El Pino Famoso: The Majestic Symbol of East Los Angeles

Los Angeles Explorers Guild visits El Pino Famoso

El Pino Famoso

The Majestic Symbol of East Los Angeles

An unusual and iconic tree, visible for miles, stands tall at the top of a hill in East Los Angeles.

The Majestic El Pino

If you’ve ever driven down Cesar E Chavez Avenue in East Los Angeles, you’ve probably seen a large, bullet-shaped tree dominating the skyline.

This tree is known simply as El Pino (which is, of course, “the Pine” in Spanish), and its iconic shape can be seen from pretty much everywhere in East Los Angeles.

The highly recognizable profile of El Pino. Photo from the author’s collection.

It stands vigil over the community from a private lot at the corner of Indiana and Folsom streets, right at the crest of a hill marking the border between East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights.

El Pino as seen from a half-mile away in Evergreen Cemetery. Photo from the author’s collection.

But El Pino really isn’t a pine tree as most people know it. Rather, it’s a bunya pine (scientific name: Araucaria bidwillii), a species native to Queensland, Australia. It’s not clear how or exactly when El Pino arrived in Los Angeles (hearsay puts the tree on its lot sometime in the late 1940s), but it has become an East Los Angeles landmark, recognized around the world — primarily because of its featured role in a 1993 film.

Landmark and Movie Star

In the Taylor Hackford movie Blood In Blood Out, the movie’s three principal characters — cousins Miklo, Paco, and Cruz —  regularly meet at El Pino. It’s a spot that provides the trio a sense of safety and community.

Los Angeles Explorers Guild visits El Pino Famoso
El Pino from Folsom Street. Photo from the author’s collection.

The film didn’t perform particularly well in United States theaters, but it did find a diverse and dedicated fandom in numerous foreign markets. As it turns out, there are many people in the world who identify with the story of these three cousins from East Los — and those people really love Blood In Blood Out.

Even though the film starred Benjamin Bratt (as Cruz) and featured roles by Danny Trejo and Billy Bob Thornton, the movie’s true star turned out to be El Pino. This is when it gained an adjective and became known as El Pino Famoso.

People from all over the world travel to the this unassuming corner of East Los Angeles to visit the tree and take photos in front of the towering branches of El Pino Famoso.


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Save El Pino!

On December 28, 2020, Sangre Por Sangre (a Facebook fan page focused on Blood In Blood Out with 2 million followers — did I mention people love this movie?) sent fans of El Pino into a tailspin with a post declaring that the treasured tree was on the chopping block.

According to the post, the beloved tree was going to be cut down to make way for a new development project. As with many rumors started on the Internet, the news spread quickly. Community backlash was fierce — so fierce, in fact, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis stepped into the fray in response to an online petition.

What people didn’t realize was the post appeared on Día de los Inocentes (the Feast of the Holy Innocents), a holiday that, in Latin American countries, is roughly the equivalent of April Fool’s Day in the United States. No one really got the joke — and many people weren’t even aware that Día de los Inocentes has a long tradition of prankery.

Two days later, Art Gastelum, the owner of the lot, appeared on the Channel 7 news (well, a Facebook Live feed of Channel 7’s news) clarified that El Pino won’t be cut down. In fact, he purchased the lot (in 2015) to ensure its long-term survival. He has plans to build a duplex on the lot and allow public access to El Pino, complete with commemorative plaque.

Spread the word. El Pino will not be chopped down! Photo from the author’s collection.

But not everyone in the community is fond of Gastelum’s plan. Many community members feel that Gastelum’s development plan actually puts the long-term health of El Pino at risk.

So even though the initial news about the demise of El Pino was a joke, fans of the tree aren’t taking any chances and have started a movement called Save El Pino. The goal is to have the tree declared as a Historic-Cultural monument and turn the lot around it into a green space.

In the meantime, the near future of El Pino seems reasonably secure, and it remains standing tall, continuing its reign as a majestic symbol of East Los Angeles.


El Pino Famoso


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Tom Fassbender is a writer of things with a strong adventurous streak. When not exploring Los Angeles, he’s been known to enjoy a cup of coffee or two. You can find him at Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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