Self Help Graphics & Art Building

Listed on the California Register of Historical Resources in 2011, this colorfully tiled two-story building located at 3800 East Cesar Chavez Avenue was home to some of East Los Angeles' most influential Chicanx organizations.


A two-story building at the corner of Cesar Chavez Avenue (formerly Brooklyn Avenue) and Gage Street served as the longtime home of Self Help Graphics & Art, a center of arts and culture for the Chicano community in East Los Angeles. The building was sold by the Archdiocese and threatened with redevelopment in 2008.

A campaign was launched to keep the organization in the building, but eventually, it was forced to relocate in 2011 to Boyle Heights. In the same year, the L.A. Conservancy and community members successfully added the Self Help Graphics & Art building to the California Register of Historical Resources, giving it some protections and the statewide recognition that many had sought.

In 2024, Self Help Graphics & Arts organization celebrated its 50th anniversary.


About This Place

About This Place

The two-story commercial building located at 3802 Cesar Chavez Avenue in East L.A. was originally constructed in 1927. It was designed by the local architectural firm Postle & Postle in the Spanish Colonial Revival style with some Classical Revival elements. The now iconic exterior of the north, south and east facades feature a variety of ceramic pieces affixed to the smooth exterior walls. They were added by artist Eduardo Oropeza (1947-2003) in 1990. The three-year project resulted in his largest and most prominent artwork, and it transformed the building’s relatively modest façade into a community icon.

When originally designed, the building was to have four stores, a market and banking rooms on the ground floor, and a banquet hall, lodge room, offices, and apartments on the second floor. It appears the Brooklyn State Bank never occupied the building, as there is no record of it ever doing business at this location. It’s possible that either the bank never received its charter or it failed.

In 1944, the building became the home of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Catholic Youth Organization (CYO). Under the auspices of Catholic Charities, CYO is responsible for coordinating interscholastic athletics for the elementary schools of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. CYO’s occupancy initiated the building’s historical function as a center for social and community-related uses, prompting its recognition as an important community landmark in East Los Angeles.

In the 1950s and 1960s, CYO held dances in the building featuring music by local East Los Angeles bands. Concerts and dances held at East Los Angeles College and El Monte Legion Stadium, youth centers and union halls, and at popular nightclubs like the Rhythm Room in Fullerton and the Rainbow Gardens in Pomona showcased local Chicano musicians who learned to blend Mexican and rock music into a synthesis that won them admirers both inside and outside the barrio.

Self Help Graphics & Art, an artists’ cooperative, was formed in 1970 by Franciscan nun Sister Karen Boccalero and Chicano artists Carlos Bueno and Antonio Ibanez. In the beginning, they worked out of a garage in Boyle Heights. The CYO left the building in the early 1970s; Self Help Graphics & Art took occupancy in 1979.

The beginning of Self Help Graphics and its growth as an institution were rooted in the movement for self-empowerment amongst local Chicano students and activists. Sister Karen Boccalero’s reasons for starting the organization were: to provide training and studio space for local artists who worked in printmaking; to offer the surrounding community, including families and children, cultural experiences to instill a sense of cultural pride; and to teach local elementary school students about the value of art in their communities.

From the beginning, Self Help Graphics offered a wide range of educational workshops, cultural programs and community events, including the earliest Day of the Dead celebration in Los Angeles, Barrio Mobile Arts Studio, The Vex music venue, and numerous print Ateliers. It became a thriving cultural center for Chicano art and culture, garnering national recognition for nurturing celebrated Chicano artists including Gronk, Patssi Valdez and Frank Romero.


Our Position

In 2008, the building’s sale by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to a private developer threatened the integrity of the structure, which put Eduardo Oropeza’s iconic exterior mosaic design in jeopardy of alterations.  A campaign to save the building and to keep Self Help Graphics in unincorporated East Los Angeles was launched, but, eventually the nonprofit and its staff were forced to move to a new location in Boyle Heights.

With the Los Angeles Conservancy’s support, the building was added to the California Register of Historical Places in 2011. The designation offers it some protections and provides the building with statewide recognition that many had sought. The Conservancy continues to monitor this important community historical and cultural asset.

The Los Angeles Conservancy is committed to working with Latinx communities and sites that are important to Latinxs. Through our Latinx Initiative, we have worked with community members to assist in the identification, nomination, and designation of sites important to the community, including Self Help Graphics and Art.





Self Help Graphics Signage | Courtesy of Self Help Graphics
Self Help Graphics | Edgar Garcia
Self Help Graphics | Edgar Garcia
Self Help Graphics | Edgar Garcia
Self Help Graphics | Adrian Scott Fine
Self Help Graphics | Courtesy of Self Help Graphics