One of the goals here at @WestLoStories is to lift up the voice and experiences of our local elders. Every elder that passes is a treasure trove of experiences, knowledge, and wisdom. One of the reasons we wanted to interview Phyllis is because, at 77 she helps organize a local old timers community member reunion here in the Mar Vista/Venice area. 

We have many beautiful people around us who contribute and hold down our communities in a variety of ways. In a social culture that tries to hook us on the dramatic, trendy, or popular– we often miss the beautiful and valuable people around us who hold our communities together.  In our rookie West Los Stories debut interview,  Phyllis gives us a glimpse into her younger days in the Sawtelle neighborhood of West Los, as well as perspectives on current times.

Photos by @snaccmanjones

Phyllis is a life-long West Los Angeles resident and currently is an organizer for the “Neighborhood Reunion” event. At the Neighborhood Reunion, current West Los residents, and also those who have moved away, can come back and get together. Phyllis is in charge of the photography. When someone passes away they add their photo to a collection. She says the collection is getting bigger and bigger every year. September 16th will make 15 years for the reunion. 

Phyllis told us about a time in West LA where things were very calm. There was a big Chicano community, and although they were far from rich, they were comfortable and at ease. 

“When I was in school, there were a lot of rich kids. Liza Monelli was in my gym class. Jim Lancaster’s son was in my history class. Jeff Chandler’s daughter was in my English class. Jerry Lewis’ son, Gary, was in my history class. There were a lot of rich kids, but they were down to earth. They didn’t treat you any different,” Phyllis, said. 

“Back then there were rich people, but it was a different kind of people,” Phyllis continued. “It’s hard. You feel like you don’t own anything anymore. They’re pushing you away. You sense it… Like we don’t belong? Actually, we were here first.”

Phyllis is determined to live out her life here in West LA. She might be the last of her family here. Her daughter has expressed no desire to continue living on the West side because of how it has changed. 

“I go through West LA every now and then just to cruise the neighborhood, and it’s all different,” Phyllis said. “The place where I grew up at is gone. The corner market is gone. It’s a high rise. Everything’s gone they keep building and building and building.”

Phyllis continues to fight to keep the fond memories of her home alive. “Life was was easy in the 50’s and 60’s. You could leave your house unlocked and come back and find your house in order,” Phyllis, said. “All of us were intermixed. I have family from all four corners.”

Mike Bravo

Mike Bravo is a 5th generation Chicano-P'urhepecha centered in Venice, CA. He is a lettering artist, community scribe, and Indigenous activist with a 22+ year record of remarkable civil rights successes.

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