East Los Angeles Renaissance Academy

The arch of opportunity

The Whittier Boulevard Arch was placed 33 years ago when a group of merchants, fed up with the continued deterioration along the mile-long strip between the Long Beach Freeway and Atlantic Boulevard, began mapping a revitalization plan.

Whittier Boulevard is a very prestigious sign that represents East Los Angeles. In later years, it became a major shopping district for the area’s predominantly Latino population, but on Aug. 27, 1970, during an anti-Vietnam War demonstration, a riot erupted. Hundreds of people were injured, three were killed and dozens of stores were burned and looted. Blight descended on the area. The merchant’s war on the litter, faded signs, cracked sidewalks and graffiti-stained walls was very difficult.

Most of the nearly 300 businesses crammed along the 15-block area are small mom-and-pop operations with high hopes for the neighborhood but little money. The merchants finally obtained government help four years before they started their project. But the project was halted, mainly because state and county officials could not agree on how to fund it.

Under an agreement reached in 1984, the state provided $1.8 million for road work, and the county provided an additional $1.4 million for roads and $3.1 million in community development grants for sidewalk and building improvements.

On completion of the project, the state will relinquish control of the state-designated highway to the county. The merchants themselves are privately spending about $5 million to refurbish their buildings to revitalize the area.

The arch, which cost nearly $280,000, was dedicated at a ceremony. The design of the arch necessitated use of heavy structural tubing, which had to be especially roll-formed at a plant in Clearfield, Utah. The pieces were trucked to Huntington Park-based L.A. Galvanizing Co. for more work, then trucked to Junior Steel for welding.

One of the most difficult parts of the job was transporting the finished arch to the site, a worker said.

Workers had to modify a conventional stretch trailer to hold the 28-foot-wide load. The late-night 12-mile journey took nearly three hours, and a crane was used to lift the arch into position.

“The arch is making a statement,” the workers and community said. “It is saying that Whittier Boulevard is here and is vital and beautiful, so come back.”