03 Sep The gardens of Angelus Plaza
Just across the street from the hippest, hipster-ist market in all of Los Angeles sit four hulking concrete buildings that serve as home to over a thousand elderly people. People who’ve walked by them for years have no idea what’s inside. Angelus Plaza is, in fact, the largest low-income senior housing project in the nation. Those who live there are the poorest of the poor, and qualify for rents that are a tiny fraction of market rate–usually just several hundred dollars. Demand is so high for the rare vacancies that no waiting list is kept.
It’s not just the large, centrally located one-bedroom apartments (each with two terraces) that are hard to get. So is a plot in Angelus Plaza’s beautiful garden. From the long staircase beside the dormant Angels Flight Railway alongside the property, a passerby can gaze at spectacular blossoms, bursting with eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes. And, maybe get a glimpse of an eager gardener at work tending them.
Long-time building engineer Rommel Jiminea explained to us how he built this space with and for the residents; how, even with 80 plots, he could use a hundred more to meet demand; and how tending vegetables and fruits keeps the seniors here active. “Better than staying in their apartment and doing nothing,” Jiminea said. “This is their therapy,” said social worker Judy Lee, who loves to watch residents chatting and tending their plots. “It really is.”
We also talked with several of the elderly gardeners, many of whom are Korean. Well over half the residents of Angelus Plaza, these days, are Korean, with the next largest group Chinese, at 10%.
It was here that I tasted the sweetest tomato I’d ever had, harvested by a delightful 80-something year old man with tremendous spirit. His main crop is Concord grapes, which his father used to grow. I left wishing one of the food vendors from across the street would source produce from some of these elderly gardeners–or at least subsidize some of their garden supplies.