Lately I’ve been delving into the history of some of these Echo Park locations that have development “drama” revolving around them these days. Last week we wrote about the history of Barlow Hospital as it develops plans to upgrade hospital facilities by selling land for who-knows-what. This week we’ve got the Sunset Flats, planned for what was the former community garden, on our mind. So today we reflect on how that garden came to be, how the community came together to keep it thriving for years, and more importantly, what happened to it?
The garden was started in the late 199os as part of an effort to use land that wasn’t being used (deemed a “nuisance” property), but was privately owned, and really helped empower and improve the neighborhood. Located at 2223 Sunset Blvd, where now you’ll see a lot of overgrown weeds and possibly still some edible plants, they sold honey, grew and sold flowers, fruits and vegetables. It was literally the heart and sweat of many long-time Echo Park residents, including, we’ve heard, our friend Jesus Sanchez of The Eastsider LA.
The plight of the garden began around 2004, where our research begins to pick up the chatter that the land owner needed to sell the property. This is when things get a little complicated and messy, and is an issue that I am continuing to explore in interviews with residents and community leaders. Apparently the community got together and started raising money to purchase the land, and things were looking really promising in June of 2004 – the owner was willing to sell the land, and all they needed was a grant to finalize things. Sometime after that, things went south, and the manager of the garden had apparently been taking that money raised to purchase the land, stringing along the landowner and everyone else along. The Echo Park Community Garden had been bamboozled.
That’s the long story short. Without money to buy the property, the land was sold and there was little hope for the future of the garden. A 2004 issue of EPIAn Ways describes the frustration of being locked out of the garden for months:
The current landlord bought the land two years ago and has no idea the importance this community places on the garden. He seems to be unaware of what existed before the garden formed and therefore sees little value to keeping the garden as a tenant. The Echo Park Community Garden has been a collaborative effort between hundreds of families, individuals as well as social service agencies, neighborhood groups and government. It has also served as an environmental, educational and nutritional resource for the neighborhood families and schools.