Part #4: The CSO

A couple blocks west of Soto on First Street is Peoples’ History Tour Site #4. Site #4 is the Community Service Organization building, 2130 E. First Street. The Community Service Organization (CSO) was once one of the most important political organizations in the community, propelling Edward Roybal into Congress as the only Mexican American at the time in the U.S. Congress, and training organizers that included Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

I was told this building on the corner across the street from the public library and from the Hollenbeck LAPD precinct headquarters is now owned by Ranch Markets. Still, the fact that the building is still used for city councilman’s offices (Antonio Villaraigosa’s name will soon be taken off the door), the WIC program for prenatal health, and other social services testifies to the lasting effects of the political empowerment exercised by the CSO. The CSO was founded in 1947 by Edward Roybal, Antonio Rios and Fred Ross Jr. as a civil rights organization, partly in response to the Zoot Suit Riots” where U.S. servicemen and local policemen engaged in racist attacks, beating and humiliating black and Latino youths who sported baggy zoot suits and defiant pompadours. The CSO organized against police brutality, for education and citizenship rights as well as voter registration, campaigns which enabled Edward Roybal to become the first (and for a long time only) Mexican American elected to the Los Angeles City Council. At its height in 1960 the CSO had more than 5,000 members in 35 cities throughout California. Roybal served on the L. A. city council from 1949 to 1962 and was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1963. During this time he raised his family in Boyle Heights, and after his retirement from Congress, Roybal’s daughter, Lucille Roybal-Allard, became the first Chicana elected to Congress in 1992. Cesar Chavez left the CSO to begin organizing the United Farmworkers Union, but that, as they say, is another story. The building may look bleak and a bit dowdy when it is shuttered and closed, but its history is anything but. Upstairs in back, as a matter of fact, was for a short period the principal location of the seminal 1970s Eastside punk venue, Vex Populi (see attached article by Josh Kun). If this building brings any luck at all, touch its rough brick facade as you would the belly of the Buddha.

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