueness of this business corridor and community. 

 
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