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East L.A.'s Self Help Graphics is moving

Photo by Memo Pisa El Lodo/Flickr (Creative Commons)

The familiar tile-studded building at the corner of Cesar Chavez Boulevard and Gage Avenue that since the late 1970s has housed Self Help Graphics & Art will no longer be home to the revered art center, an Eastside fixture whose recent years have been rough ones.

On Thursday the center announced its impending move to 1300 E. 1st Street, the site of a former fish packing plant near the L.A. River in Boyle Heights, which it will share with a business that works on large-scale art installations. The move comes three years after the building, which had been owned by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, was sold to a private investment firm that since put it up for sale.

From a news release:

The high cost of rent at 3802 Cesar Chavez in addition to a reduction in the use of space created the need for Self Help to search for a new location. The search also included the serious exploration of purchasing the 3802 Cesar Chavez Avenue building. The move to the new location at 1300 1st Street comes with a substantial decrease in monthly rent.

Self Help board member and publicist Val De La Garza said that the center had occupied the space on Cesar Chavez Boulevard rent-free, an arrangement made years ago under the tenure of former executive director Sister Karen Boccalero, who died in 1997.

Going from no rent to having to pay for the space, "for a non-profit, in the middle of the recession, it was a very big change for us," De La Garza said in a phone interview. "It was going from zero to 55." De La Garza said the organization tried unsuccessfully to buy the building.

Self Help Graphics got its start in the early 1970s when Boccalero, a Franciscan nun, and a group of Chicano artists began producing prints in an East Los Angeles garage. It has long functioned as a combination of art school, artist incubator, gallery, cultural center and gathering place, at one point even hosting an all-ages punk club, the Vex. Self Help moved to its existing location in the late 1970s, after an earlier stint in Boyle Heights. A series of financial and other problems have plagued the organization during the past decade, with a financial crisis so severe it led to a temporary closure in 2005.

After the building was sold, the art center lost some of its space to another tenant, De La Garza said, another reason for the move. Executive director Evonne Gallardo said that the new leased space, which is being prepped for a late March-early April move, is roughly as big as the existing one.

Gallardo said she recalls hearing her father talk about attending dances in the Cesar Chavez Boulevard building in the 1950s when it housed a Catholic youth organization. She said she has asked the Los Angeles Conservancy to look into possible historical status for the building, even though it won't be home.

"I think it means a lot to the community," she said.