Amoeblog

A brief (and by no means complete) history of Black Los Angeles. Happy Black History Month!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 30, 2012 07:19pm | Post a Comment
Los Angeles' black population is relatively small compared to the city's other major racial and ethnic minorities. The LA metro area is only 8.7% black as compared to 47% Latino (of any race), 28.7% non-Latino white, and 14% Asian/Pacific Islander. However, since its inception, black Angelenos have always played a major role in LA's history and culture. Los Angeles is one of the only major US cities founded largely by people of black African ancestry. When it was still a Spanish colony, Los Angeles began life as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles on 4 September, 1781 (well, sort of). Of the 44 pobladores who ventured over from nearby San Gabriel, a majority of 26 were identified as having African ancestry.

BLACKS IN MEXICAN AND EARLY AMERICAN LOS ANGELES


Pio Pico ca. 1890

During the period that Los Angeles was part of Mexico (1821-1840), blacks were fairly integrated into society at all levels. Mexico abolished slavery much earlier than the US, in 1820. In 1831, Emanuel Victoria served as California's first black governor. Alta California's last governor, Pío de Jesus Pico, was also of mixed black ancestry. The US won the Mexican-American War and in 1850, California was admitted to the United States. Although one of America's so-called "free states," discriminatory legislation was quickly enacted to restrict and remove the civil rights of blacks, Chinese, and Native Americans. For example, blacks (and other minorities) couldn't testify in court against white people. 

BLACK LOS ANGELES IN THE 20TH CENTURY

  
Bridget "Biddy" Mason (left) and her grandson, wealthy businessman Robert Curry Owens (right)

Los Angeles's black population remained small through the latter half of the 19th Century. By 1900, only 2,100 lived in LA, mostly in an area known as "Brick Block," a downtown area around former slave Biddy Mason's several Spring Street properties. In1888, Frank Blackburn opened his Coffee and Chop House. Furniture stores, a barbershop, a restaurant, and a hotel followed developing southward until hitting 5th Street, which was notorious as "The Nickel" or "Skid Row" even then.

In 1903, almost 2,000 more blacks were brought to LA by the Southern Pacific Railroad to break a Mexican-American strike. In the process, the black population of LA almost doubled and the seeds of black and Latino tension were sowed. However, whites' and Latinos' long-standing, violent, mutual hostility went further back, as did white and Asian tensions. Black Angelenos, though hardly welcomed into mainstream Angeleno society with open arms, were largely left alone while racist hatred was focused elsewhere.



Photo taken at the California Eagle's offices


With black Angelenos relatively ignored, the community flourished. By 1910, more than 36% of black Angelenos owned their own homes -- the highest percentage of black home ownership in the nation at the time. In 1913, the first California branch of NAACP was established in Los Angeles. That same year W. E. B. Du Bois described it as a "wonderful place." The black population leapfrogged south past Skid Row and established itself along South Central Avenue. By 1915, the black-owned California Eagle publication was referring to South Central as the city's "Black Belt." In 1917, famed ragtime and jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton moved to LA. Two years later, fellow Louisianan jazz musician Kid Ory followed.

This short age of relative peace and prosperity was soon challenged. DW Griffith's white supremacist film epic Birth of a Nation was filmed in and around Los Angeles and premiered at downtown's Clune's Auditorium in 1915 (as The Clansman). That year, the Ku Klux Klan was revived in Georgia and a black teen was murdered by an enraged, white filmgoer after a screening in Indiana.


Black Women in Los Angeles ca. 1929

By 1920 there were 15,579 blacks who called LA home. No longer could they easily be ignored and racist, restrictive covenants became widespread, effectively ghettoizing not just them but also Asians, Catholics, Eastern Europeans, Jews, Latinos, Southpaws (just kidding), Muslims and other groups. For their part, blacks were primarily limited to the South Central neighborhood, part of South LA's Eastside (watch The Eastsiders for first hand recollections).


Young Oakwood residents photographed by Charles Brittin

There were a few other far-flung and even smaller black enclaves in the San Fernando Valley's Pacoima and the Westside's Oakwood (a neighborhood in Venice, annexed by Los Angeles in 1925). In the face of worsening discrimination across not just LA, but the entire nation, black historian Carter G. Woodson established Negro History Week, which later developed into Black History Month.


Shoeshine boys in the old Plaza, 1930s. (Photo: Los Angeles Times)

In the 1930s, the character of black migration to Los Angeles changed. From 1890 - 1915, most  were aspiring members of the black middle class, arriving from Atlanta, New Orleans, Shreveport, and Texas. However, the Great Migration that had seen many blacks leave the South for northern cities largely bypassed Los Angeles. In the 1930s, about 25,000 blacks -- usually from much poorer backgrounds -- arrived largely from Dallas, Houston, and New Orleans. There were inevitable class tensions among established and newly-arrived blacks, though fairly minor, and both groups soon united by-and-large to pursue the many of the same goals and together, establishing many black institutions like black churches.


In the silent film era, most movies made for black audiences (known as Race Films) were made by small studios, mostly based in the Midwest. With the rise of Hollywood's dominance during the sound era, Hollywood studios began to make few, but bigger budget black films like MGM's Hallelujah (1929) and Warner Bros' Green Pastures (1936). Though blackface remained popular, seen in such Hollywood films as The Phantom, Amos 'n' Andy in Check and Double Check, Babes in Arms, Swingtime, and Wonder Bar, Hollywood also began employing black actors like Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Butterfly McQueen, Dorothy Dandridge, Etta McDaniel, Jackie "Moms" Mabley, Lena Horne, Lincoln "Stepin Fetchit" Perry -- albeit not generally in what most today would consider especially desirable roles.


An audience at Club Alabam in 1945

In the music world, even jazz superstars like Duke Ellington couldn't stay in white hotels while playing in Los Angeles and they usually lodged in South Central. Beginning in the 1930s, South Central became the premier center of West Coast jazz, fostering local and touring musicians and as a result acquired the nickname of "the Harlem of the West." In 1934, black musician Herb Jeffries left the Earl Hines Orchestra and moved to Los Angeles where he became a popular MC and singer at the famed Club Alabam, then the hottest local hot spot on the jazz and blues scene. In Hollywood, Jeffries encountered Jed Buell, a poverty row producer with a background in B-westerns, and soon began starring in a series of black Westerns.

In 1940, Los Angeles had a black population of 63,774; more than all fellow-western cities like Oakland, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle combined. In 1941, the US entered World War II. The same year, Reverend Clayton Russell formed the Negro Victory Committee with the aim of creating jobs for blacks in war industry. Further south, Watts had also been open to blacks at least since the 1920s, originally developed as a labor camp for workers on the Pacific Electric Railway. During the 1940s, its population became mostly black.


A family in Bronzeville in 1943

With roughly 140,000 blacks arriving from the South and Midwest to fill the newly opened factories during the decade, the few areas where blacks could live grew increasingly crowded. With the Japanese-American population of nearby Little Tokyo having been relocated to concentration camps, the exploding black population moved in and the area became known as "Bronzeville." Though designed for 30,000, it became home to 70,000. More black enclaves opened up on the Eastside, including the Furlong Tract between 50th and 55th Streets. As early as the late 1930s, West Adams and Jefferson Park, part of South LA's Westside, had first selectively opened up to LA's few truly wealthy blacks. One of the first, businessman Norman Houston, bought a home in what the area in 1938. Previously nicknamed "Little New Orleans" for its population of newly-arrived Creoles, it was soon nicknamed "Sugar Hill" for its wealthy blacks. However, Houston waited almost three years to move in, justifiably afraid of white hostility. Famous black actresses like Hattie McDaniel and Louise Beavers followed, as did more successful black businessmen.


In addition to the wartime industries, Hollywood began to attract more black actors and entertainers. Among many others, Eartha Kitt, Hadda Brooks, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier made their film debuts during the '40s. MGM released lavish, black cinema spectacles like Cabin in the Sky (1943). Independent black cinema, largely as a result of the talent and audience drain, died.

Meanwhile, enraged by the rise of the black "Sugar Hill," suits began to come to court in Los Angeles and elsewhere over the legality of segregation. The case of Shelley v. Kraemer, based on an incident in Missouriwas brought to the Supreme Court, who ended the legal enforcement of racist covenants in 1948. As a result, the black population of Los Angeles began to finally overflow its long cramped confines. Some whites formed anti-black gangs like The Spook Hunters with the intention of terrorizing blacks into staying out of till-then white enclaves of Compton, Downey, Huntington Park, and Lynwood.

On the other Side of the San Gabriel Mountains in the Antelope Valley, Sun Village was established to lure would-be black homeowners to the distant Mojave Desert. In 1947, Pasadena resident Jackie Robinson crossed baseball's color barrier and Sun Village even established a Jackie Robinson Park. Sun Village would prove a somewhat successful experiment for a time, reaching a peak of around 2,000 black residents in the 1960s. Today its black population is still a larger percentage than LA's. 

In the 1950s, Los Angles was a manufacturing and industrial powerhouse that rivaled the great Midwestern cities of the Rust Belt and the East Coast. The black population had grown to around 170,000 and parts of Midtown like Country Club Park, Harvard Heights, Mid-City, and Pico del Mar saw their black populations grow significantly. A steady influx of blacks, mostly from Louisiana and Texas, moved to Pasadena and in the process shifting its demographics so that then (and even today) it became more black than Los Angeles.


With the rising medium of television, the film industry began to feel its first serious competition. In the 1950s, there were only two black TV shows, The Beulah Show and Amos & Andy. Hollywood responded with more big, black-themed films like United Artists' The Joe Louis Story (1953), 20th Century Fox's Carmen Jones (1954), and Columbia Pictures' Porgy & Bess (1959). Black actors like Billy Dee Williams and Ossie Davis among others began their film acting careers during the decade.

It was also during the 1950s, 1953 to be exact, that Santa Monica-born Ike Jones graduated from UCLA's film school, the first black filmmaker to do so.


The Slausons

The Spook Hunters remained an active force and, in response, black protectionist gangs including The Devil Hunters, The Slausons, The Businessmen, The Farmers, and The Gladiators formed to oppose them. Gang violence between black Eastside gangs (those east of Main) and black Westside gangs (those west of Main) arose too but was still primarily territorial and rarely resulted in deaths. There were only six gang-related deaths in the city in 1960, which at the time caused considerable alarm. The Spook Hunters were nothing but a bad memory by 1960 and significant numbers of blacks moved to suburbs, notably Altadena, Monrovia, Pomona, and Santa Monica.

By 1960, Los Angeles had the fifth largest black population in the US, and one larger than any city in the South. Hollywood made well-meaning, more sensitive black films like Columbia Pictures' A Raisin in the Sun (1961) and actors including Fred Williamson, Greg Morris, Jackée Harry, Paul Winfield, Redd Fox, and Yaphet Koto began appearing on screen. On TV, shows like I, Spy, Julia, and The Bill Cosby Show offered very different portrayals of blacks than their predecessors in the 1950s.

In 1963, Vantile Whitfield and Frank Silvera co-founded the American Theatre of Being. Silvera, through his work on James Baldwin's Amen Corner, was the first black production designer to work on Broadway. The following year Whitfield formed the Performing Arts Society of Los Angeles (PASLA) to promote performing arts among for "inner city" children.


All was not well, however. On August 11, 1965, 21-year-old Marquette Frye was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. The situation intensified as more and more people became involved and the Watts Riots erupted. Four days later, 34 people were dead, 1,034 were injured and $40 million dollars of property damage had resulted. 103rd Street was particularly affected and the smoking rubble became widely known as "Charcoal Alley."

After the riots ended, most of South LA's factories began to close or move away. Many blacks that could afford to left the Eastside for more affluent and/or apparently stable Westside neighborhoods like Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw, Ingelwood, Ladera Heights, Leimert Park, and View Park-Windsor Hills. As the black population spread, "South Central," which had previously and accurately been used to describe the largely black neighborhood along South Central Avenue, became shorthand for "any and all black neighborhoods south of the 10 Freeway section separating Midtown from South LA (completed in 1964).

At the same time, a New Great Migration began, with many blacks leaving the rusting and crumbling industrial sectors of northern, western and midwestern cities and returning to the traditionally black deep South.

In the wake of the riots, Maulana Karenga and Hakim Jamal formed the black nationalist US Organization, or Organization Us. An emerging black nationalism across the ocean began to be evidenced in Africa with the beginning of post-colonial black African Cinema. Senegalese author-cum-director Ousmane Sembene made the first black African film, 1964's La Noire de... In 1967, Mauritanian director Med Hondo made Soleil O. In 1969, an African film festival, FESPACO, would be established in Burkina Faso. In the US, the US Organization drew much of their philosophy and inspiration from the rising Afrocentric movement occurring in African motherland.


  

In 1966, down in Oakland, Huey Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Communist-inspired Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. The FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover, felt tremendously threatened by the rise of black nationalism, which he felt was a threat to the "internal security of the country." He supervised the creation and operation of a program called COINTELPRO which, among other things, sought to undermine black nationalism, especially by creating and exploiting rivalries between different movements through a variety of deeply disturbing means. Things reached a head between the Marx-and-Mao loving Panthers and the Afrocentric US on January 17, 1969, when Los Angeles Panther captain Bunchy Carter and deputy minister John Huggins were killed in Campbell Hall at UCLA in a gunfight with US members.


In LA, both organizations had associations with local street gangs. The Panthers were loosely aligned with The Slausons of the Eastside whereas US were on friendlier terms with the Westside's Gladiators. Both black nationalist organizations began to decline in strength and numbers following the deadly shoot-out. As a result, new, less-disciplined groups like The Baby Cribs (later The Crips) were formed on the Eastside by a teenager named Raymond Washington and his friends. The teen gang never approached the organization or purpose of the Panthers but were clearly inspired by their glamor and power.


There were more positive developments too. 1969, Compton elected California's first black mayor, Douglas Dollarhide. The same year, Gordon Parks made The Learning Tree at Warner Bros studios in Burbank, the first Hollywood film directed by a black filmmaker. 1970, Melvin van Peebles made Watermelon Man in Toluca Lake for Columbia. The two basically kicked off the Blaxploitation movement alongside Ossie Davis, who filmed Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) in New York. Parks' follow-up was Shaft (1971), and Van Peebles's was Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971).

By 1970, there were 763,000 black Angelenos. Following LA's de-industrialization, black unemployment was high, especially as jobs held by unionized-blacks began to be taken increasingly by newly-arrived, non-unionized Latinos from Mexico and Central-America. In 1972, the Crips had moved from assault and robberies to murder when a non-gang affiliated 16-year-old named Robert Ballou Jr. was beaten to death for his leather jacket by twenty Crips after a Curtis Mayfield and Wilson Pickett concert at the Hollywood Palladium. As their numbers and violence spread, so too did their influence, which by then stretched south to Compton and west to Inglewood. By the end of the year, there were 29 gang-related deaths. In part to counter their influence and following the murder of an LA Brim (17-year-old Frederick "Lil Country" Garrett) by a Crip, the Pirus, the Lueders Park Hustlers, the LA Brims, the Denver Lanes and the Bishops joined forces as the Bloods in late '72. That year there were eighteen documented gangs in LA. Within six years, that number would jump to 60 -- 45 of which were Crip or Blood sets.


The seminal, independent Killer of Sheep was filmed in Watts in by Charles Burnett over the weekend from 1972 to 1973 with additional shooting in 1975. Its style elicited comparisons to the Italian Neo-Realist movement. In 1977, Burnett submitted the film as his MFA thesis at UCLA. Along with Ben Caldwell, Haile Gerima, Jamaa Fanaka, Larry Clark, and Julie Dash, he was part of the so-called LA Rebellion film movement, also known as the Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers.


In 1973, LA elected Tom Bradley as mayor, the first black mayor of a major western American city. He went on to serve for 20 years, the longest tenure of any mayor in the city's history. During his tenure he oversaw LA host the Olympics in 1984, LA pass Chicago as the second largest city in the country, and unfortunately, the Los Angeles Riots, shortly after which his popularity declined and he retired.


In 1974, Soviet and Cuban-backed Marxists ended Emperor Haile Selassie I's near 44 year rule of Ethiopia and ignited a civil war. At the same time, Eritrea continued its violent war of independence and in 1977 Somalia invaded the disputed Ogaden region. Significant numbers of Ethiopians fled to the US as a result, primarily to Washington DC and Los Angeles. Although the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 finally raised the cap on the number of Asians that could move to the US, African limits remained low. One of them, Fekere Gebre-Mariam, left Ethiopia in 1971. After she opened Rosalind's on Fairfax, more Ethiopian businesses began establishing themselves in the area. The area was officially designated Little Ethiopia in 2002. Of all of the Southland's many ethnic neighborhoods (including Cambodia Town, Chinatown, Historic Filipinotown, Little Seoul, Koreatown, Little Arabia, Little Armenia, Little Bangladesh, Little Central AmericaLittle India, Little Osaka, Little Saigon, Little Taipei, Little Tegucigalpa, Little Tokyo, Tehrangeles, and Thai Town), Little Ethiopia is the only recognized African one.

In 1976, Negro History Week was extended and re-christened Black History Month, a result of years of effort by the Carter G. Woodson-founded Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. That same year, the US increased immigration limits to 20,000 for any country in the Western Hemisphere. Large numbers of Jamaicans and Belizeans made their way to Los Angeles, -- largely to Compton, Gramercy Park, View Park-Windsor Hills in the case of Jamaicans, and Athens and Vermont Square in the case of Belizeans.


The California African American Museum opened in 1981 in Exposition Park. It was first located within the California Museum of Science and Industry until the 1984 completion of a building built specifically for it and designed by black architects Jack Haywood and Vince Proby. Its free and open to the public Tuesdays-Saturdays from 10am-5pm and Sundays from 11am-5pm, and has both a permanent collection and special exhibitions.


After the 1982 release of New York's Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force's "Planet Rock," electro took hold from New York to Miami to LA. On the West Coast, Compton became the center of the electro scene. Compton was then home to Arabian Prince, World Class Wreckin' Cru (comprised of Shakespeare, Dr. Dre, Cli-N-Tel, Michel'le, and DJ Yella) and Detroit native The Unknown DJ. Just outside of Compton was Alonzo Williams's club, Eve After Dark, which hosted all of them as well as local rap and electro acts like LA Dream Team and Egyptian Lover.

Although the '80s tend to be remembered for colorful Valley Girl fashions, whimsical New Romantics, and glamorous hedomism, it was often a pretty dark time for many who actually lived through it. AIDS proliferated and President Reagan cut federal expenditures for low-cost housing from $32 billion in 1981 to a paltry $7 billion in 1987, radically increasing the country's homeless population by dumping mentally ill Americans onto the streets. Refugees fled civil wars in Central America whose flames were fanned by the Regan administration, which funded right wing death squads in the name of combating Communism. Crack hit LA in 1983, hitting black communities especially hard and making bad situation worse.

Gang violence in South LA exploded and as a result, many Eastside black families continued to decamp to the Westside, the Harbor, and other destinations. With crime rates soaring, serial killers like Lonnie David Franklin, Jr. (the so-called Grim Sleeper), Louis Craine, Michael Hughes, and at least two other serial killers terrorized South LA, mainly targeting young black women in their killing sprees.


Against the backdrop of this dystopian nightmare, electro was soon displaced by another, much harder edged black musical form -- gangsta rap. Like electro, its roots were in the East Coast with artists like LA transplant/New Jersey-native and former electro artist Ice T, Philadelphia's Schoolly D, and New York's Toddy Tee pioneering the genre. However, it was in LA that it resonated most loudly. In 1986, Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, Arabian Prince, and Ice Cube joined forces with the small-time drug dealer and Kelly Park Compton Crip Eazy-E to form gangsta rap's most famous group, N.W.A. Priority Records' first release was 1987's N.W.A. and the Posse, a compilation of tracks from N.W.A, Eazy-E, Rappinstine, and a group that had relocated from Dallas, the Fila Fresh Crew. Shortly after N.W.A. and Eazy-E achieved notoriety, Compton's Most Wanted and 2nd II None began making music with a similar bent and attitude. A Tree Top Piru, DJ Quik, pioneered a truly West Coast gangsta variant, G-Funk.

From 1985 to 1990, 61,773 blacks moved out of Los Angeles County to other counties of the Southland. Many more blacks left California altogether, most often for Southern states like Florida, Texas, Georgia, and other areas of America's so-called Black Belt.


In the East Coast, notes of black positivity were sounded by the Native Tongues, Five Percenters, and the Afrocentric rappers of the Blackwatch movement. On the West Coast, in December of 1989, the owner (and her son) of the Good Life Cafe health center in Leimert Park began fostering and promoting a conscious rap scene in LA. Their open mic nights evolved into Project Blowed, which in 1994 released their first compilation, produced by Aceyalone and Abstract Rude. Today the workshop is the longest continuously-running open-mic in the Hip-Hop scene.


Images of light-hearted black positivity and thoughtful expression began to appear on screen around the same time, with shows like In Living Color (filmed in Hollywood) and the films of Spike Lee scoring mainstream hits. After many years in Hollywood with almost no films with black casts, things changed for a brief moment. New Line filmed 1990's House Party in Monrovia and Culver City. 1991's Boyz N the Hood was filmed in Inglewood.


A few months before it was released in theaters, the beating Rodney King at the hands of five LAPD officers in the Lake View Terrace neighborhood was caught on video tape by an unseen private citizen, George Holliday. After 56 baton blows and six kicks, King was admitted to a hospital where he was found to have a fractured facial bone, a broken right ankle, and numerous bruises and lacerations. The footage was first shown on KTLA and then thousands of times more across the globe.

Not two weeks later, on March 16, 1991, 15-year-old Latasha Harlins was shot and killed on tape by a Korean-American store owner named Soon Ja Du after a scuffle between the two at Empire Liquor in Vermont Vista. On November 15, Du was sentenced to community service, probation, and a fine. Again, the footage was broadcast repeatedly by the news media. On April 29, 1992, all five of the cops in the Rodney King trial were acquitted of assault and two were given with the lesser charge of excessive force. The following night, the LA Riots exploded, starting in South LA's Westside.


White truck driver Reginald Denny was pulled from his truck and beaten by four black men while news helicopters filmed it. Later, at the same intersection, Guatemalan-American Fidel Lopez was pulled from his truck, robbed, beaten unconscious and defiled with black paint by the mob. One black man, Reverend Bennie Newton, threw himself on Lopez to protect him, famously yelling "Kill him and you have to kill me too!" Although the Rodney King verdict was the immediate catalyst, more than 2,000 Korean-owned businesses were destroyed. Asian-American journalist K.W. Lee described it as "America’s first media-fanned urban pogrom." 53 people died (ten at the hands of LAPD officers) and property damages approached the $1 billion mark. Half of those arrested and a third of those killed were Latino.


In what was a positive turn after one of LA's ugliest chapters, hopeful expressions of black LA appeared with the 1992 establishment of the Pan-African Film Festival by Ayuko Babo, designed to further cultural and racial tolerance through film, art, and other expressions. Originally screened at the no-longer existent Laemmle Sunset 5 Theatres in West Hollywood, they moved to Crenshaw's Magic Johnson 15 in 1996 and flourished there for more than ten years before relocating again.


Also in 1992, Thomas "Tommy the Clown" Johnson formed the Hip Hop Clowns in Compton, in which dancers would dress as clowns and perform at children's birthday parties and other entertainment functions. Clowning would evolve into Krumping at the hands of Ceasare "Tight Eyez" Willis and Jo'Artis "Big Mijo" Ratti, documented in the 2005 film Rize.


In Hollywood, Stephen Milburn Anderson's South Central and the Hughes Brothers' Menace II Society, primarily filmed in Watts, were continuations of the "hood movie" subgenre, but film's like F. Gary Gray's Friday (1995), filmed largely in Athens, seemed to reflect a lightening mood in black Los Angeles that continued with black middle class comedies like 1999's The Wood (filmed in Inglewood) and 2000's UPN series Girlfriends, and the reality show Baldwin Hills, which depicted the lives of black teenagers in LA's affluent Baldwin Hills neighborhood.

In the 2000s, the Eighth District Empowerment Congress began the Naming Neighborhoods project with the goal of fostering pride and community by giving new neighborhood names to communities that had previously existed within the large and largely black Crenshaw district and South LA areas hat were previously lumped together colloquially as "South Central" or "The 'Hood." As a result, Angeles Mesa, Arlington Park, Baldwin Vista, Cameo Plaza, Canterbury KnollsCentury Cove, Century Palms, Crenshaw Manor, Broadway Square, King Estates, Magnolia Square, Manchester Square, Morningside Circle, Vermont Vista, and Westpark Terrace were born.

By 2010, LA's black population had dropped to under 10% as blacks continued to leave the city. Only the communities of Athens, Baldwin Hills, Chesterfield Square, Crenshaw Manor, Gramercy Park, Hyde Park, Jefferson Park, Leimert Park, Manchester Square, View Park-Windsor Hills, and West Compton retain black majorities today as black and other Angelenos began to more fully integrate.

Although racist skinheads had terrorized largely black and Latino Section 8 housing residents in the Antelope Valley, by the 21st century an LA Times analysis found that Lancaster has more blocks with a "substantial" mix (meaning that at least a quarter of the residents are white and a quarter are black) than any community in LA, or any other city in the county for that matter.



Although Hollywood currently exhibits no interest in making black films for black audiences, a thriving independent Black Cinema persists beneath the mainstream radar. In newer black music, the Jerkin' scene appeared around 2009, suggesting more cultural integration with black and mainstream culture, with fashions obviously drawn from the rave and skater scenes. In general, Black LA continues to overcome setbacks and move forward.

*****
In conclusion, although I sometimes feel like Black History Month has been co-opted by corporations like Coke and McDonald's or reduced to an academic exercise, it goes without saying that history is being written constantly and that the future of black history is no different. There are ongoing, healthy debates about the importance and significance of Black History Month. Los Angeles and America still struggle with racial and class inequalities and tension, but I'm no pessimist. Believe it or not, to me it seems like we're mostly moving down the right path - celebrating our differences and erasing the imagined ones. Only time will tell. Happy Black History Month!  

*****
As a side note, if I have time this month I'd like to visit and blog about the most-voted-for black majority communities or those with significance to black history. In the former category, Baldwin Hills, Leimert Park, and Manchester Square are currently in the lead. In the latter, Lancaster, Manchester Square, and Watts lead. So if you'd like to vote for any communities of Los Angeles Countyvote here. I've you'd like to vote for any communities in Orange Countyclick here. And finally, if you'd like to vote for any neighborhoods of Los Angelesvote here.


Become a fan of Eric's Blog on Facebook!

Calfornia Fool's Gold -- Exploring Canterbury Knolls

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 1, 2009 06:13pm | Post a Comment

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Canterbury Knolls



Canterbury Knolls
is a South LA neighborhood bordered by Manchester Square, Morningside Circle and Vermont Knolls to the south, Hyde Park to the west, Chesterfield Square to the north, Vermont Square to the northeast, and Vermont-Slauson to the east.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of South Los Angeles

For the estimated two dozen or so semi-regular readers of this blog, the way this works is clear. People vote for a Los Angeles neighborhoodor an LA County community (vote here). To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

Then I go there -- often with my trusty sidekick, Shimbles. Then I attempt to explore the connections the area has to movies and music to keep it Amoeblog-relevant. And so, faced with more than two votes for Canterbury Knolls, Shimbles and I set out at the crack of noon to see what we could see in the fabled neighborhood. Preliminary internet research had proved mostly fruitless. Aside from a flame war between some internet gangstas on a 50 Cent message board and some girl’s Livejournal, I could find few firsthand acknowledgements of the neighborhood.

Artistic Welding, one of several iron works in the neighborhood

The way neighborhood names work in LA is this: the more ghetto the neighborhood, the more quaintly English sounding its name. Therefore, I had some notion of what to expect of Canterbury Knolls. Not surprisingly, when we arrived, there were neither knolls nor Kentish people to be seen. (The name "Canterbury" is derived from the Olde Englishe Cantwareburh, meaning "Kent people's stronghold.") In fact, when the Eighth District Empowerment Congress officially nicknamed every neighborhood in the area in 2002, no one in Canterbury Knolls seemed to get the news… or be consulted for the Naming Neighborhoods Project. Further research yielded two claims that the area is more commonly referred to simply as “da hood.” The LA Times even wrote an article, "Asphalt Jungle or Green Meadows?," which addresses the incongruity of the South LA's new neighborhood names and people's ignorance of Canterbury Knolls specifically.

 
Amazing art on a van belonging to Eric's Blog fan, Jesus Cruz!

I couldn’t find any musicians associated with the neighborhood, nor any actors. Although the neighborhood shares initials with Citizen Kane, the only film I could find that was shot in the neighborhood the brutal, senseless beating of Reginald Denny at the hands of Damian Williams, Henry Watson, Antoine Miller, Gary Williams, Anthony Brown and Lance Parker during the LA Riots of ’92, filmed at the intersection of Florence and Normandie. There’s not much along that patch of Florence aside from Gabe Motors, which was packed with restored and waiting-to-be-restored vochos. I’m sure that there are aspiring and possibly practicing musicians, actors or filmmakers in the neighborhood, so if you live in Canterbury Knolls and have a connection to the entertainment business, make yourself heard.


The decidedly deco Green Dog & Cat Hospital, built in 1934

As I mentioned earlier, there are no Kentish people in CK. In fact, nearly everyone we encountered  was black, Latino or Korean. Shimbles and I were the only "people-not-of-color" (to employ the politically correct Anglo-exclusion). Perhaps this is why a kindly old woman asked me if we were brothers as she bade me “good afternoon” and handed me a copy of Watchtower. In fact, Shimbles and I were continually greeted with almost pleasant but almost wearying regularity, making Canterbury Knolls the friendliest neighborhood blogging experience I’ve had to date (in stark contrast to the scowling yoga-pants-horde we encountered in Laurel Canyon the day before).


The gargantuan Slauson Super Mall

Physically, most of Canterbury Knolls is -- like most of South LA -- comprised of small, single story homes, box apartments and tiny stores arranged in grids. There are many churches, auto shops, small markets, discount stores, party suppliers, laundromats and carpet houses. There's a conspicuous absence of chains, for the most part, but they do have an Autozone and a 76. There are few restaurants, just a sprinkling of Burger, Chinese, Mexican and Salvadoran joints.

The northern portion of the neighborhood, along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad, is much more industrialized and mostly comprised of large, aging warehouses. Many of the businesses around Slauson, which forms the northern edge of the neighborhood, are furniture manufacturers. In fact, it was either in or near Canterbury Knolls that I procured one of my couches.

The largest of the warehouses is the awesome, sprawling Slauson Super Mall – an enormous, 177,129 square foot swap meet where one can get their nails done, get one’s shine on, buy rainbow-colored everything, eat pupusas and Icees, and pick up a memorial tee of a recently passed black celebrity. Last time I came here I saw one for 60 Minutes' Ed Bradley. Not surprisingly, Michael Jackson is the favored subject for airbrush artists of the moment. It was shown in the video for Tupac's "To Live and Die in LA."

Inside the Super Mall -- my photography doesn't begin to reflect the scope of this place




Well, that's about all I could figure out about Canterbury Knolls. If you have any corrections or additions, by all means let me know. Thanks.



*****


Follow Eric's Blog and check out more episodes of California Fool's Gold

Calfornia Fool's Gold -- Exploring Yucca Corridor, Los Angele's Crack Alley

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 25, 2009 01:25pm | Post a Comment
In this installment of the Los Angeles neigborhood blog, we visit Yucca Corridor. To vote for a different Los Angeles neighborhood, go here. To vote for a Los Angeles County community, go here.

  
Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Yucca Corridor & Hollywood

The Yucca Corridor is a small, crowded neighborhood in central Hollywood, just northwest of downtown. Its borders are Franklin Ave on the north, Hollywood Blvd on the south, Highland on the west, and Vine on the east. Below is the southeast corner of what's now Yucca Corridor as it was in 1907. Nowadays it is 42% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatelmalteca), 41% white (mostly Armenian), 7% Asian and 5% black.



The Yucca Corridor
Yucca Corridor is a fairly dilapidated section of Hollywood, despite 100s of millions of dollars having been dumped into it since the death of Hollywood in the 1950s. Today, although much improved from its nadir, it’s still one of the most run-down areas of Los Angeles. Now, after decades of heralding its complete rejuvenation, the hype finally seems to be approaching reality -- though tellingly, the predominant smell in the air is of sun-dried urine.


Hollywood was originally a dry, Methodist community founded of a few hundred residents located roughly ten miles northwest of Los Angeles. In those days, the film industry was then centered in Edendale. In 1910, D.W. Griffith's In Old California -- shot at 1713 N Vine in what’s now the southeast corner of the Yucca Corridor in downtown Hollywood -- was the first film made in Hollywood. Within five years, most American films were made in Los Angeles and several studios and stars called Hollywood home. By the '20s, it was hopping, as a shot of the same intersection below shows.


By the 1940s, Hollywood was the center of film, radio and television production. In the 1950s, however, faced with rising property values and rents, the entire area experienced a mass exodus with most television and film production facitilies moving away.


For a time, bouyed by the 1954 construction of the nearby Capitol building, Hollywood retained some sense of glamor and was still known as a hub of the music industry. The Villa Capri at 6735 Yucca was a favorite Rat Pack hangout. However, despite its continuing glamourous reputation, Hollywood began a long decline from which it wouldn’t even begin to emerge for another forty years.



By 1958, the music industry had proved incapable of keeping Hollywood alive and it was, for all intents and purposes, dead. In the first of many efforts at restoring life to the necropolis, the neighborhood created the Hollywood Walk of Fame that year, placing eight stars in the sidwalk just west of the Yucca Corridor, which ultimately grew, passing along the entirety of the Corridor's southern edge. Today, the grimy sidewalk of widely unrecognized names seems rather unimpressive. Most of the stores along it sell post cards, novelty license plates, tattoos and clothing so tacky that most prostitutes have too much decency to wear it.


In the 1960s, Hollywood undertook another effort to make the neighborhood attractive -- destroying most of the art deco buildings in the area to make way for boxier, less stylized structures. Two art deco buildings that escaped the wrecking ball are the Fontenoy at 1811 Whitley (pictured above), constructed in 1928 and the Montecito, at 6650 Franklin (pictured below).



The oldest restaurant in Hollywood, Musso & Frank’s, opened in 1919. Suspecting it’s a tourist trap, Musso & Frank's and a Chinese place on Highland are about the only Yucca Corridor restaurants I haven’t eaten at in the name of research. Only the Village Pizza and the Lotería Grill exceed mediocrity, which they both do by a healthy margin. Anyway, back in the 60s, the efforts to attract tourists largely failed and the void left by the departure of the entertainment industry was filled by hippies. The many head shops in Yucca Corridor have proven one of the neighborhood's most enduring business successes.

  

By the '70s, the Yucca Corridor slipped further into decline and most of the hotels in the area became flophouses. One, The Lido, inspired Frank Zappa’s “Willie the Pimp” and was featured in the album art for Hotel California. The Lido had a long history of notoriety, roughly paralleling the neighborhood's decay. Back in the 1950s, Ed Wood did much of his drinking in its bar, which he lived above until he was evicted.

 
Wilcox and Yucca - note the cameras

Wood's upstairs neighbor pimped out her young daughter, beneath was a woman who pimped out her young daughter. A drag queen was stabbed to death in the hallway and it was also there that Victor Kilian, the Fernwood Flasher on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, was beaten to death. Crossing the street to buy booze at Playboy Liqour, Wood was routinely mugged in the intersection that was long considered the most dangerous in the neighborhood. As a result, neighborhood watch groups installed video cameras at the intersection later, but that didn’t stop the theft of the martini glass serving as the “Y” in the store's name and now it goes as Pla-Boy.


The “Tortilla House,” a famous crash pad on Las Palmas, housed 100 homeless transients at one time. But in the '70s, many of the hippies were joined by working class Latinos and the character of the neighborhood changed. On weekends, Hollywood Boulevard was choked with lowrider traffic. Around the same time, many of the sex stores, stripper-wear merchants and porn theatres moved in, followed by an influx of prostitution and drugs. At this point, the crime rate in the area was double the rest of the city -- only topped by the areas around LAX. In the midst of it, the famous The Masque at 1655 N Cherokee was an L.A. Punk venue that hosted The Weirdos, X, The Go-Gos, The Germs, the Screamers and F-Word and was shut down in 1977, when cops began to crack down on the neighborhood.

 
By the early 1980s, the shadowy band of crazed transients known as The Night People dominated Hollywood, based out of the vacant Security Pacific National Bank Building and Garden Court Apartments (aka Hotel Hell), both flanking but just outside the Yucca Corridor. In 1983, the Hollywood Branch Library at Ivar was broken into, vandalized, then set on fire, destroying about 68,000 books.

After much of Hollywood was declared a blighted slum, redevelopment began in earnest in the late 1980s, with efforts led by another shadowy group of glassy-eyed walking dead, the Scientologists. Strangely, they appeared on the scene roughly around the same time as the collapse of another cult, the 1970s' The Center for Feeling Therapy (or The Screamers), who bought much of the property south of the neighborhood. In the 1980s, though a blighted hellscape, game shows still routinely offered winners a two-night stay in glamorous Hollywood, California to unsuspecting tourists, who can still be seen departing from airport shuttles with horrified and disbelieving looks in their eyes.
 

On the left, one of Ed Wood's old apartment buildings. On the right, the former location of La Iguerita.

At the beginning of the ‘90s, the Yucca Corridor seemed little improved, beyond Scientologists' having saved some of the neighborhood's historic buildings from ruin. The crack problem was so bad that the stretch of Yucca between Whitely and Wilcox was known as Crack Alley, which was patrolled by the neighborhood watch groups: Ivar Hawks, Cherokee Condors, Las Palmas Lions, Wilcox Werewolves, Whitley Rangers and Hudson Howlers. Previously focused on individual streets, in 1991 they united as United Streets of Hollywood and Yucca Corridor was proposed as a name to bring attention to the most decrepit neighborhood in a bedraggled district. After two dozen people were killed between the 7-11 on Cahuenga and Ivar and La Iguerita Club, the police formed a special task force to target the area. La Iguerita Club was famous for its violence and drugs that spilled out into the streets. After a murder inside the bar, it was shut down for 45 days. After being closed again for serving alcohol to people who were already blind drunk, people in the Corridor organized to shut it down permanently.

 

In 1992, a block to the south, the LA riots spread to Yucca Corridor and Frederick's of Hollywood was looted, Madonna’s famous pointy bra stolen in the process. The following year, the street was paved with glassphalt, a sparkly pavement designed to add a suggestion of glamour to the embattled, ramshackle neighborhood. When the Northridge earthquake hit the following year, several buildings were condemned. Violence peaked afterward, with Yucca averaging a murder a day. Blockades were erected along the street to reduce drug trafficking.

 
In the 2000s, the neighborhood grew noticeably less shady, with attention-whoring hipsters mostly replacing the the more conventional sort at night. A landscaped median with a sign, the "Gateway to Hollywood” was recently completed by the Yucca Corridor Coalition at a cost of $658,000 in an effort to create yet another reason for visiting the neighborhood. So far, I haven't been asked by anyone for directions to it, although as I took the picture, a guy asked me where the notorious 7-11 is. 
 
For more Yucca Corridor:

  Frank Zappa Hot Rats  



*****


Follow Eric's Blog and check out more episodes of California Fool's Gold