by Bob Sparrow
Although it is currently ‘Awards Season’ (code for ‘Let’s pat ourselves on the back until everyone gets an award’ season) here in ‘Tinsel Town’, our trip was not to rub shoulders with the hypocritical privileged, but rather to explore some of the ethnic enclaves that thrive in the mega metropolis.
First stop, Little Italy – I had Googled it and discovered that there really wasn’t much left of what used to be Little Italy, but the article went on to say that if you went to the Eastside Market, Italian Deli in that area that you might run into owner, Johnny Angiuli, who could tell you about the good old days when Little Italy was thriving. After less than an hour drive from our home, through downtown LA, we parked across the street from the deli and the minute we open the car door we could smell the great Italian aromas wafting through the store’s open front door . We walked in and wandered around looking at the nostalgic pictures on the wall. I approached the counter and asked a young man behind it if we were standing in what remains of Little Italy. He laughed and said, “Yeah this is about it, but when my father first came here it was a thriving Italian community.” I asked, “Is your father Johnny?” He said yes and pointed to an elderly gentleman sitting down in the corner of the store, then said, “I can bring him over here if you’d like.” I happily agreed.
Johnny came over and introduced himself and welcomed us to the deli, then started telling us his story. He said he was born in a small Italian town a couple hours south of Naples called Adelphia and added that it was a great place for kids to grow up. He came to America in 1959 and started working in the Eastside Market and ultimately became its owner. He said, “Times were very different then, Italians were very much discriminated against, it was even taboo for an Italian person to marry a white person, so we kind of stuck with ourselves here in this little community.” He was a most gracious man who got our exploration of LA off to a great start.
Next stop, Chinatown – It was a short drive from the Eastside Market to the new Chinatown. Having been to Chinatown in San Francisco several times, we were expecting something like that, and in fact the old Chinatown was something like that, but due to ‘Tong’ warfare (fights between Chinese gangs), gambling houses and opium dens, the area decayed and was ultimately destroyed for the building of Union Station, LA’s railroad hub. So a new Chinatown was developed which was a little more spread out, but now a few blocks along Broadway could be considered the heart of the new Chinatown. We wandered the shops and found a great hole-in-the-wall restaurant to grab a very tasty Kung Pao Chicken and House Fried Rice lunch.
Next stop, Little Tokyo – Just across the freeway from Chinatown is Little Tokyo. In 1941 there were about 30,000 Japanese Americans living in Little Tokyo, but in December of that year, the Japanese were rounded up and incarcerated in internment camps. African Americans, Native Americans and Latinos moved in the area and took over their homes; because of their skin color the area became known as Bronzeville. After the war, many Japanese moved back and today Little Tokyo is thriving again. As we walked its streets, we felt bad that we had just eaten, as the smell of great Japanese food filled the air. After strolling through various passageways and poking into a few shops we headed back to our car for our next destination.
Next stop, The Grove at Farmer’s Market – It was only about a 20-minute drive through some pretty rough parts of town and then through some very high end parts of town to what use to be orchards, a nursery and a dairy farm and is now one of the great outdoor shopping and dining areas in America – The Grove. As it was now turning dark and cool we strolled down the center of the outside mall checking out the stores, restaurants, bars and the Farmer’s Market, which is still a part of this complex. We stopped and had a beer as we watched a band setting up for an open-air concert in February . . . that’s Southern California.
Next stop, Rodeo Drive – No tour of LA is complete without at least a drive down Rodeo (that’s Row-Day-Oh, not Road-E-O) Drive, where every high-end fashion company has a store. While Linda may have wanted to get out and window shop, I convinced her that we shouldn’t stop, we’ll miss our dinner reservation. Great stores, all lit up – keep going!
Next stop – Dan Tana’s Restaurant A classic LA eatery you’ll hear all about in two weeks.