Somewhere near dawn on February 11, Lupe Breard caught the end of The Grapes of Wrath on TV. She couldn’t sleep — she’d spent the prior day packing up photographs of her children as she waited to be evicted from her Echo Park home of over 60 years.

Half-awake and half-dreaming, she watched Tom Joad tell his mother that he was running away from the police, but he would “be all around in the dark.… Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there.… And when our folks eat the stuff they raise and live in the houses they build — why, I’ll be there.” 

Breard needs little reminder that class war in California precedes 21st century gentrification. She is being evicted from the home that once harbored the last family, the Arechigas, violently displaced to make way for Dodger Stadium in 1959.

The demolition of the Palo Verde, La Loma and Bishop neighborhoods — historically referred to as “Chavez Ravine” after Rancher Julian Chavez who purchased the land in the area — was a racist project to redevelop the Mexican American communities, labeled “blighted” by Los Angeles city leaders, for public housing. That effort died in an anticommunist panic, however, and Dodger Stadium was built instead.

When Breard was a child, she lived alongside the Arechiga family for several years in the home at 1553 Ewing Street after the Arechigas’ eviction from the area. Breard and her sister Sarah Padilla still occupy two of the apartments in the Ewing house, a 19th century Victorian located just over the hill from the stadium.

The NELA Group, a Latino-owned real estate investment company that targets and flips what they call “distressed” properties in LA, bought the Ewing home in 2021. Breard said they’re refusing to collect rent from her. In January, they won an eviction case against her on the grounds that Padilla allegedly denied them entry to Breard’s unit in 2022.

Breard doesn’t know where she will live if she’s evicted. She’s unemployed and has been applying for disability. Her children are also renters and live with multiple roommates. 

“There’s no room for me, their mom,” she said. “So I have nowhere to go.” 

Breard said she has ample evidence that the eviction was baseless, but she met her lawyer only briefly before the trial and he didn’t present her evidence to the jury. 

Though Padilla lives in a separate unit, NELA Group argued in court in January that she, not Breard, had denied them entry to Breard’s unit, Breard explains. Breard also said she did not authorize her sister to deny entry, but the jury sided against Breard anyway. 

She disputes that Padilla denied them entry to her unit at all. She said it’s not possible that her sister could have even gotten into her unit to turn the developers away,  and that NELA Group claimed to have video of Padilla denying them entry, but never produced it in court. The developer did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

In the trial, Breard’s lawyer, Jonathan Segura of the tenant rights nonprofit Basta, Inc., did not present a letter she wrote to NELA Group just after the incident. It said that she was in the shower when the agents arrived and didn’t hear them knock, and that she would happily have let NELA Group inside with 24-hour notice. Another lawyer of Breard’s at the time, Ira Spiro, also wrote an email to NELA Group, saying that “she remains entirely willing to have the appraisers and others enter,” and “any attempt to evict Ms. Breard will be unlawful, based on claims that simply are not true, and will be violations of the City of Los Angeles Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance.”

Breard’s unit is also in the Rent Escrow Account Program, which the Los Angeles Housing Department uses to punish landlords who fail to correct issues in their buildings. (The housing department said it’s reserved for units with “the most persistent health and safety and habitability issues… in the City.”) If a unit is placed in REAP following a housing department hearing — a very difficult hearing to obtain in the first place, tenant groups say — tenants can pay rent into an escrow account instead of to their landlord. Entry into REAP can be a strong eviction defense in court, but Segura also didn’t raise the building’s REAP status in her trial, according to Breard. Segura did not respond to a request for comment.

Jeanette Alvarez-Webster, director of operations for Basta, Inc., said the nonprofit is very disappointed in the ruling, is working to overturn the verdict with its post-judgment team, and is prepared to appeal the case. “We don’t give up,” she said.

Breard is knowledgeable about local history and seems to worry as much about saving the house and the cedar tree in the front yard as her own shelter, according to LA Tenants Union organizers working closely with her on her case. She said she doesn’t want the house to vanish like the rest of the old neighborhood she knew as a kid, when hippies strolled Echo Park Avenue with flowers in their hair and communists handed out leaflets on Sunset Boulevard. 

Breard persuaded the city to designate the Ewing property as a historic-cultural monument in 2022, partly on the grounds that it harbored the Arechiga family after their eviction from the area. But such historical protections apply solely to buildings, not their occupants. Now, NELA Group is touting the house’s historic status on social media. 

Breard is working with a new lawyer, Jacob Woocher, on halting her eviction. Woocher is asking the judge to overturn the jury’s ruling on several legal grounds, including that Breard was not given proper notice that NELA Group wanted to enter her unit in June 2022. 

Breard marvels at how dedicated LA Tenants Union organizers are in helping her, even though she said she hasn’t “done anything” spectacular in her life, in her view — even though she’s “just a mom.” She said the volunteers gave her the strength to overcome suicidal thoughts when she lost her eviction trial in January. 

“The cafeteria is kind of nice in the courthouse, and there’s a lot of space where you can jump,” she said. “So I was thinking about it. I didn’t do it. These [tenants union volunteers]… they couldn’t reverse what happened, but just the fact that they wanted to be there and help me, it really made night and day difference to me.”

Woocher and Breard will present arguments in court in early March. NELA Group has not yet filed a writ of possession for the unit, which precedes a sheriff’s lockout. 

In the meantime, Breard is boxing up her things. 

“Yesterday, I spent the day packing up my belongings, packing up photographs of my children,” she said. “And I just kept thinking, these people are going to hell.” 

Jack Ross is a writer based in Los Angeles.