Photos by Mathew Scott


A Tree Grows in Elysian Valley Pt. 1

Ruben Molina and his family moved to Elysian Valley in 1958. Having arrived in Los Angeles from El Paso, Texas five years prior, his family had moved around between a hotel, duplexes and small homes in Cypress Park and Lincoln Heights before settling into the home on Glover Place.

Ruben, now a dedicated community music historian and published author, fondly remembers his childhood. 

“Growing up in the neighborhood, there weren’t any worries at all for kids. I’m sure my parents were worried about all kinds of stuff, they had their problems, their difficulties, but for kids, it was like paradise. My mom and the other mothers around had their little network, so they would call each other.” 

This network would soon be put to the test, given that the Molina family’s arrival coincided with the construction of the Golden State Freeway, better known as the 5 Freeway. As Los Angeles sought to expand and modernize, it began a heavy push to construct a network of freeways to connect its far-flung neighborhoods and suburbs, which subsequently served as a displacement tool that divided and ripped apart the communities over which these freeways were built.

For Ruben and his friends, the empty lots which were once neighbors’ homes would soon become their paradise, open spaces for them to play ball, run around, and explore.

“When they built the freeway, they [also built] Riverside Drive, and they left one whole lot all the way down the neighborhood of homes that were [demolished], so they were now just sandlots. That’s where we played ball. There were trees there, so we made tree houses. We just took control of all the empty space for kids. It was just like a kids’ world at the time because the parents were all new, moving in, and they were busy just trying to make a living or trying to find work.”

These sandlots were not the only spaces where the neighborhood kids could play. Ruben remembers how just down the street there was another playground: the LA River. 

“We would just go down the river and […] play in the sand or in the dirt. There was water, little ponds of water, but never the way it is now, no greenery.” 

Read Part 2 for more.

Ruben Molina is a prominent independent scholar and soul music collector. His family moved from El Paso, Texas to Los Angeles in 1953 and in 1958 they moved into Elysian Valley. He holds fond memories of his childhood and maintains many of his childhood friendships to this day. As a teenager in 1960’s Los Angeles, he developed an interest in Mexican-American and soul music. In 2000, Ruben penned his first book, The Old Barrio Guide to Low Rider Music and in 2008 he wrote Chicano Soul: Recordings and History of an American Culture which further documented the recordings and history of Mexican American soul groups and garage bands throughout the Southwest. In 2011 he became co-founder of the Southern California record collective called the Southern Soul Spinners.