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Barack Obama Highway Gets Its Name, But Former President’s Ties to Eagle Rock Go Beyond Occidental To Chili Burgers

[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he signs are up now christening a portion of the 134 Freeway in Northeast L.A. as “President Barack H. Obama Highway,” but the famous former president’s association with Eagle Rock goes beyond just attending school there, to enjoying a chili burger.

The signs were posted Thursday honoring the country’s 44th president by renaming a stretch of the 134 from State Route 2 in Glendale, through Eagle Rock, to Interstate 210 in Pasadena. The designation was authorized last year.

Photo by Anthony Portantino via Twitter.

It is well known Obama had attended Occidental College in Eagle Rock from 1979 to 1981 and lived in Pasadena, before he transferred to Columbia University in New York.

It’s a short amount of time, true. He didn’t even graduate from Oxy. Some may shrug, and also think Eagle Rock’s association with the famous former president is just as tenuous.

Think again. Obama’s link to the trendy little neighborhood tucked away in the city’s northeast corner is not just educational. It’s also gastronomical.

Obama enjoyed eating at Tommy’s Original Hamburgers, a fast food chili burger mainstay for Eagle Rock residents for some 50 years. Tommy’s is as much a part of Eagle Rock as that weird rock formation — at the same time every day, a shadowy silhouette of an eagle in flight is cast on the face of the rock — that gives the neighborhood its name.

RELATED: Highlights from the Rogue 99 ~ Hawkins House of Burgers

Via Google+.

I know this about Obama, because I grew up in Eagle Rock and because Obama said as much to a close childhood friend of mine – Ardy Kassakhian – during a chance meeting in L.A.

When Obama was running for president in 2007, he visited Los Angeles to attend a fundraising organized by former Congressman Howard Berman at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. That’s where Obama revealed his fondness for the signature chili burgers.

“The first thing Obama asked me was, ‘Is the Tommy’s Burgers on Colorado Boulevard still around?’” Kassakhian recalled to me. “I told him, ‘Yeah, it is.’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah ... Tommy’s. I remember Tommy’s!’"

Obama at Occidental College circa 1978. Via Pinterest.
Via Pinterest.

The gentrified neighborhood has many take-out options nowadays. But in the late 1970s and early 80s, Tommy’s Burgers in Eagle Rock was a late night favorite for teens and preteens. Weekend crowds would often overflow the parking lot and spill into the street.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to conjure an image of a much younger Barack Obama mingling amongst those crowds during a late night Tommy burger trip. It’s a veritable rite of passage many of us who grew up in Eagle Rock experienced.

So next time you’re in traffic stuck on the 134 overlooking Eagle Rock, with the downtown skyline in the background obscured by the brown haze of L.A.’s inversion layer, just imagine a 20-year-old Obama enjoying a sloppy Tommy’s chili burger.

RELATED: The Last Burgers at Irv's ~ Classic Hamburger Shack Shutting Down After Long Struggle to Survive

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