Neighbor Spotlight: Love of history and community motivates Highland Park preservationist

Antonio Castillo


HIGHLAND PARK –– A busy day job doesn’t stop Antonio Castillo from giving back to his community. When the 41-year-old is not working as associate city planner for the City of West Hollywood, he devotes a large amount of his personal time to preserving his neighborhood’s historic character.

Castillo, who has lived most of his life in and around Highland Park, recently finished up several years serving as President of the Highland Park Heritage Trust, which is dedicated to preserving the heritage of Los Angeles’ Arroyo Seco communities through education, advocacy and preservation projects.

“It’s a passion that I have,” said Castillo, who currently lives in Garvanza and remains a trust board member.

Castillo spoke with The Eastsider about his  deep interest in architecture, history, and preservation, and his work with the trust, known as HPHT. The community-based nonprofit will be celebrating its 35 year anniversary in October.

How did you end up in at  the Highland Park Heritage Trust?

I was active in a preservation organization in Eagle Rock when I lived there for a short period of time. As a city planner, I work both on planning and urban design but also have a large emphasis on [historic] preservation. When I joined HPHT, I came in with a background in urban planning, historic preservation, history and administration.

What led you into historic preservation?

My interest since childhood was architecture and history. So when I learned about the importance of historic neighborhoods and historic buildings, and having lived in a historic neighborhood here in Highland Park, I started getting involved, first with a committee in Eagle Rock. I wanted to bring my skills, anything that I could offer to my own neighborhood on a volunteer basis.

What does HPHT do?

As an advocacy organization, we focus specifically on historic preservation. We have proven to be quite strong. We’re one of the longest, continuously run historic preservation organizations in Los Angeles –– with over 300 members. We have the largest historic district in Los Angeles here in Highland Park, and HPHT played a key role in establishing that district back in 1994.

What’s the biggest challenge  for HPHT?

I feel that sometimes we cannot accomplish everything that we want to accomplish. But what we do accomplish is always very satisfying and leading our mission. Part of the challenge is that historic preservation is sometimes looked at as an elitist sport. For some people, it’s that mentality that historic preservation limits their property rights.

How can residents become more involved in helping preserve the heritage of their communities?

One thing that they can do is join our membership or even attend a meeting. We disseminate a lot of preservation related information. Sometimes that’s asking for too much of people. People are busy, everyone’s busy, but what everyone can do is understand and appreciate the community, its history, its significance. We’re a thriving community that’s becoming more and more diverse.

Where do you like to hang out in the neighborhood and why?

I can go have a $40 dinner at one restaurant or I could go have $2 tacos at a taco truck. I do it all. When I have meetings, I always make it a point to meet at one of our local businesses, whether it’s Antigua Bread Cafe, Cafe de Leche, Highland Cafe, Folliero’s Pizza, or Tierra Mia. I also really enjoy the art walk every month. I also don’t often cook at home, sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit that, so I eat out a lot –– I’ve probably been to maybe 95% of all the restaurants in Highland Park.

Fill in the blank: What is this neighborhood needs is a….?

More involvement. Being involved, being active in the community builds a stronger community. So whether you’re active in your church, active in your kid’s school, active in an organization, active in the neighborhood council, just being involved builds a strong bond with the community. You really start appreciating where we live.

What neighborhood mystery/question would you like answered?

How do we solve gentrification? And I don’t know any one person that has that answer because I don’t believe there is an answer. So we’ll see.

Describe an only Northeast L.A moment.

The moment that I really like every year is the holiday parade. I mean it’s not a funny moment, but it’s a time where you see the community out there –- from the kids to the politicians, to the organizations. That’s something that I look forward to and have been since I was a little kid. But in terms of funny, I think maybe sometimes neighborhood council meetings, with their heated arguments. They can be comical sometimes.

Neighborhood Spotlight features the people who live, work and are active in our communities. Know of someone we should spotlight? Submit their names and details here

Pamela Avila is a Los Angeles-based journalist, with a B.A. in English Literature from UC Santa Cruz. You can read more of her published work here.

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