Beneath the shabbiness is Historical Monument #157 (HM157), a historical landmark located in Lincoln Heights providing a space for artists, filmmakers and more. 

“It smells like opium here.” 

A young woman in her 20s says as she scans the eccentric turquoise walls of HM157. As someone who has never been consciously exposed to opium, I’d say that she could very well be misidentifying the scent of incense that cocoons the residence. Yes, it must be the incense.

At first glance, the house does not look historical at all. The shabby Victorian building is nestled between a video store and laundry mat in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles. Across the street, the bright golden arches of McDonald’s boast having “over a billion served.” Less ostentatious is the dimmer blue, fluorescent sign of HM157, which tonight hosts the 6th Annual Druid Underground Film Festival. The unremarkable gates eventually lead to a peculiar path of vintage RV’s, wayward flora, and the kind of furniture that people brush off in garage sales; everything barely hinting that what is more formally called The Horace P. Dibble House is on the California Historical landmark list. 

Wendy Watson is one of the seven artists who reside at HM157. She has the infectious enthusiasm of what most people call a free spirit, and her down-to-earth attitude and fondness for the word “groovy” immediately distance the establishment from the dreaded H-word. Less Williamsburg, more Haight-Ashbury. 

“I’ve been here a year and a half now. A friend of mine’s band was playing and the minute I walked through the door, I couldn’t believe I was in Los Angeles. It feels so San Francisco,” says the San Diego native who spent her early 20s in the Bay Area. “I immediately connected.” 

Siblings Reid Maxwell and Charon Nogues, who founded what is now the HM157 collective, hail from San Francisco as well. Story has it that Maxwell had been driving by on Broadway Avenue one afternoon and saw a “For Rent” sign in front of the run-down house. “Just on a fluke,” Watson explains, “he went in and hit it off with the owner. Before you knew it, he was moving in and starting a collective.” The aphorism “birds of the same feather flock together” transpires, and what began as a search for roommates to afford rent turned into an assemblage of creatives who are “collectively making an effort to promote music and art and all the stranger things in life.”

Today, the group organizes regular events that range from folk music concerts to vegetarian Malaysian dinners and yoga classes. “We pretty much do everything through donations. We have no money,” Watson laughs. “It’s kind of amazing how supportive and respectful people are. We’re obviously a totally DIY space. I think a big part of it is that the events that we put on bring really interesting, groovy crowds. That’s our goal. We want to get interesting, groovy people meeting and connecting and making art together. That’s sort of the ultimate vision of this place.”

This particular balmy Saturday, about 75 people gather on foldable chairs and mismatched couches facing a backyard wall projection to witness film connoisseur Billy Burgess’ yearly production. The first part is an hour of “mega-mix of absurd clips dug from the dumpsters of hell!!!” Or in other words, VHS snippets of the likes of Tales from the Crypt and The Thing with Two Heads (a short about a bigot scientist whose experiment-gone-awry results in his having to share a body with a black man. It’s a hilarious must-see). 

The second part is a showcase of 11 experimental short films. Standouts include New York filmmaker Danilo Parra’s Laundry and Torture Room and The Great Packard Lincoln Breakdown by Damon Packard. An underlying theme of the night’s showcase it seems is, well, absurdity. 

Although it was difficult to find message in some of the shorts shown (case in point: a grown man defecating on screen. What could it mean?), and a slight trace of what is probably just incense still lingers in my hair, the evening was nonetheless an entertaining parade of effort and talent that is hard to find elsewhere. 

HM157 serves as a conduit for the offbeat and outlandish-- sort of having a house party in the ease of your best friend’s backyard, although you probably shouldn’t tell your parents about this one. 

Historical Monument #157 is located at 3110 N. Broadway Ave. in Los Angeles. For more information, call (323)400-6580 or click here.