To MacArthur Park residents and locals, education is not limited to the public school curriculum - it is homeward bound. Understanding the real heritage behind the neighborhood takes generations of education, and two blocks around the park are always different with a set of training wheels.
MacArthur Park has consistently ranked at the bottom of the list when it comes to clean parks in Los Angeles County. But now residents and officials alike are making a push to clean up the park.
The culture of sports jerseys is huge in MacArthur Park, and they color the passion for futbol that flows through this community. Todos Deportes is the biggest sports shop in MacArthur Park and has been supplying the community with gear for the past 3 years.
What do the Olympics, punk rock bands, weddings, secret clubs and YMCAs all have in common?
They've all called the Park Plaza building in MacArthur Park home...at least for a little while.
Full of mystery and continually dynamic, this colossal building has had almost as diverse of a lifestyle and as rich of a history as the park itself.
Back when it was built in 1925 -- when MacArthur Park was at the height of its Old-Hollywood glamour -- this massive 11-story building was home to a select organization of Los Angeles' privileged elite.
"The Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elk was a charitable fraternal organization, whose roots go back to a men's drinking club organized by actors in the 1860s," said Cindy Olnick of the Los Angeles Conservancy, a historical preservation organization.
The Los Angeles Elks Lodge No. 99 -- the Park Plaza's formal name back in the 20s -- provided a place for these men to hold secret meetings, drink and discuss city politics. It's said that many of Los Angeles' biggest decisions were made in the smoking lounge of the Elks Lodge -- as the city's most influential leaders mingled over cigars and drinks.
"The meetings of the Elks Club were extremely secret," said Trisha Harako, one of the Park Plaza's special events coordinators. "They had double doors leading into this huge meeting room. You had to know the secret password to get by the first one."
But in addition to being a shelter for confidential dealings, the building's elaborate decor has secrets of its own.
Built by an architectural firm called Curlett and Beelman, the old Elks Lodge was actually created as a war monument dedicated to members who lost their lives in World War I. Its colossal structure is supposed to be a tribute to this monumentality.
What's more, the outside of the structure is drenched in symbolism and imagery -- a common theme throughout the entirety of the Park Plaza's architecture and design.
Statuesque busts representing figures in the American military (members of the army, navy, marines and even a female nurse) litter the building's exterior walls.
"Each corner of the structure is guarded by enormous angels," Olnick stated. "They are massive! They're over two stories. I mean the amount of detail in these buildings -- you just don't see that today."
These guardian angels are perched atop the building's tower and hold flaming torches -- "The Lights of Liberty" -- meant to sanctify the memories of the fallen soldiers.
But it's not just the exterior of the old Elks Lodge that shelters symbolic imagery: its interior is just as embellished with hundreds of different images -- many with unidentified meanings.
The Park Plaza's smooth, dark cherry wood ceiling (still in its original condition today) is decorated with wispy, copper plaited symbols of Moorish stars, Roman banding and Native American swastikas.
A massive golden chandelier adorned with a circle of gilded zodiac signs hangs in the middle of the building's foyer, but its meaning in regards to the Elks is unknown.
The only design directly associated with the Order is a huge bronze elk that commands the space above the building's dark and expansive entryway. Behind it is a wrought iron clock face, perpetually frozen at 11 o'clock -- a symbol of the "Eleven O'Clock Toast," which remembers the Order's "absent" brothers.
Extensive (and elusive) decorating aside, with all the modern amenities the Elks Lodge offered, it could have been a concrete prison and still have been considered upscale.
Back in the day, its elite members had the privilege of enjoying their own private gymnasium and bowling alley, conveniently located in the basement of the lodge.
The building even had its own underground swimming pool, at which many of the 1932 Olympic events were held.
However, all of these structures have long since been condemned.
"The pool is not in any usable condition at this time," Harako laughed. "It's all dried up."
As time drew on, things began to change. The structure nestled on the shores of a once-glamorous MacArthur Park began to transform.
"The Elks Club grew tremendously around World War I," said Olnick. "But it saw membership dwindle by the 1960s."
Which meant that by the '70s, the Benevolent and Protective Order had to let its beloved home go -- and the Elks Lodge was sold.
And thus: the Park Plaza as we know it today came into existence -- after a few changes of heart.
The building's identity has transformed -- almost comically -- many times since the Order sold it: It went from being a hotel, to a YMCA, to a venue for punk rock bands.
Now, it's a multipurpose venue and one of the most filmed locations in Los Angeles. It's an incredibly dynamic structure with a different use for every day of the week -- literally.
"This year we had over 50 weddings," said Hanako. "We've also had masquerades, radio station events, commercials being filmed here -- it's something new every day."
When I went to visit the building, a scene from some obscure TV show was being filmed. Twenty plus workers milled about the first two levels of the building (the remaining nine levels are left unused and vacant), transforming the structure's expansive warm wood enclaves into scenes from what looked like an old Western movie.
Amazingly, just the day before, the building was being used for something quite the opposite: a Nike commercial.
What's interesting about this ability to transform, this fact that the building has changed so drastically over the years, is that the Park Plaza's transformation has managed to flawlessly parallel the ever-changing dynamic of the city itself.
As MacArthur Park has evolved from homogenous rich suburb to urban cultural melting pot, the Park Plaza has mirrored its transformation.
And today, with its effortless multipurpose utility, the old Elks Lodge suits this diverse community perfectly.