Edwin Lopez

Glendale is no longer a sleepy little suburb of Los Angeles, nor is it a conservative white enclave immune from the changes of the vast metropolis encircling it. There may be no city of its size in the state that has undergone such a seismic shift in complexion, politics and culture as has the community nestled between the Verdugos and Griffith Park.

At 30 square miles, Glendale is currently the city with the third largest population in Los Angeles County (with more than 200,000 residents) and the 17th largest population in the state. The city of Glendale and Glendale College have both experienced major transformations since the ’60s and ’70s, and this can be attributed in large part to the increasingly global population that has moved into the city through the years and which now calls it home.

After incorporating as a city in 1906 the community grew quickly, with the population rising from about 13,000 to almost 63,000 between 1920 and 1930. Around this time the city was predominantly white Anglo-Saxon protestant. This may partly explain why the clueless American Nazi Party in 1964 decided to locate its headquarters here, perhaps thinking the town reflected its values. But if that and other such racist groups could have predicted what was going to happen in the next few decades, they would have chosen a different location.

The Once Sleepy Suburb

During those years, Glendale really was a sleepy suburb. People let their kids run around the streets because they knew all the neighbors. They left their doors unlocked, and Brand Boulevard was mostly little shops and car dealerships.

Lifelong resident Michael DiTratto, 44, has been around to see many of the changes. His grandparents moved to the city in 1941, and his mother went to high school with Bob Wian of Bob’s Big Boy. He was born at Glendale Memorial, went to Glendale High, and left the city for only six months before moving back.

He remembers when he and his friends spent whole days at shops on Brand riding their bikes through empty lots. It was much more “village-y,” he says. “Generations grew up together; it was a community back then. You couldn’t get away with anything because mothers called other mothers, neighbors talked to each other. It wasn’t so fast paced. It was like Mayberry.” He says it was called the “Bedroom of L.A.” because people worked in L.A. then returned to Glendale to sleep, “where nothing happened.”

Around the 1970s, many commercial, business, and residential developments changed the composition of the city. The Glendale Galleria was introduced during the ’70s, as were the Ventura (134) and Glendale (2) freeways. There was also a renovation of the Alex Theatre and the addition of many high-rise buildings on and around Brand Boulevard, many of which house corporate headquarters of major companies like Nestle USA and IHOP. With this trend the city acquired the reputation of being more business-friendly than some of its neighbors.

Boom Times

All this led to a somewhat planned, but likely unexpected, boom in the city’s population. From 1970 the population went from 132,000 to more than 139,000 in 1980. Then, between 1980 and 1990, it jumped by almost 41,000 people, bringing the population to more than 180,000. In this surge, the majority of the people moving into Glendale were immigrants and people of other backgrounds, cultures and languages.
Some of the first Hispanics in the city were Mexican-Americans and Cubans. Many Mexican-Americans came in the early ’70s from Eagle Rock and other surrounding areas. Some had immigrated to the country, and although Glendale Police would routinely ask for “green cards” and report people to federal authorities for deportation, second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans had more opportunities. Cubans on the other hand, were mostly exiles or refugees welcomed by the government, and were more readily able to adapt since their country had been more influenced by American culture and many of them were politically conservative. The Porto family, which founded Porto’s Bakery in 1974, was one of the families that emigrated from Cuba in the late ’60s after the Cuban revolution.

Growth of Armenian Population

A large part of the population moving to Glendale during these years was from the Armenian and Middle Eastern communities. Like Hispanics, there had been small pockets of Armenians, but in the ’70s Glendale saw a massive influx of Armenian immigrants from many countries. After the 1915 Armenian Genocide left Armenians scattered across the globe, many came to America in search of refuge. Then, after World War II, many were again forced to leave their new homes in countries devastated by the war or where they faced oppression, poverty, and religious or political persecution.

After WWII, the U.S. government implemented a provision to immigration law allowing “displaced persons” to enter the country and become legal residents. There was a rise in Armenian immigration from Lebanon around this time due to the civil war there. Then in 1979, during the Islamic Revolution in Iran, thousands more immigrated to America, with many coming to the Los Angeles area.

The last few waves of immigrants included many educated, wealthy people with knowledge of multiple languages, which helped them to adapt to the American culture and thrive in business and politics. The governor of California from 1983 to 1991 was George Deukmejian, an Armenian-American from New York. And Larry Zarian, who served four terms at the helm of the city, was considered the first Armenian-American to become mayor of a large city.

These political and socio-economic factors may have drawn more Armenians. Also, many Armenians came to the U.S. after the fall of the U.S.S.R. Having family and friends nearby for support may have been the largest draw, something that people who emigrate from other countries always look for in a new home. Glendale now has the largest Armenian population outside Armenia.

There were also many Filipino, Korean, Japanese, and other Asian people who moved into the area during the mid to late ’70s. Many Vietnamese immigrated here as refugees from our war against them.

DiTratto recalls in the ’80s when his parents first received city announcements in both English and Spanish. He remembers that many of the older, right-wing residents were angry at the time and looked down upon the newer, foreign-born residents who couldn’t speak the language. He also recalls how people picked on one of the first Armenian students at Glendale High School, and how the football team and some of the Armenian students started a feud. “People didn’t take to it kindly,” he said. “They felt like ‘this is our town, and if we resist it, it’ll still be Glendale.’ But eventually it wasn’t.”

Around the mid-’80s he started seeing “For Sale” signs going up. The complexion of the city was slowly being altered, and there was a “grudging acceptance” as DiTratto calls it, that “Glendale had become a part of the world.” Many people felt that “it wasn’t the way they wanted to go, so they chose to live somewhere else.” This is when many of the older houses were torn down for upscale condominiums, and more storefront signs started going up in foreign languages. Glendale was in the process of changing and nobody could stop the momentum.

Glendale College

Glendale College recognized the population trend and the need for minority representation. Jose Mercade has been a counselor at Glendale College for 35 years and was only the second person to work at the college with what was called a “Spanish surname.” He translated the first two ballots for Glendale into Spanish. He also translated the financial aid application for Glendale College, which in his words “shows you how desperate they were to find somebody.”

There was some resistance from those who did not agree with the changes. In 1975, Mercade made a presentation to the board of trustees proposing a federal Extended Opportunity Program and Services (EOPS) plan which would provide state funds for Glendale’s minority students. “It’s in the public record, I looked for it myself.” he says. “It’s all in there except for one part.” At the end of his presentation, one of the board members looked at him and asked, “So you mean to tell me that you want to create a program that’s going to try to fit round pegs into square boxes?” Mercade was shocked, took a second, and then responded, “Sir, I thought we were talking about students here, not pieces of wood.” At this point the board member thanked him and the meeting was adjourned. He says, “I thought, ‘for sure they’re going to fire me tomorrow.'”

The college did eventually establish an EOPS program, making Mercade director for the first five years. The program created the Tutorial Center, which is still on campus, and visited nearby high schools to recruit minority students for the college.
Until the late ’70s students needed a permit to attend college outside of their home district, so the majority of students were still local and mostly Anglo.

Former college President Dr. John Davitt says that for a time those home district restrictions “strangled” the college. Students who wanted to come to Glendale couldn’t easily do so if they didn’t meet the residency requirement.

Davitt, who retired in 2006, after 38 years at the college and 21 years as president – a state record, says, “Every year we had to renegotiate our agreement with L.A. as to which areas could go to Glendale and which ones needed a permit. Otherwise, a student had to prove that Glendale had a program that L.A. didn’t have, which was difficult because L.A. had a lot of programs!”

It wasn’t until passage of state ballot Proposition 13, which shifted community college funding from the district to the state, that the permits were abolished.

“Glendale has always been an excellent college with a high transfer rate and good quality teachers. A lot of people wanted to come to GCC and that was finally possible. A larger diversity was always the aim for us,” the widely respected former president says.
Subsequently, the college went from being majority Anglo-white in the ’70s, down to only 30 percent in the mid ’90s.

A Turning Point

The turning point at GCC was from fall 1995, when Anglo-Americans were still the slight majority, to fall 1996, when they were relatively tied with Armenian and Latino students. The Anglo student population then ranged between 3,000 and 3,500 from 1996 to 2001, while the Latino and Armenian populations had both reached 4,000 by fall 2000. There was another divide then as the Armenian headcount jumped from about 4,000 in fall 2000, to well over 5,000 in 2002.

Meanwhile, the Anglo headcount went from 3,500 in 2000, to just 2,500 by 2003. By 2006, Anglos made up only 15 percent of the student population, while Armenians were about a third, Hispanics made up almost a quarter, and Asians were just over 10 percent, which is how it has remained. The percentage of students for whom English was not their first language jumped to 70 percent in 2007, a number which accounts for the increased class offerings of English as a second language and remedial English.

The composition of the faculty and administration has also changed to accommodate the changing student population. Professor Gordon Alexandre has taught History and Political Science at Glendale College for the last 25 years and says the faculty is definitely more diverse than when he first started. Recently, three minority women were appointed to positions in the social sciences division and he points out that this “never would have happened 30 years ago.”

Alexandre says, “It adds to the faculty and students, because now people can stand on their merits.” He, like many others, welcomes the inclusiveness. As he puts it, “it is the role of Community Colleges to provide a place to start on higher education,” especially for those with limited opportunities.

“These immigration issues are not new,” he points out. “They have been around a long, long time,” and there have always been what he calls “push-pull factors.” A push factor is what forces someone to leave their homes: poverty, religious persecution, wars, and oppression. Pull factors are what draw immigrants to other countries, specifically the United States.

“Immigrants leave what’s familiar to deal with the stress of learning a new language, getting a new job, getting an education, and making new friends.” And across the globe there is the idea that the United States is a place to where they can escape. To the religiously and politically oppressed, we offer the ideals of “Freedom of Religion” and “Freedom of Speech.” To the poor and hungry we offer “economic opportunity,” a place where anyone can “work hard and get ahead.” Alexandre says, “This is the idea pushed by films, the press, the pulpit, and politicians. Unfortunately, though, many find out that the truth is different once they get here.”

The changing dynamic has presented many challenges, and not only at GCC. Some have complained about the city commemoration of the Armenian Genocide. There have been fights between Armenian and Latino students at local high schools. And some of the recent immigrants are not able to adapt so readily and can have a hard time getting used to the changes.

Bellina Davoodian was born in Iran in 1981. She moved to Glendale seven years ago because she says “I hated the situation in Iran. So I decided to leave.” She left alone with her family’s knowledge and eventually wound up in Glendale. She got a job with her dentist, but still had trouble fitting in. She remembers when her classmates teased her for saying “I have computer,” as if it was some sort of disease, or when she cried for two hours because she couldn’t think of a certain word. It took her two years to really feel comfortable, learning English by reading the subtitles on television until one day a co-worker remarked, “Oh my God, you lost your accent!”

She is now a surgical tech at Huntington Hospital in Pasadena, but she acknowledges that many have had a harder time, some opting to move back to their homelands. As Davoodian points out, “Some don’t try to learn the language or get an education.”

Sometimes it may not come as easily, or they may face hardships and resistance. But most do adapt over time, and eventually they make their surroundings more familiar and friendly.

The challenges people feel off campus are reflected on campus. Glendale College has faced many of these challenges, and as Professor Alexandre puts it, “GCC is just a microcosm of Glendale,” which is just a microcosm of California, the United States, and the world. It will be interesting to see how the city progresses over the next few years with the addition of the Americana and other recent changes.

The Americana promises to boost Glendale’s economy, but it may also have negative effects on the quality of life. How Glendale progresses from here could give some insight into how the country might advance, and even an idea of how things might change on a more global scale.

After all, Glendale is no longer the “bedroom of L.A.,” but a part of the
larger world.