Boyle Heights might be a geographically small neighborhood in Los Angeles, but the talent and culture this neighborhood has produced have reached all over the nation and world. From guitars to award-winning plays to quality customizable awards, Boyle Heights residents have demonstrated that this neighborhood is not in need of outside investment. On the contrary, it is Boyle Heights that has given so much to the world. The stories featured in this section demonstrate how local community members invest in the community through workshops and other endeavors and highlight the wide recognition of their talents.
Photograph by Paola Jaime, Las Fotos Project, 2021
For the Community and the World
Candelas Guitars is a local family-owned guitar shop on César Chávez Avenue in the heart of Boyle Heights. The Candelas family, led by Tomás Delgado, have continued the legacy of Candelario Delgado and Porfirio Delgado, who founded Candelas in 1947 with the vision to provide high-quality guitars “to as many people as humanly possible without losing quality.”
Their vision, rooted in the Boyle Heights community, has expanded across the world. As Delgado expresses, “I was honored and blessed that a client of mine, Adam del Monte, once told me, ‘In a good way Tomas, I can't believe all these years I grew up in Europe and bought all my guitars in Europe, and I ended up in Boyle Heights buying Flamenco guitars.” As indicated in the quote by del Monte, a famed Flamenco guitarist, it is the deep dedication and attention to detail that Mr. Delgado places on his guitars that make them irreplaceable. This fine artisan labor done in Boyle Heights cannot be replicated, perhaps not even in the cities of Spain, the capital of Flamenco itself.
Mr. Delgado’s passion for making guitars has also allowed him to work with iconic performers that have played a critical role in the development of music, especially among young Mexican musicians. Most notably, Mr. Delgado has a close relationship with Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominees, Los Lobos, famous for their version of Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba.” Other artists to walk through the doors of Candelas include Gilberto Puente, Pepe Romero, Andres Segovia, and Jackson Brown.
Aside from providing his talents to community members and iconic performers from all over the world, Tomás Delgado has made it his mission to provide a high level of instruction to folks in the Boyle Heights community who are musically inclined. Mr. Delgado, who grew up in Boyle Heights, has provided a haven for youth in the community to creatively express themselves. As a commitment to his community, he has also founded Candelas Music and Arts Foundation to help low-income residents of Boyle Heights to obtain free guitar lessons in order to make his musicianship accessible to all. Having studied with decorated Luthier, Jose Ramirez IV in Paris, Delgado understands that having the opportunity to travel overseas to receive a high level of instruction is not something that is readily afforded to everyone. As such, Delgado has been committed to sharing his knowledge and talent with the community of Boyle Heights. Mr. Delgado’s commitment to providing community members with his specialized and generational knowledge on guitars is something that is very important to him. Mr. Delgado even expressed working around the clock in order to be able to provide every individual-- whether they are from Boyle Heights or from Spain-- with his expertise on guitars.
Candelas Guitars is a clear testament to the talent that is ever-present in Boyle Heights. When asked about why he continues to reside in Boyle Heights despite his heightened success, Mr. Delgado mentioned the following: “ ...my neighbors in the backyard, they have known me since I was 13 years old now. I feel like I am at home here. This is my home.” One thing is for certain: “There is no other Candelas in the world.” What was originally supposed to be only a week of filling in for his father and completing minimal tasks around the shop turned into a lifetime of creating peoples’ dream guitars and restoring their damaged ones? Most importantly, Mr. Delgado recognizes that his creations and impact will live on after him just as his grandfather and father’s creations live on as their legacy. Today, you can find Mr. Delgado in the back of the shop entrusting this generational knowledge to his son Tomas and daughter Sofia, who like him grew up within the walls of Candelas. Regardless of what career path his children embark on, Tomas knows that through Candelas, the Delgado family will continue to be a symbol of hard work, quality, and cultural pride in the Boyle Heights community.
Started in 2000, CASA 0101 is one of the leading arts organizations on L.A.’s East Side, which aspires to present the highest quality work with a commitment to diversity and community. It is located in the Boyle Heights Artist District and is dedicated to providing vital arts, cultural, and educational programs, thereby nurturing the future Los Angeles storytellers who will someday transform the world.
CASA 0101 was founded by Josefina Lopez, author of Real Women Have Curves, to fulfill her vision of bringing art and live theater programs to the community she grew up in. After moving to Los Angeles from her hometown of San Luis Potosi, Josefina witnessed the lack of opportunities for youth in Boyle Heights in the arts, humanities, and performance while attending Roosevelt High School. She wanted to leave a different legacy for her community. The name comes from CASA meaning house or home in Spanish, and 0’s and 1’s from the binary language computers use to operate. The meaning of the name also evolved into meaning yin and yang, committed to exploring the light and the darkness of our soul and our world. CASA 0101 operated for 11 years in a converted former bridal shop, and in 2011 moved into its current home with a fully-equipped 99-seat theater, art gallery, and a dedicated classroom.
The team at CASA 0101 has an open door policy as an entryway for many in the performing arts. For example, in 2018 Casa 0101 hosted 227 youth who participated in their free classes in acting, dance, and writing and 261 adults who participated in low-cost acting, writing, and singing classes. 166 individuals worked on their main stage productions, including actors, writers, directors, producers, creative designers, and crew. And in 2018, over 12,000 audience members attended a performance at CASA 0101.
CASA 0101 is located on First Street because that thoroughfare has been envisioned by community members as central to the development of the arts in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. Stretching from Mariachi Plaza eastward, First Street is intended to draw the Boyle Heights community to support theater, the visual arts, music, and all other forms of creative expression that represent the local community. In the last few years, Josefina Lopez has renovated a restaurant space in Mariachi Plaza into Casa Fina Restaurant to further serve as a central hub of innovation in the arts and creativity.
“Casa is what made me. Casa is what brought me to this place in my career. When I come here I feel safe. I feel I can let everything out.”
– Johnny Ortiz, Actor: American Crime, McFarland USA, Soy Nero
House of Trophies
Saul Gonzalez has been working at the House of Trophies and Awards almost as long as it’s been opened. He started as a teenager when the business was under a different name, sweeping and cleaning up after school and on weekends, and got to witness the bustling of the busy Boyle Heights neighborhood through the people that walked in to place their orders.
Growing up in Aliso Village, Gonzalez has always been connected to the neighborhood and has been committed to neighborhood work. He is well known because of his work volunteering and working as a coach, referee, and youth coordinator. His business is well respected for offering solid products at reasonable prices.
House of Trophies and Awards has been a supplier of appreciation and recognition for over 35 years. When Joe Campos and Pedro Prieto first opened the business it was called Casa Prieto Trophies. Gonzalez was just a teenager in 1988 when the store opened, and he started working there sweeping and cleaning up after school. He learned the business first by watching the interactions between the workers and the public, learning about the business as much as about the neighborhood. As people walked in to place their orders, they also got to know each other and share news and updates on what was going on around town. Gonzalez learned the art of making trophies and building relationships through appreciation.
It’s the personal attention, design, and affordability that bring customers back to House of Trophy. The company has done work for impressive gigs such as making plaques for George Lopez and Jerry Garcia. Then there was that time Saul personally crafted a plaque in honor of the Regional Mexican singer, Jenni Rivera, who had passed away in 2012. The list of celebrities and dignitaries speaks to the reputation that the House of Trophies has in the community. Still, it is the small businesses, schools, and churches that keep the business going. It is the relationships that Saul has forged in the local neighborhood that has built the business to what it is now.
Saul’s small business is centered on adjusting to change while honoring his employees. He recognizes that each employee represents a member of the community and that each team member is part of a family that they support. Although online businesses may offer cheaper options, customers prefer to look through the hundreds of trophies in the space and pick just the right size, color, and emblem for their orders. House of Trophies and Awards has an online presence, but inquiries and orders primarily come from people walking into the store. Picking a trophy from the ones on the shelf takes some of the guesswork out of the design and helps bring ideas to life. Then, with decades of experience and thousands of designs behind them, Saul and his employees help customers with finishing touches and just the right words of appreciation. Saul finds that this type of interaction is necessary for people to develop their vision to create the materials to honor a recognition recipient.
Saul describes Boyle Heights as a place of diversity, appreciation, and recognition. And although there are businesses in Boyle Heights that have been long-lasting and others that have come and gone, he sees a lot of potential in the neighborhood.
“We know our roots, but don’t always see how we’re flowering,” he said.