Pico Union Housing

“Empowering the Community through Historic and Cultural Preservation, Youth Programs, Economic Development Strategies and Art Programs


As a native of the Pico Union district of Los Angeles, I have seen firsthand the rich cultural and architectural heritage that can be found throughout the neighborhood. Pico Union lies within the original boundary of El Pueblo de Los Angeles, which was founded in 1781 and originally developed between 1880 and 1930. The neighborhood still looks much the same as it did more than a century ago.

As Los Angeles continued to grow, the area changed from an exclusive suburb on the city’s edge to an increasingly diverse, urban neighborhood. In 2004, the area became the City of Los Angeles’s nineteenth Historic Preservation Overlay Zone.


As is the case for many historic districts in Los Angeles, the neighborhood was once home to primarily white upper-class families (although Mexican-Americans have also lived here for quite some time), though this group eventually migrated to the suburbs. Because of the low rent and the proximity to manufacturing and the service sector, working-class communities of color and immigrants took their places. As the city government shifted its priorities elsewhere, our neighborhood received less infrastructural resources. Today the majority of Pico-Union’s residents are Latino with roots from Central America and Mexico. Korean-, Cuban-, and Greek-Americans have also made Pico Union their home for some time.

Pico Union Housing Corporation was born out of neighborhood residents’ ongoing socio-economic struggles. Since 1965 PUHC has aspired to meet local needs by providing facilities and social services that enrich our community. PUHC has been a recognized community economic development organization for over 35 years. 100% of the housing programs in the 885 units of affordable housing we presently own and operate serves low- and very low-income families. By reducing welfare assistance and unemployment rates as well as decreasing school dropout rates, we assist our constituents in creating and generating wealth. We prepare youth to enter the workforce through high-demand jobs which pay a living wage. Creating entrepreneurial opportunities for youth and adults strengthens economic growth in our multiracial, predominantly-Latino community.

Our mission at Pico Union Housing Corporation is to develop and preserve affordable housing. PUHC emphasizes home ownership, the establishment of effective community organizations and facilities, and the creation of economic development strategies that benefit low-income residents and preserve our rich cultural heritage. As an organization firmly rooted in the needs of the community, we see preservation as a powerful community development tool. It instills a sense of neighborhood pride while valuing residents’ contributions.


The latest task we have taken on in our effort to serve, preserve, and support our community is the development of the Casas Alicia. Restoration work is expected to begin in Spring 2010. Once the Casas Alicia project is completed it will take the name of Pico Union Economic Development and Empowerment (PUEDE) Center. Two turn-of-the-century homes that were relocated in 2006 from Arapahoe Street to an empty lot on Alvarado Street will house the PUEDE Center. The Jevne Residence was built in 1904 by architect Frederick L. Roehrig, known for many Pasadena landmarks including the Hotel Green. The owner of a grocery company who also Director of First National Bank/Southern California Savings Bank–Jesse Jevne–lived there. Built in 1908, the Newmark Residence, was designed by Sumner P. Hunt who is also responsible for the AAA Automobile Club building on Figueroa. Harris Newmark, who hailed from one of Los Angeles’ founding families, previously resided here. Newmark’s business and philanthropic affiliations included the Los Angeles Public Library, Congregation B’nai B’rith, Board of Trade, and Southwest Museum.



In the 1980s, the Alvarado site was one of several federal detention centers in Pico Union where immigrants were jailed. Many were deported back to their civil war-torn home countries they had originally fled. Now the site is a center of neighborhood hope Through its various programs PUEDE will instill social values, the importance of education, self sufficiency and upward mobility. Training in historic restoration techniques such as wood window repair and will also feature courses on plumbing, carpentry, electrical, lead remediation and masonry will be offered as well as Wealth Creation Programs such

as: First Time Homebuyer Education Program with Flexible Loan Programs, Down payment Assistance Programs, and Real Estate Development. Our Neighborhood Business Revitalization Program will provide services to help small business owners expand and grow their business. We will also have a college preparation center, a Money-Smart Training Program, and a Computer Training Course.



Public art – as seen in graff art (short for graffiti art) pieces and murals — provides a sense of ownership towards ones community. Young artists shape the built environment through their own cultural identity and, in so doing, they contribute to the neighborhood. Since the1930s, murals have played an important role in preserving and understanding the history of the Pico Union neighborhood.

Three years ago PUHC formed a Graff Lab center at its corporate office on Venice Boulevard. One of the programs that is offered by the Graff Lab is “Artists to Entrepreneurs” program. The “Artists to Entrepreneurs” program expands local artists’ talents by providing a safe place to sketch and display their work. This, simultaneously, keeps them off the streets. In order to have a healthy, vibrant community, we must invest in our youth.

At PUHC, we believe we can do this by creating opportunities for them to express themselves. PUHC works with all residents to foster pride in their communities. This is reflected in our efforts to preserve historic homes, public spaces, and residential buildings that enhance the quality of life for everyone. Pico Union Housing Corporation is always looking for new ideas and volunteers.



The Graff Lab is an urban sanctuary for artists, kids, and adults that opened after the Los Angeles public school district cut its after-school art programs in 2006. World famous for its graffiti and aerosol art, The Graff Lab is dedicated to providing artists with a safe space to develop their skills. At The Graff Lab artists don’t have to worry about getting harassed by the police or by gangsters; they are free to concentrate on their craft.

But The Graff Lab is more than a public art space. The Graff Lab offers free tutoring and counseling in addition to free dance and music lessons (guitar and drums). The USC Boxing Club has a training facility at The Graff Lab, so free boxing lessons are available as well.

Additionally, The Graff Lab hosts a variety of cultural events, including Halloween parties, Thanksgiving get-togethers, a Virgin of Guadalupe celebration and a Christmas toy drive. The Graff Lab also offers historical preservation and small business training through its sister organization: The Pico-Union Housing Corporation.

The Graff Lab is located at 1038 Venice Blvd, Los Angeles, CA at the intersection of Union and Venice. It is just minutes from the Staples Center in downtown LA.

Graff Lab Frequently Asked Questions



 Artists & Community Coments

“Let me get something clarified before I talk about the Graf Lab. Usually when I tell someonethat I create graffiti with the youth in my neighborhood I get concerned looks from them. The word graffiti almost always brings up other words in most people’s minds like: illegal, crime,or sin. In our minds we think of words like: art, work, and style. Let it be known that there issuch a thing as legal graffiti, and it’s beautiful.

I’ve had the privilege of teaching some of the youth in our neighborhood the form ofillustration. In turn, they’ve been teaching me the art of graffiti. Every piece that we dotogether is 100% legal, and it’s usually at a legal spot in our neighborhood called the GrafLab. This spot is somewhat of a sacred place in Pico Union, Los Angeles. It’s on the South Eastcorner of Venice and Union in Los Angeles. (if you’ve got the skills please come through) EverySaturday, artists can express themselves legally in broad daylight, and practice the art form ofgraffiti in safety. There are outside dangers that come in though. For instance the Burlingtongang has claimed this as their territory. Yes you might get stopped by them if you go there, butwe can’t let gangs interrupt or lives. The Graf Lab belongs to everyone, and it’s important to not hand any place over to darkness. The Artists have something to say. They also have somethingthey need to let out of their being. I love the Graf Lab because it provides artists with anoutlet that takes them off the billboards and private property of L.A. If anything there needsto be more legal spots like the Graf Lab in every city.
We have to support places like this.

If legal walls are taken away from the public then peoplewill fall into vandalism even more. If we believe that non-permission graffiti on privateproperty is a crime, then we have to back our beliefs by providing legal walls as a community.”

(By Etex at the Graf Lab)


Save the Planet Mural

This weekend (April 20-22, 2012) the Pico Union neighborhood will be treated to a brand new Earth Day Mural by STP crew. The Earth Day mural is going up at Lucy’s Drive Thru at the intersection of Pico and Union just blocks from the Staples Center in downtown LA. STP is replacing the previous Earth Day mural, which has been on display since 1990. However, the original Earth Day mural has fallen on hard times. It is covered in ugly tags and the sun has drastically faded its once vibrant colors. The Earth Day mural project is being sponsored by the Pico Union Housing Corporation and the Graff Lab.

Fortunately, the artists of the original mural recognize its state of decay and have given the STP crew permission to go over the piece. The Pico Union neighborhood has also signed off on the project and fully supports the new Earth Day mural. The STP crew has spent over $2,500 on paint and is looking for any and all donations. For more information on how to donate please contact Keve at 562-587-5640. Filmmaker Robert Salcido of Sone Canvas Pictures will be making a short documentary film about the Earth Day mural project in conjunction with Man Bites Dog Films, who will be incorporating the historic event into its full length documentary on the Graff Lab and the Pico Union neighborhood.



Photos from Day One of the Earth Day Mural project are below. If you want to check out their progress or lend a hand, Lucy’s Drive Thru is located at Pico and Union in downtown LA.




Grafflab Rules

All people who wish to paint at The Graff Lab must first read and understand all of our rules. Visitors are required to sign the Graff Lab’s sign-in sheet. By signing in you agree to follow ALL of the rules of The Graff Lab. Any person found painting outside the permitted area will be asked to leave the yard and will no longer be able to participate in any of The Grafflab’s programs or activities. They will also be cited for vandalism by the L.A.P.D.


1. The Grafflab is open only on WEEKENDS. It is closed on Holidays.

2. In order to participate you must be 18 years of age with a valid form of ID. All minors must be accompanied by a parent.

3. This property is closed to the public. No entry without permission under L.A.M.C Sec. 41.24 PC 602L.

4. Anybody found painting or marking property outside of the Graff Lab’s official hours will be charged and prosecuted.

5. All aluminum and metal fencings are for bombs.

6. All walls are for pieces only.

7. The large wall along the entrance is only for large crew productions — submit sketch to Grafflab staff for approval.

6. Garage walls are for individual theme pieces — submit sketch for approval.

7. The final pieces completed on Sundays will run until the next weekend.

8. Grafflab’s first art session begins Sat-Sun at 8 am. Last session begins at 3:30 pm. Hours open 8:00 am to 5:00 pm Sat and Sun only.

9. Grafflab is an Alcohol and Drug-free zone.

10. All Corporate logos have to be approved by Grafflab staff. Any corporate logos found on the premises without permission will be buffed.

11. Art depicting pornography, drugs, gang, hate or violence is prohibited and will be buffed.

13. You must respect all Grafflab artists and their artwork.

Artist Agreements

•  Must help promote a clean environment for all Graff Lab guests by using recycle bins, trash cans and cleaning up after yourself.

• Graff Lab is not responsible for any lost or stolen personal items.

• No painting of any kind on patterned floor, basketball court or any structure with any shade of green paint.

• Any artwork left incomplete will be painted over unless you received permission from a Grafflab staff member.

All art on the Grafflab becomes Grafflab property — IMMEDIATELY. Grafflab reserves the right to use such art in any form way,

• All photos taken of Grafflab art is to be used for personal archives only.

The Graff Lab accepts and appreciates all donations. Contributions go to maintaining a clean safe environment for our guests. With your support the Graff Lab will continue to expand our Canvas Art Gallery as well as our numerous other artistic and cultural ventures. A brighter future starts today — from what you did yesterday.

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