Annette Cardona

Cypress Park -  City officials and family members today dedicated the intersection of Avenue 26 and Jeffries Avenue in honor of the late actress Annette Cardona Charles, who grew up in the neighborhood and was best know for her role as "Cha-Cha" in the hit movie musical "Grease."

The installation of  "Annette Cardona Charles Square” signs at the intersection was the result of a grassroots effort by neighbors to establish some kind of recognition, according to Steve Weingarten, a spokesperson for the office of Councilmember Gil Cedillo, whose office sponsored a City Council motion to name the intersection.

In addition to city officials, today's ceremony also included the actresses' mother, Mary Cardona.

"We lived in Cypress Park just blocks from here, and then in Elysian Valley," Cardona said in a statement. "These neighborhoods are where Annette grew up and have been our home for close to 70 years.  We are honored to have this space be our "home" once more."

Cedillo said he wanted to honor Cardona Charles' contributions as an actress and educator.

Annette Cardona was one of the few Latinos in mainstream films

"She was a role model at a time when there were few Latinos in substantial roles in mainstream Hollywood movies, that unfortunately continues today,” stated Cedillo. “I am honoring her also for her contributions as a professor at California State University, Northridge’s Chicano Studies Department where she instilled confidence in students to become leaders.”

Annette Cardona Charles was born on March 5, 1948, to a Mexican-Italian family. Her first TV acting role was on High Chaparral in 1968. She had nearly a dozen such TV parts before her best known role, in “Grease.” She has been quoted as saying she almost turned down the role of Cha Cha.

Cardona almost turned down role of the self-proclaimed best dancer at St. Bernadette's High School who crashes the Rydell High dance-off, bumping and grinding her way to a win with Danny Zuko (John Travolta) while a humiliated Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) leaves the gym in a pouty huff.

"I was working really hard to become an actress and didn't want to be thought of as just a dancer," Cardona said in a 2010 interview with The Daily Sundial, the CSUN campus newspaper.

Mattel made a Cha Cha Barbie doll in 2008 in connection with the film's 30th anniversary.

Cardona joined actress Mary Martin and violinist Itzhak Perlman for a performance at the White House in 1983. She also appeared in the 1979 made-for- television movie, "Can You Hear the Laughter? The Story of Freddie Prinze" and such television series as "Gunsmoke," "The Flying Nun," "The Mod Squad," "Bonanza," "The Incredible Hulk" and "Magnum, P.I."

Cardona died in 2011 from lung cancer at age 63.

City News Service contributed to this story.

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Barry Lank has worked for newspapers on the East and West Coasts, and earned an MS in journalism from Columbia University. He formerly produced "National Lampoon Presents: The Final Edition." A native of San Gabriel Valley, he now lives in East Hollywood.


Jesus Sanchez is the publisher of The Eastsider. He has more than 30 years of experience in newspaper and online journalism and has been a staff writer at USA Today and the LA Times. He lives in Echo Park.

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