Bridging the Community

Between La Puente’s Pompeii Pizza Parlor and a local laundromat sits Bridgetown DIY, a place where the walls don’t hold back noise and the community doesn’t hold back smiles.

DIY stands for, “do it yourself” and in these communities it means members take direct action in making events happen. Bridgetown was inspired by other DIY spaces like the Ché Café in San Diego or 924 Gilman in San Francisco. It was established in 2011 as an extension of the West Covina and San Gabriel Valley DIY music community. Before the birth of Bridgetown, music enthusiasts would host shows either in their backyards or in vacant houses they had access to. The organizers soon found themselves facing problems around the music scene.

Daniel Torres, 21, of Glendora, and a core volunteer at Bridgetown, was around when the solution for a venue began to form.

“There were so many bands around in West Covina and all around this area, there were house shows and all kinds of things happening,” Torres said. “The problem started in about 2010 when all the shows started getting shut down and there wasn’t really a home base.”

Founding members of Bridgetown including Kevin Lopez, 26, of Glendora, Cameron Hughes, Danny Lyerla and a few others, decided to throw benefit shows. They raised enough money to rent out a space where they could host music events and provide a place of expression for the community. In 2011 Bridgetown had its first official meeting at Lyerla’s loft in Pomona with about 40 people in attendance.

“There was a lot of excitement in the community,” Torres said.

However, that excitement dwindled after a year. The participation from organizers declined and the venture sat on the verge of becoming just an idea. It wasn’t until Bridgetown was invited by one of the Pomona Colleges to attend a class producing zines that finding a space regained momentum. On April 19, 2013 Bridgetown hosted its first show in their official space in La Puente. Since then, the group has incorporated movie screenings, dance classes, a yearly photography and art exhibit and spoken word nights. It has also hosted an art class for La Puente High School.

“I refer to it more as a space than a venue,” Lopez said.

Art piece painted on the walls of Bridgetown DIY La Puente. Photo by Charlie Vargas

Bridgetown offers the space to anyone who wants to bring light to a particular issue. There are no hierarchies or rules that the space adheres to other than the ones declared by its community.

“We’re autonomous, we’re governing, we’re doing everything ourselves,” Torres said. “So when we see something in the community–and I use community in a very large scale, Michael Brown killing and Treyvon Martin and all of those wrongful killings–we want to take action.”

The clear politics and policies of the space make it unique from some other DIY spots. Bridgetown has a sober space policy implemented by the founding members to provide. This was implemented by founding members to establish an all-age inclusive environment.

Heritage Unit plays for a crowd at Bridgetown DIY for their three year anniversary show April 23 2016. Photo by Charlie Vargas

Mark Chen, 27, of San Gabriel, bassist for Heritage Unit, plays at Bridgetown often. He considers it his favorite DIY place.

“I really like their sober space policy,” Chen said. “I feel like it really does put a lot of focus on the music.”

Bridgetown also thrives to provide a “safer space” for the community which can get political.

“Safer space meaning we’re not going to tolerate homophobia, transphobia, racism, classism and any type of phobia,” Torres said. “We want to support everybody and we want to make sure everyone feels safe in this space and we want to engage in the community that way.”

The safer space policy is sometimes challenged by the division of two clashing punk ideologies. Torres explains that one side of the punk scene is not attracted to Bridgetown’s inclusive policies, which are seen as politically correct ethics. They believe that volunteers of Bridgetown would police their words or actions. Torres said that is a misconception.

“We’re not here not here to ostracize,” Torres said. “We’re here to educate.”

Flyers displayed on the windows of Bridgetown DIY. Photo by Charlie Vargas

On the other side, some Bridgetown attendees said not everyone feels safe at all times.

“Bridgetown is too PC for some people and not PC enough for other people,” Torres said.

Tyler Keeling, 20, moved to Glendora in 2014 and has been volunteering at Bridgetown since then. He said that when he first moved he did not know many people. He had no ties to the local music community until someone on the internet recommended Bridgetown.

“From the first meeting I came to until now, I felt like I always had a family here,” Keeling said. “I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot through the space and through the people who have volunteered here through the years.”

Cameron Lin, 17, of Ventura County, attends backyard shows in the Ventura County, warehouse shows in Pomona and other DIY shows in Los Angeles but he prefers the environment of Bridgetown.

“Everyone respects everybody’s space,” Lin said. “People are always smiling. It’s very welcoming.”

Moon Bandits open with an acoustic set for an audience at Bridgetown DIY April 23 2016. Photo by Charlie Vargas

The volunteers who run Bridgetown also face funding challenges.

“Unfortunately we do have to spend money to keep this place open which means we have to make money,” Keeling said.

Torres said that the last year and a half has been rough for Bridgetown financially.

“Running these spaces,” Torres said. “(Is) definitely not easy. We’ve had to choose between paying for rent or paying the water bill. So for a month we’ve just had our water shut off.”

The way that Bridgetown is able to make money is by hosting shows. This becomes harder for the space when volunteer participation is down.

“The reason we don’t have shows is because we don’t have enough people purposing and running shows,” Torres said.

Torres said that regular board meetings on the first and third Saturdays have had a continuously low turnout rate. He said that it is both community involvement and core members that have decreased, he said. The challenge Bridgetown faces is getting people to attend regularly.

“Everybody wants to partake but nobody wants to contribute,” Torres said. “Nobody wants to get involved and make stuff happen for themselves.”

Torres said that the situation becomes frustrating to volunteers, who put their time and effort into making sure a show will happen not just for the space, but for those attending. Despite the frustrations of balancing rent, increasing volunteer participation or running a safer space for attendees, Bridgetown members are determined to continue.

Dangers performs for crowded room at Bridgetown DIY Arpil 23 2016. Photo by Charlie Vargas

“I hope this place goes further than I do,” Keeling said. “I would love to see this space keep on going, keep on making an effort for the community, small community and large community.”

Bridgetown has provided a place for community engagement. And for some, such as Keeling and Torres, it provides more than volunteer participation.

“I found much more than a place to have shows,” Torres said. “I found a family.”