RED BOYLE HEIGHTS: The Cooperative Center and the Open Shop

Not long after it opened in 1925, the three-story Cooperative Center at Brooklyn Avenue and Mott Street in Boyle Heights was often described by both the Los Angeles Police Department and the city’s dailies as a “bastion,” or “stronghold” for local communist organizers and “labor agitators.” The inflated rhetoric referred to the fact that during the 1920s and 30s, Boyle Heights was home to a robust group of diverse Jewish leftists – communists, socialists, anarchists, and labor Zionists. From 1925 until the late 1930s, the Cooperative Center’s auditorium routinely hosted union meetings, lectures, film screenings, plays, concerts, and benefit dances, mostly organized by the Yiddish branch of the communist party.

This notice for an upcoming event at the Cooperative Center in Boyle Heights appeared in the Black-owned newspaper the Los Angeles Eagle on August 26, 1932. Courtesy of

But the Cooperative Center’s staff and its guests were also targets of harassment and intimidation by the LAPD’s deployment of an aggressive anti-communist unit. From sidewalk arrests for “pamphleteering” and “soapboxing” to the use of “night sticks” and “gas bombs” against protesting crowds on public streets, these actions were carried out with almost gleeful approval by the city’s leading open-shop advocates. Some of the city’s most powerful adversaries of organized labor included the Merchants and Manufacturers Association, the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, and the Better America Foundation, founded by H. M. Haldeman, the grandfather of President Nixon’s chief of staff.

A sampling of twelve article headings from the L.A. Times editorial series, The Forty Year-War for the Open Shop. The series was published every day during the month of October 1929. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Historical archives, Los Angeles Public Library.

The actions of the LAPD also had long-standing support from the family-owned Los Angeles Times, a leading defender of a union-free Los Angeles. After two labor activists were found guilty of the 1910 bombing of the newspaper’s downtown building in which twenty employees were killed, the newspaper became even more militant against “a villainous labor union movement.” As well as owning a highly influential daily newspaper, the family owners of the Times derived most of their wealth from their massive real estate holdings, which included owning interests in oil, lumber, shipping, mining, and agriculture, both in the United States and Mexico.

In 1929 the Los Angeles Times published their open-shop manifesto titled The Forty-Year War for the Open Shop as a daily series for the entire month of October—the same month the Wall Street Stock Market crashed, marking the beginning of the Great Depression. Underscoring their view of the labor movement’s local threat to unfettered capitalism, the words, fight, battle, and conflict were commonly used throughout the series. When the newly built Los Angeles Times building opened across the street from city hall in 1935 their open shop ethos was literally carved in stone with the words, True Industrial Freedom.

The words True Industrial Freedom can still be seen today on the upper right-hand corner of the front entrance of the former Times Mirror Square building. The Los Angeles Times moved its entire operations to El Segundo in 2018.  Photo taken by this blog contributor in 2024.

The next several posts will examine the early history of the communist-run Cooperative Center in Boyle Heights and its various activities that supported its socialist ideals. A future post will conclude with a look at its reemergence in the 1940s as the iconic and long-running Eastside music venue the Paramount Ballroom (the father of movie actress Rita Hayworth briefly operated a dance studio there), and finally, as a short-lived but memorable punk band showcase called, The Vex in the early 1980s.  

On January 6, 1931 the Los Angeles Times frantically described the Cooperative Center as “a military headquarters where picked squads of Communists, men selected for their physical strength and courage, are being drilled in military operations in empty lots on Brooklyn Avenue for street fighting and mob violence.” Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Historical Archives, Los Angeles Public Library.

The catalyst for establishing the Cooperative Center in Boyle Heights was factional conflict. In 1923 the Jewish Bakers Union Local 453 was granted a charter by the Bakery and Confectionery Workers International Union, with many of the local 453 members employed by several Jewish bakeries clustered around Temple Street and Grand Avenue. One bakery was run by the Jewish Consumer’s League (JCL), a cooperative buying club formed in 1918 by female members of the local Yiddish socialist party. In 1919, aided by members of the local Workmen’s Circle (WC), a fraternal organization of Jewish leftists, the JCL purchased an old bakery on Temple Street to establish the Cooperative Bakery.

By 1923 a conflict erupted between the more radical members of Local 453, who insisted on more worker control over the bakery, and the reformist-leaning leftists of the bakery’s board of directors. Both were members of the WC, but, in a broader context, this was an ideological divide between communists and socialists that became more contentious after the Bolshevik revolution in 1917.

In 1924, members of the Yiddish branch of the Los Angeles Communist Party, along with the Marxists who broke away from the moderate-leaning WC, banded together under the Cooperative Consumers League. They purchased a parcel of real estate at 2706-2708 Brooklyn Avenue (now Cesar Chavez Avenue) and requested a city permit to build their multi-purpose Cooperative Center for $25,000. According to the application, it would also include, “stores, shops, and assembly halls.” The Cooperative Center opened in 1925 and by 1926 members of the communist-oriented Jewish Bakers Union Local 453, along with most of the bakery’s shareholders, voted to relocate their Temple Street co-op to Boyle Heights.

Application submitted by the Co-operative Consumers League to construct a two-story building on Brooklyn Avenue, dated September 4, 1924. According to the 1923 Los Angeles City Directory, the owner’s address, located in the MacArthur Park area, is the home address of the building’s architect, Gregory R. Evans. Courtesy of the Los Angeles County Office of the Assessor.

The two-story Renaissance Revival-style building (a third floor was added in 1928) was designed by Gregory R. Evans of the Evans and Zukin Construction Company. Evans also designed the Ex Patients Home at nearby Hazard Avenue, a rehabilitation center for indigent Jews formerly recuperating from tuberculosis at the Jewish-run sanatorium in Duarte.

Operating on the first floor of the Cooperative Center was a bakery, a café, a bookstore, and an insurance and notary public office. The upper floors provided meeting spaces for local Boyle Heights groups like the Communist Youth League, as well as rooms for after-school educational and cultural programs called a folkshul. The building also housed a large auditorium for community meetings, dances, and concerts. Although it was run collectively by local Yiddish communists, the new venue quickly became an important center for class-conscious radicals of all types. The center even housed a small printing press facility where several Marxist-oriented newspapers (mostly in Yiddish) managed to have brief runs over the next several years.  

Despite some factionalism among Boyle Heights leftists, there was still a broadly shared cultural commitment to the socialist ideals of collectivism and trade union solidarity, with many of them using the resources of the Cooperative Center to support those principles. An early example of this was the Jewish baker’s strike in 1926 that involved several bakeries in their own Boyle Heights community.

Los Angeles Times, 5/2/1926. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Historical Archives, Los Angeles Public Library.

On May 1, 1926, the Hebrew Baker’s League of Southern California (HBLSC), which was closely aligned with the Merchants and Manufactures’ Association, declared that ten out of seventeen local Jewish-run bakeries agreed to operate as an open shop business. HBLSC told the Los Angeles Times their action was in response to union demands for higher wages and more holidays. Union leaders disputed this in the May 7 edition of the Los Angeles Citizen, a labor weekly, declaring they only insisted that the agreements in the current contract be extended another year.

According to the L. A. Times of May 2, the situation resulted in an employee walkout and a union call to boycott the declared open-shop bakeries, with bakery owners immediately hiring non-union replacements, commonly called “scabs” by unionists. Seven bakeries – four open shops and three unionized, were in Boyle Heights. The others were centered in the “old Jewish neighborhood” in the Central Avenue/Temple Street area.  

On May 14, 1926, the Los Angeles Citizen published a list of the union and non-union bakeries. The bakeries on Brooklyn Avenue, Wabash Avenue, and First Street are in the Boyle Heights area. Courtesy of

Members of the Cooperative Bakery soon organized several campaigns to provide crucial support for those on strike, including having the Local 453 Ladies Auxiliary go door-to-door exhorting households to buy only union-label bread while the JCL conducted seminars at the Cooperative Center for neighborhood families. The bakery also donated baked goods to families of the strikers as well as to local fundraising campaigns that supported community social service institutions. Local 453 also spearheaded a campaign to have members of the Cooperative Bakery work in rotating shifts to allow employees on strike to work a shift, or two, per week.

In this 1936 photo of a building at the southeast corner of Brooklyn Avenue and St. Louis Street, the Warsaw Bakery, which honored the union agreement during the 1926 baker’s strike, is located to the left of the delicatessen, just below the “Bakery” awning and the vertical sign above it. The corner deli is now the Guisados taco restaurant. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Despite open surveillance by the Los Angeles Police Department, members of Local 453 and the Local 453 Ladies Auxiliary took to the sidewalks to picket open-shop bakeries along Brooklyn Avenue. They also knew it defied a city-wide “anti-picketing” ordinance passed by the Los Angeles City Council in 1910.

The ordinance was in response to a series of protests led by the International Workers of the World (Wobblies) in the downtown Plaza area in the early 1900s, which prompted the Merchants and Manufactures’ Association to demand the city council crackdown on “violent, political anarchists.” During a public hearing on July 15, 1910, the Los Angeles Times reported that renowned Los Angeles defense attorney Earl Rogers, who was representing the Foundry Association (and was the real-life inspiration for Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason) told the city council, “Take the fictitious halo of unionism, the maudlin heroism from picketing, and you have plain illegality and anarchy. Picketing is a war tactic.” The next day, on July 16, 1910, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously passed an ordinance making picketing of business establishments on a public sidewalk illegal.  Rogers again employed his vehemently anti-labor rhetoric to help the city of Long Beach pass a similar ordinance later that month.  

On July 17, 1910, the Los Angeles Times reported the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved an “anti-picketing” ordinance “without discussion.” Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Historical Archives, Los Angeles Public Library.

On May 2, the L.A. Times reported, “To guard against possible outbreak on the part of radicals in the union ranks, police were detailed to keep under surveillance the bakeries against which the strike order was issued.” Although peaceful, several men and women were arrested, spending a day or two in jail before being released and fined for defying the “no picketing” ordinance.

Headlines from the L. A. Times and L. A. Evening Express from May, 1926 about several people in Boyle Heights arrested for defying the city’s ordinance against picketing outside business establishments. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Historical Archives, Los Angeles Public Library.

On May 21, 1926, the Los Angeles Citizen announced that the strike was settled when fourteen bakeries agreed to extend the current union contract for another year and carry only baked goods with the union label. Using the new Cooperative Center as its base of operations, union mobilization and a community-based campaign to promote the importance of the union label won the day. UCLA historian Caroline Luce, whose groundbreaking work on the Yiddish labor movement in Boyle Heights inspired this post—has written that the Cooperative Center’s approach had successfully earned support from “a broad-based community coalition that included, business owners, wage earners, Communists and Socialists, the faithful and the secular.”    

The 1928 bakers’ strike also demonstrated women were actively engaged, and even at the forefront of the Eastside’s militant labor movement. Two labor strikes in the 1930s were notable examples of Boyle Heights-area women of different ethnic backgrounds working together to unionize workers.

In 1933, Ukranian-born Rose Pesotta, an anarchist and organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU), spearheaded a general strike by Mexican American dressmakers in downtown Los Angeles, contradicting the long-standing assumption by local union organizers that Mexican American women could not be organized to support a union. 

In 1939, Dorothy Ray Healy and Luisa Moreno, two charismatic Los Angeles area communists and veteran labor organizers, led a brief but effective strike by 400 Mexican American and Russian Jewish women against the California Sanitary Canning Company.

A photo of Dorothy Ray Healey exhorting a crowd at the northeast corner of Whittier Blvd. and Arizona Street in East Los Angeles appeared in the L. A. Daily News on 5-2-1933. Courtesy of

A long-time activist, the Denver-born Healy served as the chair of the Southern California Communist Party from 1948 – 1973. Disillusioned with communist-party politics, Healy left the party in 1968 but ideologically, remained a lifelong communist.

In 1938, with backing from labor and civic organizations in East Los Angeles, Luisa Moreno established El Congreso de Pueblos de Hablan Española, a civil rights organization with branches throughout Southern California. Hounded by the U. S. government as a communist front, El Congreso was dissolved in 1950. Moreno (who left the Communist party in 1935, but always considered herself a Marxist) “self-deported” in 1950 but continued to organize workers in Mexico, Cuba, and her native Guatemala, where she died in 1992.

The next post will look at the activities of the LAPD’s Red Squad unit during the raids and riots on Brooklyn Avenue in the 1930s.