Echo Park was named one of the Top 10 Great Neighborhoods for 2008 by The American Planning Association (APA). Echo Park was chosen due to "its historic architecture, breathtaking hillside topography, walkable and pedestrian-friendly streets, and engaged residents who have worked hard to protect and preserve their community," according to an APA release. Echo Park is a diverse community home to working class families and blossoming artists, and has had to work twice as hard as other communities to create, maintain and advocate for their great community. The community is remarkably dynamic with countless ethnic groups at all income levels. Today, Echo Park is home not only to the annual Lotus Festival, the Cuban Festival, and Historic Filipinotown but also 4-star dining alongside spectacular burrito stands. The area features perfectly preserved craftsman-style homes, as well as modern architecture, great schools, parks and libraries. APA Executive Director Paul Farmer said "the neighborhood has a long history of citizen activism that has inspired not only spirited public debate, but also committed and motivated residents who are helping to keep Echo Park a great place to live."
Echo Park may have changed dramatically over the past century, but it has managed to retain the historic character and strong sense of identity that sets it apart in a modern and sprawling metropolis.
The community of Echo Park was founded by Thomas Kelly, a carriage maker turned real estate developer. In the late 1880s Kelly teamed up with a group of local investors, selling off pieces of what they called "the Montana Tract." Legend says that the lake got its name after workers building the reservoir remarked that their voices echoed off the canyon walls. The small farms and ranches that dotted the hills and canyons of Echo Park, and its sister neighborhoods of Elysian Heights and Angelino Heights, eventually gave way to Victorian mansions, Craftsman bungalows, Spanish Colonial style homes and brick storefronts.
Before World War I, Echo Park was a middle-class neighborhood, nicknamed "Red Hill" for a concentration of political radicals living there. Since its earliest days, the neighborhood has been known to attract the creative, underground, independent, and iconoclastic elements of society. Since the early 2000s, artists, actors, musicians and gay couples of all races have flocked the neighborhood for its relatively affordable housing and alternative feel, making it one of the most diversified communities in the United States.
The Los Angeles film industry was centered in Echo Park (then called Edendale) before the studios moved to Hollywood, just before World War I. Until the end of the silent era, a large number of silent comedies were shot in the neighborhood, as were several Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, and Three Stooges shorts. Some of the earliest screen performers, including Gloria Swanson and Tom Mix, bought homes in Angelino Heights and surrounding neighborhoods before moving to Hollywood and other areas. The area has continued to be used as a location for films and is popular with modern filmmakers for the pre-World War II look of some districts.
Echo Park is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, developed at the end of the 19th century and seeing its greatest surge in growth between 1905 and 1935. Located northwest of downtown Los Angeles, its rolling hills and steep bluffs became a prime spot for clapboard cottages, Spanish-style bungalows and a sprinkling of postwar and Modern homes. Echo Park is home to many unique businesses, live music venues and art galleries. Many small independent boutiques and coffee shops have blossomed along Sunset Blvd and the northern most part of Echo Park Boulevard going up into the hills.