dérive: san francisco to south san gabriel


dérive: san francisco to south san gabriel

Last weekend, I participated in a group dérive around San Francisco. We wandered between various SF bars, restaurants and other places. Meeting places were designated every three hours (it was an ambitious 24 hour derive) and in each place a few new people would appear. It was quite fun. Most people naturally walked their way through the city. We being true to our Los Angeles roots jokingly referred to our mobile method of getting around as a derive minus the “e.”

Allowing oneself to wander through the city to encounter unexpected experiences is a very attractive way to spend the day. In fact, today I had one such amazing experience. I met the most extraordinary man purely by chance and by merely asking him a simple question. In a cul-de-sac, a block away from my family home on a street I haven’t visited since I was in the eighth grade, I discovered a surprising bit of wild space and more impressive, an old man and his backyard Shangri-la.

The cul-de-sac ends on the edge of a small meadow of grasses under fragrant, towering eucalyptus trees. I imagined this is how South San Gabriel might have looked in the days of the old ranchos before the existence of “Lomas” (the local gang made infamous in ‘Always Running’ by Luis Rodriguez and named for the hills of the area) and before the area was surrounded by beige tract homes. In elementary school, rumors circulated about ghosts haunting the hills. Nearby Garvey Ranch Park at the top of the hill was supposedly the spot where Mexican bandidos were executed (by hanging) for their various crimes. Street names nearby the park like “Ransom” and “Graves” might provide clues to this morbid bit of history.

Next door to this small forest of eucalyptus, lives a friendly old man who has created a beautiful garden made from repurposed and donated materials. He charmed us with humorous stories and his jovial good nature. With not even a second thought or the least bit of mistrust, he showed us around his home, garden and workshop. He reminded me quite a bit of my grandfather who also created a large mosaic garden in his backyard. These are uniquely Mexican gardens filled with ornamental plants, altars and discarded pipes refashioned as trellises and handrails. There will be more on him in another place along with photos.

Unfortunately, these are the last days for the Eucalyptus grove and the meadow. Surveyors were there marking the guides for a new street to be built right over the meadow. All over the hill, McMansions have been sprouting up as the wealth and the hunger for real estate development creeps out from Monterey Park. County officials have been called in to reprimand and fine old-timers for their bohemian ways of living. Gentrification in South San Gabriel, I never thought I’d see the day. Perhaps the ghosts of the bandidos will take their own derive down the hill and reclaim the hill for the dispossessed and forgotten.
“Oh, I lost something in the hills.” -Sibylle Baier

11 thoughts on “dérive: san francisco to south san gabriel

  1. johnk says:

    I was up in the hills working at a polling place for an election where almost nobody voted (but I got paid, which is what mattered… we asked if the residents voted, but they had not.), and there were some huge houses going up. Pretty ugly ones, too. In fact, the polls were in a pretty big mansionized house, but it was one built around a smaller house, by the owner, who boasted that his was the first house enlarged to the maximum limit allowed. As much as I dislike mansions, my feelings were mitigated by the fact that three generations were living there, and it seemed like two families. That’s a good reason to have a mansion! The two highlights of the day were meeting the first Mexican-American resident of the hills, who got his house there in 1949, and having a local politico with a DUi+hit+run charge come in and vote. I also found out one of the voters was a guy who ran an email list I was on… but didn’t find this out until later.

    Other stupid shit from that day was hearing a bunch of anti illegal immigrant parroting from my conservative sorta-friend, as well as from this other guy who was from China.

    The only other interesting hills story I have is that one of the peace vigil people I met a few years back was from SSG, and her brother was one of the founders of Lomas. She had a story about how, in her radical left IWK movement days, she was trying to get people to boycott Gallo for the UFW, but her gangster relatives just drank it and got loaded to spite her. I eventually met her brother and he was driving some mini-van with an American flag on it.


  2. Chimatli says:

    Thanks John for sharing your stories. Despite fleeing SSG when I was 14, as an adult, I’ve found the place a lot more interesting. Plus, I’ve met really cool people from there, like yourself. 🙂
    I remember when Luis Rodriguez first came back to LA, he did a speaking engagement at Ramona Hall with Ward Churchill. I ran up to him after his talk and told him “Hey, I’m from your neighborhood! You should see it now it’s full of mansions!” I don’t think he believed me…

  3. johnk says:

    The hills *are* interesting. I used to go walking around, i guess kind of derivee style, as a child, and there was just a lot of weird stuff up there. Many shacks. The guy with the old military vehicles. Scary gangsters. Lots of unusual plants.

    Another interesting area is down by the Rio Hondo river. I always find condoms, and have also found junkie kits. The birds and natural beauty make up for it, though. The eco people are kind of gentrifying that. It’s still pretty “wild” in many ways, though.

    I have some weird trivia learned from the Internet. In the 19th century, the Rosemead area used to be sympathetic to the Confederacy, and they had lynch mobs. (That’s why their football team is called the Rebels. It’s a Southern thing.) The old cemetery there is called Savannah. http://savannahpioneercem.blogspot.com/

  4. Chimatli says:

    John, if you’re still reading this thread…Can you recommend any history books that mention SSG/Rosemead/Monterey Park?

  5. Steve Zamorano says:

    The neighborhood,the hill’s(Lomas) of South San Gabriel. The heart of the Lomas Gang territory that covers most if not all of the city of Rosemead and some of San Gabriel. I spent many days and nights drinking and doing what ever, holding down the barrio. After going into the Marine Corps and getting married and having kids, the hills were no longer the priority in my life. But for many years 70’s, 80’s that neighborhood was the place to be for me.

  6. T says:

    There is a book written by Paul stroupe called God Is Here about Lomas Gang,he is a former teacher at DON BOSCO Tech. He hung out with us SMD just a bunch of ROwdies not a Gang. 2 of my homies from SMD were students of his,thru us he met LOMAS which was the GANG in our hood.

  7. Wised up One says:

    I used to be from Lomas…. then I grew up!
    Did most bad things a gang member is expected to do. Man, was I stupid. And now, life is much better with few regrets. I wish I could say I’m sorry to lots of people I’ve hurt when I ran with the “hood”. Thank God I’m still here in one piece and living a decent responsible life. In a nutshell, gangs are a waste.

  8. Pauline Acosta-Duran says:

    ive enjoyed reading your site you took me WAY WAY back. DAM thats cool. i too grew uo in SSG LOMAS so everything you described is familiar to me. i came upon your page after searching the web for a particular book, GOD is Here by Paul Stroup. i have had no luck in finding this book. since you mentioned this book on your page you know which book im speaking of. so if you may know of where i can purchase this book from. I would really appreciate it. once again i enjoyed your site and would love to see more old school photos. my cousin went to hillcrest u may know of her. take care

  9. El guano says:

    I grew up in ssg, in the hills and battled the lomas when it was chains and church keys. They were tough
    But only when the had you at least 4 to 1.

    Gravy ranch was a great spot and spent many days in the open space before the tract houses.

  10. lorenzo says:

    I remember the chains and church keys. The Rebels were from SOUTH, San Garbriel, South of the San Bernardino Freeway. Nothing to do with racism. Started By Jess Gonzalez and a group of dads who wanted youth sports for their kids. We played at Garvey park. A bunch of us from the hills.

    Dinkeys market and girls from the orphanage.

    Lorenzo De La vega

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