They Say You Can’t Go Home, but YOU CAN GO BACK: Huntington Park, California

I decided to make my workday consist of enjoying the sights and sounds of my hometown Huntington Park, California, USA. There are many others who call Huntington Park their hometown, so I am not alone. None of the people in my memories are here, only the physical structures on which I BASE MY MEMORIES still reside here.  I am sure what I remember is accurate.  I once remembered out loud, at a reunion,  something that occurred in a gym class at Huntington Park High School, and a former classmate informed me that I was under an illusion.  I pondered her comments, her recollections and her demands that I remember things as she does.  I came to the conclusions that my memory still stands as one of my strong suits and I do not want my memories to take a back seat to anyone else’s which, while they may be perfectly true for them, are not true for me.

Now, please join me on my journey down memory lane.

First, we drove to Huntington Park from our home in the San Fernando Valley over the hill from Los Angeles.

Los Angeles

As you continue on the 101 Freeway, your off ramp is Soto Street. Continue on Soto Street and you will see the old Sears building. You are heading in the right direction (south)

Soon you will be approaching Farmer John’s located in Vernon just north of Huntington Park at Farmer John
3049 E. Vernon Avenue Vernon, CA 90058.  As you will see from the photos, there is a mural painted on the exterior of the Farmer John’s slaughterhouse and meat packing plant. This mural has been here since 1957 when Les Grimes began his work here. Since 2000, extensive restorations have been made. The animals have changed a bit from time to time as each new artist lends his or her hand to the work. This mural will certainly get your attention and I have photographed small portions of it for you to see.

Next as you travel down Soto Street, you will soon see the Huntington Park Water tower. I was fascinated with this tower most of my Huntington Park life. It is a symbol of leaving and of coming home.

So, now that we are in Huntington Park, where to go first is the question. Actually, it is not a question; you go home. The house where I used to call home is as beautiful as it was years ago, only it is not home. Memories of my room with its window off to the right hand side of the house, second level and the sights I used to see from it come flooding back. I saw all the neighbors walking by. I saw the Jacaranda tree in full bloom and watched as it transitioned into a purple carpet of fallen blossoms. I loved that tree and now it is gone. My mother had roses lining the walkway to the front door and now there are roses lining the entire yard. Some of the old bushes are still there, but gone are the Camellia bushes. My mother would send bushels of Camellias to my teachers and I was popular on Camellia day.

The little window top right of the house is my bedroom window, my window on the world..

Gone, in reality, are Mom, Dad, Lula, Michael, Ron,  Clarke, John, Carolyn, Anita, Allegra, Helga, Johnny  Wake, and all the other people I remember in reality, but they are still there in my mind, so fresh, that I can see the spittle as they smile and the snot coming out of their noses, the pretty faces, long hair, their strength, their intelligence, and their bright eyes.  Gone is the Apricot and Fig tree. The building on the corner of California and Florence that was once the poultry farm and market is still there, but the squawking and the slaughtering and the poultry are gone. Again, what remains are memories. Once my brothers got a hold of a chicken foot and put it at the end of my bed.  To this day, I check the end of my bed to make sure there is nothing hidden there.

My Elementary school: State Street School

Next we drove down State Street to my elementary school where more than a million memories bombarded my senses. I remember buying 5 ice creams a day for lunch until they caught me and even after they caught me I tried to do it again.  I figured you got 25 cents a day for lunch a rather nasty lunch that smelled like the garbage can.  But you could wisely spend your 25 cents in an abundant way.  Each ice cream was a nickel and even though I did not excel in math, 25 cents bought 5 ice creams a much better deal than lunch. It was hard to stop me, but involving my parents did the trick. Where are you Abby Gratz, Sydney Michel, Sheryl Wriggle, Winnie Mae Miller, Gordon Outhier, Johnny Wilheilm, Terry Cunningham?

Here is the church where I was saved.  I was in the 3rd grade and talked too much in class. The teacher got very angry, dug her nails into my arms and threw me out into the hallway. I was too independent to take that so I ran away down the street. I was running so fast, I tripped and fell right in front of the church. Knee skinned, bleeding and crying I needed help.  The folks in the church came out and helped me inside, washed up my knee and asked me if I wanted to go to heaven.  Who doesn’t? So I answered, “Yes, I do.” After saying a few prayers and reading from the Bible, they drizzled droplets of water on my forehead. I thought it was raining and the roof leaked, but someone just said, “You are saved and you are going to go to heaven.” They are right, I was and I am.  The little lady with the pretty hair and powder blue suit walked me back to the entrance of the schoolyard and I walked back to the hallway in front of my classroom. The teacher came out and invited me back into the classroom.  So you see, major lifetime of experiences can occur between being thrown out of your classroom and being invited back in.

Gage Jr. High.

The years I spent in Gage Jr. High School are a blur except for deciding to wear lipstick and losing an important election.

Lots of things happened in Huntington Park HIgh School.  I remember way too many things I’d rather forget, plus this place was not good for my self-esteem. I never gave up, but I gave in.

One more church that played an important part in my life was the St.Matthias Church on Florence Avenue. I was looking for a sign. My boyfriend at the time wanted me to attend mass at his church so I did. As I entered and took my seat a coolness came over me and I was enveloped in a strong semi-vortex of spiraling spiritual energy.  I remember asking God for a sign.  I told him I was in a difficult place and I needed a sign if I was EVER, EVER going to be a believer. The mass was over and my boyfriend and I headed out of the large double doors to the parking lot where I left my car. My car had moved. I was a relatively new driver and must not have put my car in gear, so it rolled into a tree at the edge of the parking lot. If not for the tree, my car would have rolled into the middle of the street.  I asked for a sign and got a big one. Thanks be to God.

The temple: Huntington Park Hebrew Congregation which is now the Seventh Day Adventist Church, is flanked by a new motel on one side and a bakery on the other.  When this was the temple, it was my salvation. My life revolved around the activities here and this is the place I received a healthy dose of strong self-worth, until Doomsday. Doomsday for me happened in my 12th year when, the Rabbi called me into his office and told me that I would not be confirmed with the other girls in my Hebrew class. Was he kidding?  No, he was not. I begged, pleaded and then, asked why?  He complimented me on being a very good student, but calmly stated that my birthdate fell 19 days after the cut off for the confirmation exercises and that I would have to come another year for studies.  When I realized that anything I had to say was not being heard, I said, “Shit on you, Rabbi.” I then turned and ran from the temple, never to return. Years and years later, the same Rabbi must have suffered a bit of guilt. My parents told of him of our large family and that I was doing the Seder for the first time. He asked that a package be delivered to me. The gift package contained 20 beautiful brand new sparkling Haggadahs that I have used every year since I received them. Thank You Rabbi Hyman, may you rest in peace.

The best part of my visit home was to witness that Huntington Park is a vital, bustling beautiful vibrant city full of activity and remains an important commercial and industrial area southeast of Los Angeles City Center.

You can never go home, but you can go back, visit, and get your memories in high gear. Isn’t Huntington Park a beautiful city?  May she have continued success and continue to serve her community well.


36 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Reene
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 18:12:38

    love it –I miss your blogs–I wondered where your next trip was planned!!!! Didn’t think it would be so close to home. By coincidence I went near my old stomping grounds today when I went to Good Sam Hosp. Westlake Park, Langers Deli, etc. Of course everything is written in every language–except Eng. Things have changed—Reene


    • Sheila Clapkin
      Jan 06, 2012 @ 21:45:00

      Thank you once again for enjoying my blog and telling me so. You know I have quit several times and you have put me right back on track again. I know you are waiting, so I write.


  2. sheila clapkin
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 21:05:40

    Thank you for reading, Reene. You really keep me going. Yes, things have changed.


  3. Keith Anderson
    Dec 08, 2011 @ 18:56:06

    Man oh man lady, that certainly IS just like being there. The text and photos were a lovely journey. As ever, thanks for writing and sharing with us.


  4. sheila clapkin
    Dec 09, 2011 @ 06:49:11

    My dear friend and supporter, thank you for reading and for commenting. I appreciate you and your words very much.


  5. Sheri Clapkin
    Dec 11, 2011 @ 19:33:15

    Reading that blog made me feel as if I was there visiting with you. Truly a great job bringing to life your past. Thank you!


  6. sheila clapkin
    Dec 11, 2011 @ 19:46:36

    What you have written means so much to me; you have no idea. Thank you!!
    Yo Mama


  7. Dina
    Dec 25, 2011 @ 15:09:22

    Lovely story…especially you’re 3rd grade/ church experience! !Wow! I remember the bedrooms upstairs at Grandma’s and Grandpa’s house and the piano downstairs. I wonder if the new owners would let you inside?


  8. M Woodill
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 17:51:22

    When Dixie and I used to walk home from State St. School together, even on the days when I had to lug that damned cello, we often stopped at the candy store just outside the State St. gate. The candy usually lasted to about Olive St. unless it was wax lips which were good for giggles right up to Hope St. where the beloved Del Mart was. My first job was at the Del Mart when I was about seven or eight. Lee Reilly and I packed peaches into little tissue paper things. Or, maybe we took them out. Don’t stress my memory I may get a brain fart. A common occurrence these days when I try to recall things that took place around 65 years ago. Have you ever been sweaty and covered in peach fuzz? My mother had me stand in the yard while she turned a hose on me.

    Sheila, we parted company at Gage. I do remember that Mondrian dress you had. Oh, and your braces. As to churches, we used to go up Soto Street a lot farther than you mention and wind our way back to Pasadena, my natal village, where apparently the only church that would have us was located.

    I once asked my Grandmama why we had to go so far and she told me that there were not very many Smells and Bells Churches in Los Angeles anymore. So, to go to a Smells and Bells church of the proper type we had to go to Pasadena. There followed a discussion of about 400 years of Anglican schismatic history dating to some English king and low and high churches which I visualized as one or two story churches. It was pretty confusing and I recall drifting off somewhere while focusing my eyes on the lines that came and went between her eyebrows. I had found that adults perceived that as, “…paying attention.”. It worked a treat until my mother finally caught me at it when I was about fourteen.

    Dixie went to a church were they made an earnest attempt to drown you when you got to be about twelve or so. If it failed, you were in. It’s all so confusing when you’re only eight.


    • Sheila Clapkin
      Jan 06, 2012 @ 21:39:25

      What you have to say here is a wonderful response and I truly appreciate what you have said. Yes, a real walk down memory lane. Your memories are different from the same place and time. wow. Isn’t that interesting as well as a truth. Hope to see you one of these days.


  9. Tony Contessotto
    Jan 15, 2012 @ 08:25:09

    Wow ,Thank you for that. I was born and raised in HP, My family had lived in Hp since the thirties my be longer, I proboably would still live there if they (The City) did not tear down my house to built condos by HP high. I moved away in the early Eighties.I knew every store, every street,every alley. Thank you for the taking me along:)


    • Sheila Clapkin
      Jan 15, 2012 @ 09:25:09

      I am so thrilled to hear from you and reading your comment brought tears to my eyes. I don’t
      hear from folks who know my history as well as you do. Yes, you should know H.P. is alive and well even
      though it is different from when we were there. Do you live near enough to go and drive down those streets?
      It is such a heady experience. I was flooded with so many memories that I could hardly breathe regularly.
      I felt like I had shed some of my miseries as well as gaining a new respect for who I am and where I lived.
      It after all shaped me and others like me. I have become thankful for being born and raised in Huntington Park. I thought others had better this and that, but now I come to realize, it was a great beginning and it is up to us to continue to make it happen. I am in Huntington Park about twice a month as we still have business there. I just got in the habit of going straight to work. Now, I roam the streets like you say you know well. So much has changed and so much is the same. I wish you well and so pleased you came along on my journey and wrote back. I just posted an article on the Homeboy Industries in downtown L.A. YOu might like to read it. Very interesting. THANK YOU again. HOpe we keep in touch.


      • Thomas McLean(Tommy)
        Mar 30, 2013 @ 09:56:40

        Hi Sheila,
        I was born in HP in the Mission Hospital on Florence Ave. We lived on Cudahy St. just two houses away from State St. school. My good friend Billy Muse live on Broadway across the street from the school. We used to race to see who could get to school first. I knew Max and Terry Cunnigham as they too lived on Cudahy. I think Abbey Gratz did too. Mrs. Bradshaw was my 5th and 6th grade teacher and I thought she was the greatest.
        Thanks for all those great memories as those were fantastic years and such an amazing period and amazing area in which to grow up. We lived on Cudahy for many years and didn’t move until after I left the Air Force. I still visit my former home via Google Maps. What great memories.

      • Sheila Clapkin
        Mar 31, 2013 @ 10:28:12

        I am so pleased to receive your comment, mentioning names of streets, people, things I remember, too.
        We have experienced the same environment differently and the same. They are indeed fantastic memories and
        fantastic years. Where do you live now? YOu mentioned visiting Huntington Park on Google maps. Oh the name Abby Gratz sticks in my mind, only to find her again. I am visiting Linda Fessenden this week and have not seen her since State street Days! my my.

        Thank you for serving in the Air Force! Thank you for your interest. I hope to hear back from you:

    • darredo
      May 20, 2013 @ 10:58:55

      Hi Tony, I remember my sister Norma and I used to help your mom Mary out and we also did your Birthday parties. You lived on Belgrave and you had a dog named Lobo. Don’t know if you remember us, but I remember you used to like to tease us and pinch us when your Mom was not looking…..


  10. Alfred Valadez
    Mar 26, 2013 @ 18:36:22

    Does anyone know the name of the little girl on the water in Huntington Park on Florence and Salt Lake ave?


    • Sheila Clapkin
      Mar 27, 2013 @ 08:57:16

      Alfred, no I don’t know of whom you are speaking, do you have any more information? Thank you for commenting and for asking. LEt me know what you find out in your search. I lived three blocks from Florence and sTATE…


  11. Diana Arredondo
    May 20, 2013 @ 10:55:57

    Thank you for sharing, you took me down Memory Lane!!! Our family (The Barragan’s) grew up there, I went to Miles (kindergarten 1961), Gage and HP High (1974 grad). It seems so strange to visit now after all these years, the city looks so small, but your description was wonderful and brought back many good memories.


  12. Joyce Hopping Rettela
    Jun 01, 2013 @ 18:18:57

    Sheila, Are you Sheila Levin from State St. Class of 1951?


    • Sheila Clapkin
      Jun 04, 2013 @ 17:46:08

      Hello Joyce after so many years. It is I…
      Oh I am so happy to hear from you and remember our days as Campfire Girls.
      My how time flies when you are having a good time. I still visit Huntington Park
      for business and it is still absolutely beautiful. Pacific Blvd is so lively and colorful and all of the homes are kept up to the minute.
      Let us keep in touch.
      Sheila Levin Clapkin


  13. Veronika Taylor
    Feb 19, 2014 @ 10:44:44

    Sheila, when did you graduate? I also went to State Street, Gage and HP. I’m summer ’66 and my Mom was summer’40. We convinced her to move only when the Dr. said she could no longer live alone!


    • Sheila Clapkin
      Feb 20, 2014 @ 11:45:33

      OHHH, I am old than you are, S”57, but we have all the same beginnings and all the same outlooks and I know we can be fast friends.Thank you for commenting. I live in Tarzana now, how about you? I am a retired teacher, still teaching Memoir writing classes, blogging, traveling and enjoying what we are doing. Where are you and what are you doing. How is your mom who moved?


  14. Lupita Gonzales
    Apr 03, 2014 @ 13:24:25

    I was also born and raised here. I attended Lillian Street school, Gage jr. High, but never had the pleasure of starting Hungtington Park High. My brothers and family did. My parents moved us out of here in 1988 and I have been homesick ever since. Although they did it for the good reasons I cry still til this day. Pacific blvd. so beautiful during Christmas. I miss Boys burgers on Florence and Holmes and I miss my home at 1837 E. 66th St. L.A. 90001. I even remember my old phone number. I will always be proud of where I am from its almost like a race added, Im Cuban, Mexican, American, And Huntington Parkan. LOL


    • Sheila Clapkin
      Apr 03, 2014 @ 15:34:31

      Dear Lupita,
      I want you to know I loved your response to my blog on Huntington Park. I have tears in my eyes. You have the feelings I have about the beautiful town of Huntington Park, California. It has given me some sort of Magic during my years there and I think it has for you, too. Thank you so much for your heartfelt comment. Love and best wishes to you!
      Sheila Levin Clapkin


  15. April M.
    Apr 09, 2014 @ 07:33:49

    Hi Sheila , found your blog after searching for Pacific blvd ! I was born and raised in the southeast area of L.A. too ,born in Maywood and stayed in the area until the early 1990’s went back to live for a couple of years in the late 90’s {to this day I still have family in the area} both of my Children were born at Mission hospital one in the 70’s and another Child in the early 1980’s .. thank you for the pictures of the Farmer John plant on Soto !! when I was a small Child this was such a thrill for me to see the wonderful mural on the building ,I can recall my beloved Grandfather driving by there and going real slow for me to take it all in 🙂 that is one of my most treasured memories ! and going shopping downtown with my Grandmother to her favorite store, Winemans on Pacific blvd ..who says you can’t go home again ? it may have changed a bit but, as you said it is all in the memories I loved growing up in the area wouldn’t have wanted it any other way ! the southeast area was full of wonderful people, places and things ! . Loved reading your blog thank you for reminding me just how lucky I was as a kid growing up there . Best wishes to you 🙂


    • Sheila Clapkin
      Apr 09, 2014 @ 17:45:22

      Miss April,
      Thank you for your beautiful comment and your lovely sharing of memories. The people from Huntington Park have fairy dust in their hair and you can tell them anywhere. I am so proud to have the Huntington Park genetics and I see you feel the same. Be well and enjoy your life.!


  16. schlage
    Jan 28, 2016 @ 03:18:22

    Truly inspirational……….


  17. Joyce Hopping Rettela
    Jan 28, 2016 @ 16:59:13

    Hi Sheila,
    Fun to read this blog again. I recognized all the names except Abby Gratz which doesn’t ring a bell. I remember when Sydney Michelle came to State St, like in 5th or 6th grade and she didn’t have any dolls, so I gave her one of my twin dolls with clothes that my grandmother had made. If I remember right Sydney lived on the street behind Kathy Ganoung’s, my best friend in grammar school. Living where I did on Cudahy St. five houses from California, I had the choice of going to Gage or South Gate Jr. High. I choose SGJH because it was closer and a nice boy named Alan Brown was going to SG. After High School I never saw him again until our class 50 year reunion, still as nice as ever. Terry and Gordon have been at the reunions also. I remember the little grocery store out the State St. gate. Gorgeous George, the wrestler was there one day after school and gave us all his autograph. Remember the ceramic store across State St. We would look through the trash for discards. Yes, fun memories.


  18. Sheila Clapkin
    Jan 29, 2016 @ 11:39:07

    Hi, Happy to hear from you. I needed a bit of your wisdom and humor. Abby Gratz hit me and pushed me to the ground in the 2nd grade. We both were banned from going to the Aren farm & milk tour field trip. We sat all day and made good friends. But still I hated to miss the field trip.
    Of if Sydney Michelle would come out of the woodwork somehow, I would be way more that thrilled.
    I remember being in amour with someone from the 3rd grade on; and when I finally saw him at the 20th reunion, I really almost fainted. I asked him to dance later on and he was such a gentleman he said he’d have to ask my husband. Permission given and we danced. One of the highest and warmest experience ever…I guess I loved him then in the 3rd grad until now as he is in heaven.
    Gorgeous George, oops I missed seeing him. I think. Memories. Wonderful. I would love to see Kathy Ganoung.
    I’d love to see you.
    Thank you for your comment. I needed it right about now. Happy, Happy!!!


  19. Shelly Lester
    Dec 23, 2016 @ 08:17:23

    I really enjoyed this blog post. I grew up in South Gate but have fond memories of riding the bus with my grandma to shop on Pacific Blvd. I also went to school at Huntington Park Baptist school for a few years.


  20. Emily Goerss
    Sep 18, 2020 @ 21:26:16

    Thanks Sheila as I have just had a lovely time going down memory lane with you. You are such a good writer and I enjoyed the whole trip.


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