Good News for East LA Mariachis

City Council members voice support to keep Boyle Heights Mariachi Plaza intact

by Linda A. Rapka

Things are looking up for Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, whose fate has been in question since plans were announced to develop the area into a modern shopping mall.

Mariachi musicians from throughout Los Angeles have gathered at the plaza since the 1930s to perform together and to get hired for work. In recent years the area has undergone numerous changes, largely viewed as positive, including a Metro Gold Line station and a large new stage.

But plans by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to build medical offices, restaurants, a gym and stores along the property across from the plaza have the community worried that the mariachis’ livelihood and their cultural center could be threatened, even wiped out.

“The plaza is a center of community where neighbors can come together…the developments would take away that vision of the plaza and its culture,” said Arturo Ramirez, a mariachi musician and member of Local 47 who finds work at the plaza. “We are not in agreement with the destruction of the culture…The mariachis are integral to the plaza and we want to continue to be a part of it…It gets its name from us.”

In an effort to preserve the historic gathering place for East L.A. mariachis, Councilmember José Huizar, who represents the district, wants the city work with Metro to ensure that any commercial real estate developments would work to preserve the long-standing history of musicians in the plaza and the surrounding community. The motion was made at the Dec. 1 council meeting, seconded by Councilmember Curren Price.

Local 47 has been active in lobbying City Hall and Huizar in the effort to preserve Mariachi Plaza. Vice President John Acosta, recently elected to serve as the union’s next president in January, has been involved in efforts with the Los Angeles United Mariachi Association to organize mariachi musicians and set a common standard for musicians’ commerce.

Still in the beginning stages, the development proposal calls for a significant overhaul of the area. Several small businesses including an ice cream shop, restaurant, and a lending library and bookshop would be demolished to make room for retail and commercial office space. The Metro parcel at Bailey would be converted into an eight-story office building with two floors of medical offices.

Because of complaints, the agency has delayed moving ahead with the proposal until February.