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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring South Central

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 6, 2014 11:10am | Post a Comment

IS BUSTIN' A CAP REALLY FUNDAMENTAL? -- SOUTH CENTRAL


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of South Central

South Central means different things to different people. To some it refers to a vast, amorphous collection of neighborhoods and cities between the Santa Monica Bay and the San Gabriel River, north of the San Pedro Bay and south of the 10 Freeway. To others its less of a geographical space than a metaphor -- that's surely the sense in which Ice Cube used it to refer to Compton -- which is of course it's own city and thus not any part of "LA."

A widely-accepted story tells that the South Central brand became so loaded with negative connotations of gang violence and riots that a neologism, South Los Angeles, was devised to "officially" replace it. But South Los Angeles is a geographic concept that goes back at least to the 1930s, as does South Central -- when it was coined to refer to the then-mostly-black neighborhood that arose just south of Downtown along South Central Avenue (hence the name) that is now sometimes referred to as “Historic South Central.”

As stated above, South Central is located immediately south of Downtown Los Angeles. Its other neighbors are Central-Alameda to the east, South Park to the south (the original, more than a century old South Park – not the part of Downtown which has only attempted to co-opt that name in the last decade), Vermont Square to the southeast, Exposition Park and University Park to the east, and Pico-Union to the northwest. On an alternately cool and balmy January day (yesterday in fact) I set about exploring the neighborhood with frequent traveling companion Tim Shimbles (aka DJ Modernbrit).

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The 17th Central Avenue Jazz Festival

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 31, 2012 03:05pm | Post a Comment
THE CENTRAL AVENUE JAZZ FESTIVAL


 


Every year for the past 17 years, during the last weekend in JulyLA residents and visitors are treated to the preeminent jazz event on the West Coast with The Central Avenue Jazz Festival. It’s free and open to the public – last year, 35,000 attended. The focus, of course, is live music but there are also craft and food booths. I've been meaning to check it out in the past and this I year finally did.


LOCATION OF EVENT


The Dunbar in 2012 and Central Ave - A Community Album


A BRIEF BIT OF BACKGROUND ABOUT SOUTH CENTRAL


 
          Intersection of Malcolm X Way and MLK                                A Jazzy mural at Alondra's Bakery


The event takes place at the historic Dunbar Hotel in South Central -- the actual neighborhood named after South Central Avenue and not the coded catch-all for “all neighborhoods south of the 10 Freeway assumed to be mostly black, impoverished and dangerous." I could be wrong but it's my guess that it's mostly due to the perceived, negative connotations of "South Central" that there seem to be almost no official uses of that name in reference to the area. Instead one get's the "Central Avenue Corridor" in its stead, or "Historic South Central" as a way of deflecting lingering associations -- much as Compton Boulevard was re-branded Marine Boulevard on South LA's Westside.


   
South Central historical markers for the corridor, Jack's Chicken Basket, California Eagle and Elk's Club

On the second day of the festival I took the Blue Line to Washington Boulevard, walked over to Central Avenue and headed south. I didn't realize how big South Central is, and how hot it was, until I'd begun walking 23 blocks, keeping my eyes open for historic markers and sites of interest along the way. One landmark that I passed and didn't see a marker for was the former headquarters of the Black Panthers' Southern California chapter (4115 S. Central Avenue).


SOUTH CENTRAL'S BEGINNINGS 


the all black LAFD Station 30 now the African American Firefighter Museum (AAFFM)


Before the rise of the South Central neighborhood, most of Los Angeles’s black population lived in a small area around Skid Row colloquially known as “Brick Block,” where several black-owned businesses were established. Leapfrogging south over Skid Row, more black businesses and residences sprang up around the intersection of South Central Avenue and 12th Street in what's now the Downtown LA's The Wholesale District. By 1915, the black-owned California Eagle publication was referring to South Central as the LA's "Black Belt." Because it was centered along South Central Avenue, the neighborhood came to be known as South Central


RISE OF THE EASTSIDE

  
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's Map of South Central and the Eastside

In 1917, famed New Orleanian ragtime and jazz musician Jelly Roll Morton made a new home in LA. Two years later, fellow Louisianan jazz musician Kid Ory followed. The so-called Black Belt began to move further south along Central Avenue Corridor and expanded to the surrounding area roughly hemmed in by Alameda, Main, Slauson and Washington (including what's now the Furniture & Decorative Arts District. To many inhabitants of the area, the region east of Main Street as "The Eastside" (not to be confused the  Eastside region east of the LA River). 


THE DUNBAR HOTEL


Dunbar Hotel postcard


The most important site of West Coast Jazz in South Central was the Dunbar Hotel. The hotel, which had an Art Deco lobby, was built in 1928 and was originally known as the Hotel Somerville. Its original owners, John and Vada Somerville, two prominent black Angelenos (John was the first black graduate of USC). There’s was one of the only hotels to allow black guests to stay there and many did. In 1928, delegates of the NAACP stayed there when in town. Somerville sold the hotel in 1929 to white owners who nonetheless renamed the hotel "Hotel Dunbar" after black Ohioan poet, Paul Laurence Dunbar.


DUNBAR'S HEYDAY



Soon after, the hotel again sold in 1930, this time to a black owner, Lucius W. Lomax, Sr. In 1931 he obtained a cabaret license which allowed for live entertainment. Soon, black luminaries including Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, James Weldon Johnson, Joe Louis, John Coltrane, Josephine Baker, Langston Hughes, Lena Horne, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Marian Anderson, Nat King Cole, Paul Robeson, Ralph Bunche, Ray Charles, Redd Foxx, Stepin Fetchit, Thurgood Marshall, W. E. B. Du Bois, and others congregated, performed and/or stayed there. Black Western star Herb Jeffries did as well, after he quit Earl Hines’s band and moved to LA.


OTHER SOUTH CENTRAL CLUBS


The Lincoln Theater - nicknamed "The West Coast Apollo"


For a period during the Great Depression the hotel ceased operations as a hotel and served as a mission run by Reverend Mayor Jealous Divine, a cult leader who proclaimed to his followers in the Peace Mission movement that he was God. But the Dunbar (and attached Club Alabam) wasn’t the only hot spot in South Central. There was also Alex Lovejoy'sThe Avalon TheaterThe Casablanca, The Crystal Tea RoomThe Downbeat (4201 S. Central - demolished), Elk's Hall (3416 S. Central - demolished) The Hole in the Wall, Ivy's Chicken ShackJack's Chicken Basket (Jack Johnson's after hours - 3219 S. Central - now demolished), The Last Word (demolished), The Lincoln Theater (2300 S. Central - now a church), The Memo Club (demolished), The Ritz ClubThe Showboat, and Stuff Crouch's Backstage all operating nearby. In the 1940s, the Dunbar returned to its roots, again becoming a hotel with live music.


DESEGREGATION AND THE DECLINE OF JAZZ’S POPULARITY 


Street scene at 2012 Central Avenue Jazz Festival


As a result of 1948's Shelley v. Kraemer case, the Supreme Court banned the continued enforcement of racist restrictive covenants. As a result, the black population of South Central (and by then, Watts), began to fan out from their cramped neighborhoods. Visiting black musicians like Duke Ellington could suddenly stay in places like Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, closer to the venues where they were playing. At the same time, amongst jazz fans, West Coast Jazz’s popularity waned as new styles including Hard Bop, Modal Jazz and Free Jazz waxed. More damaging to jazz, Rock ‘n’ Roll stole Jazz's place in the spotlight.


YEARS OF NEGLECT


A look inside the Dunbar today


The Dunbar struggled on until 1974, when it finally closed its doors (the same year it was designated as an Historic-Cultural Landmark (no. 131)). After it closed, Rudy Ray Moore filmed much of Dolemite (1974) and A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich (1976) on the premises. The former hotel was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 but continued to suffer from neglect and vandalism. Closed and long vacant, it attracted squatters until, after renovations, it re-opened in 1990 as an apartment for low-income seniors. It also became the home of the Museum in Black, a museum of black history originally established by Brian Breye in Leimert Park in 1971. As of 2011 it was empty and began undergoing restoration. Although currently without a home, the MiB still has an online presence -- Preserve the Museum in Black.


REVIVAL


Another scene at the 2012 Central Avenue Jazz Festival


Following the 1992 Riots and the introspection and dialogue that followed, several black cultural events arose including the Pan-African Film Festival (1992) and Central Avenue Jazz Festival (1996) and there seems to have been a general re-assessment of South LA's unique cultural and historic importance. Despite the fact that much of South LA and South Central’s black population moved in the wake of the riots, (today South Central is more than 87% Latino and only 10% black) the Central Avenue Jazz Festival offers attendees a chance to experience a bit of history and culture and maybe will serve as an example of why we should hold onto the sites of our city's rich history instead of, oh, tearing them down to make room for a KFC or police station.


CENTRAL AVE - A COMMUNITY ALBUM


There was a large art piece in the middle of the street with reproductions of photos from several generations. It was part of a project called Central Ave. It includes a mix of portraits taken by Sam Comen and family photos from Eastsiders of all generations. Since the website seems to be down, click here to check out the Facebook event page for the opening, or write to Comen at sam@samcomen.com


THE 2012 EVENT




No sooner had I arrived than a woman asked me what I'd thought of Ernie Andrews. Everybody seemed to be buzzing about his performance. One gentleman joked that he'd missed the performance, which started shortly after 1:00, because he was just getting up then -- because he'd only gone home at 7:00! 




I did catch Phil Ranelin's set which I enjoyed quite a bit, as did the rest of the attendees, apparently. The band rumbled and swung through numbers that touched on modal jazz, hard bop and avant-garde jazz showing that West Coast Jazz fans can appreciate other styles. Other performers included Diana Holling Band, Gerald Wilson Orchestra, Jazz America, LAUSD Beyond The Bell All-City Jazz Big Band, Poncho Sanchez, Sons of Etta, The New Jump Blues, and The Ray Goren Band. If you missed it this year, make sure you come to next's!

*****

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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.

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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!  

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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.


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Happy birthday Bronze Buckeroo - Herb Jeffries turns 98 today.

Posted by Eric Brightwell, September 24, 2011 02:18pm | Post a Comment
HAPPY 98th


Today is the 98th birthday of actor/singer Herb Jeffries. Although not widely recognized today (especially among non-black audiences, during his heyday in the 1930s and '40s he was an enormously popular singer and the first black actor to star in Westerns. I'd probably know nothing of him except for my tenure in the Black Cinema section at Amoeba, where elderly gentleman regularly treated me to their reminiscences about a black singing cowboy they'd idolized as kids. 

 

Herber Jeffries was born September 24, 1913 in Detroit, Michigan to Afro-Sicilian pianist Umberto Balentino and his Irish-American wife, Mildred. He never knew his father and was raised by his single mother, who ran a boarding house. Although light-skinned and almost surely able to "pass," he identified as black and associated himself with Detroit's Howard Buntz Orchestra, which brought him a measure of local fame.

Continue reading...

California Fool's Gold -- A South Los Angeles Eastside Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 5, 2011 09:15pm | Post a Comment
STRAIGHT BILLIN' THROUGH THE EASTSIDE

In Los Angeles, usage of the term "Eastside" varies depending on the speaker. To most Angelenos -- especially Latinos -- "The Eastside" refers to a group of neighborhoods immediately east of the Los Angeles River: Boyle Heights, Brooklyn Heights, City Terrace, East Los Angeles, El Sereno, Happy Valley, Hillside Village, Lincoln Heights, Rose Hills, and University Hills


THE (HISTORICALLY) BLACK EASTSIDE


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of South LA's Eastside

The other Eastside is in South LA. This Eastside was historically the main area that LA's black residents were required to live until the middle of the 20th century. It should be noted that when people speak of this region -- though they're implicitly referring to the East Side of South Los Angeles -- that reference to this area as "the Eastside" likely pre-dates the modern version of communties east of the river. Check out The Eastsiders, a documentary about South LA's Eastside between 1920 and 1965.


South LA's Eastside is neighbored by South LA's Westside to the west; The Mideast Side, Downtown and the Eastside to the north; Southeast Los Angeles to the east and The Harbor to the south. In South Los Angeles, the dividing line between Eastside and Westside was traditionally Main Street, which is still the dividing line between east and west street addresses. After the construction of the 110, which runs parallel a few blocks west of Main, this more dramatic physical distinction became the dividing line between east and west.


THE GATEWAY CITIES



For much of the early part of the Los Angeles history, The Eastside (along with Southeast Los Angeles and The Harbor) were lumped together as "The Gateway Cities." The region was a huge industrial region dominated by the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles in the southern end and many of the neighborhoods were built to house those involved in the warehouses and factories that popped up between the harbor and downtown.


LOS ANGELES UNDER SEGREGATION 



Gray areas showing black majority areas of Los Angeles in 1940

South LA's Eastside was home to two of the oldest black neighborhoods, South Central in the north and Watts in the south. Under racially restrictive covenants, blacks were allowed to own property only within the area hemmed in by Main, Slauson, Alameda and Washington, in Watts and a few other smaller areas like Oakwood in Venice.

SOUTH CENTRAL UNDER SEGREGATION 

In the 1940s, South Central gave rise to the West Coast's main jazz center. Numerous jazz and blues clubs and other black cultural institutions gave rise to people referring to it and neighboring Bronzeville to the north as "The Harlem of the West." Every year to this day, during the last weekend in July, The Central Avenue Jazz Festival is still held in South Central. 


WATTS UNDER SEGREGATION
 
Five miles south, around the same time, Watts became predominantly black, largely as a result of the Second Great Migration from the South during the same decade. Thousands of people came -- largely from from Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas and Texas -- to work in war-related industries. The large Nickerson Gardens, Jordan Downs and Imperial Courts housing projects were all built largely to house the newly arrived, working class immigrants as well as returning war veterans. 
 

SHELLEY v. KRAMER 

As a result of 1948's Shelley v. Kraemer, the Supreme Court banned the enforcement of racist restrictive covenants. As a result, in Los Angeles, the black population of and surrounding both areas began to pour out of their overcrowded confines. Resentful racist white gangs like The Spook Hunters formed to terrorize blacks with the hope of keeping them out of Compton, Lynwood, Huntington Park and Downey.

Gray areas showing black majority areas of Los Angeles in 1960

South Central was already home to several street gangs, including The MagnificentsThe Purple Hearts, 31st Street and 28th Street, who were engaged primarily in turf battles, pimping, theft and small time robbery. However, to counter the violence of the Spook Hunters, new black protectionist gangs like The Devil Hunters, The Slausons, The Businessmen, The Farmers and The Gladiators formed and combat their racist rivals. By 1960 the Spook Hunters were defeated and the black populations of South Central and Watts overflowed and met in the middle before began spreading into till-then-white Compton far to the south (as well as Midtown).


WATTS RIOTS & THE RISE OF GANGS 


In 1965, tensions, many racial, exploded into the Watts Riots. As a result, many of South Los Angeles' white residents moved away, most often to either Artesia, Bellfower, Norwalk or Paramount. In 1969, The Crips formed (as the Baby Cribs) in South Los Angeles' Eastside. Though initially inspired by black empowerment organizations like the Black Panthers and US, they quickly devolved into a violent street gang that mostly prayed on innocent black residents.

In 1972, a group of gangs including the Pirus, Lueders Park Hustlers, LA Brims, the Denver Lanes and the Bishops met and joined forces as The Bloods to counter the Crips' power. Gang violence escalated in the 1970s but reached a new level of violence when crack hit the streets in 1983. Violence explodedt and as a result, many long-established black families began to move to areas they perceived as more desirable.


GANGSTA RAP AND THE CRACK WARS 

Compton, which had till-then recently dominated South LA's music scene with a vibrant homegrown electro soon became known for gangsta rap in the 1980s, involving some of the same players (e.g. Arabian Prince and Dr. Dre). South LA's eastside produced Compton's Most Wanted, 2nd II None, DJ Quik and NWA. Together they painted a nightmare vision of South Los Angeles as a Crack War battleground contested by well-armed and sociopathic Bloods and Crips.


BLACK FLIGHT & THE RISE OF LATINOS 

Meanwhile, as much of the better off black population continued to move away, poor, newly arrived immigrants from Mexico and El Salvador began to fill the newly created void. By then, the South Central neighborhood was predominantly Latino although people were then accustomed to employing the name "South Central" as a racially-loaded catch-all for any black neighborhood south of the 10. Today, this mental colonialism is still evinced in the words of self-appointed hood experts who don't even live in South Central yet nonetheless claim it, denying their own neighborhood's equally unique and interesting histories in the process.

By the time of the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, which began in South LA's Westside, the Eastside was mostly dominated by LA's Latino majority, with only Compton and Watts still having predominantly black populations. After the riots of 1992, another wave of black families moved to more stable neighborhoods and today even Compton and Watts are mostly Latino cities.

THE EASTSIDE TODAY 

In 2000s, the Eighth District Empowerment Congress began the "Naming Neighborhoods Project" to identify and celebrate South Los Angeles neighborhoods with new designations, hoping to foster pride and community as a result. Three (Broadway Square, Century Cove and Century Palms) were newly-established Eastside communities. 

Today South Los Angeles is one of LA's least ethnically and racially diverse regions but I still think it's an interesting place. Except for West Compton, every neighborhood is dominated by the Latino majority (primarily of Mexican and Salvadoran origin) of 76% overall. The minorities are 20% are black, 2.8% are white and .7% are Asian.

Physically the region is a large, flat alluvial plane. The architecture, for the most part, is rather low-profile -- dominated by bungalows and lowrise apartment buildings. From the elevated sections of the Metro Blue Line one can see for miles a skyline that is only occasionally punctuated by structures like the Watts Towers and the taller, but less iconic, Mount ZionTowers, the Compton Courthouse, and near the edge of Downtown: the LA Mart, Bob Hope Patriotic Hall, and 155 West Washington Boulevard.

and now onto the neighborhoods:
*****

BROADWAY SQUARE 


First up, its position determined by the alphabet, is Broadway Square. Broadway Square was established by the the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's Naming Neighborhoods Project in 2008 but at least as many people know it by the more boring street-combo name, "Broadway-Manchester." It is unrecognized by the Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia, Nabewise and Wikimapia. The bedroom community is home to several fast food chains and the population is 59% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), and 39% black. 


CENTURY COVE 

Century Cove
is another neighborhood established by the the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's Naming Neighborhoods Project in 2008. The Watts-adjacent neighborhood's residents are roughly 54% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran) and 44% Black. Presumably, the "Century" of the name refers to Century Boulevard.


CENTURY PALMS 


The last of the three neighborhoods established by the the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's Naming Neighborhoods Project is Century Palms. Though mostly residential, there are a large number of auto shops, churches and small markets. The population is roughly 59% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran) and 39% black.


COMPTON 


Compton is an infamous city that is practically synonymous around the world with the South Los Angeles region of which it is part. Due largely to the mythologizing NWA and their gangsta rap followers, Compton has also become a byword for urban squalor and gang violence even though (not to make anyone feel old) nearly a quarter of a century has passed since the release of Straight Outta Compton. Naturally the city has changed a great deal in the time that saw Ice Cube go from rapping about rape and murder to starring in children's movies. To read more about Compton, click here.

EAST COMPTON (AKA EAST RANCHO DOMINGUEZ)


East Compton, also known as East Rancho Dominguez, is an unincorporated community surrounded by the city of Compton. In fact, Compton, which has in the past tried to annex East Compton but business and property owners in the area have successfully opposed their efforts. Today the population is 73% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 23% black. 


FLORENCE (LOS ANGELES) 

OK, rather confusingly (and not that atypical in a region where neighborhoods are so often nebulously) there are seemingly two adjacent neighborhoods which together form Florence. The Los Angeles one is a rather industrial area that's home to many Mexican restaurants, metal works, furniture factories, mini-markets. The population is 70% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran) and 28% black.

Florence is famous for its Crip history. Raymond Washington founded the gang (as the Baby Avenues) at Fremont High. When he was two years old, his family moved into their home near Wadsworth and E 76th Street. Florence is also where Washington was murdered in 1979, in front of an apartment building at 6326 S. San Pedro St.


FLORENCE-FIRESTONE

The other half of Florence is an unincorporated community in Los Angeles County. Along with Graham to the south, the two are sometimes referred to as Florence-Firestone, after the intersection.

THE FURNITURE AND DECORATIVE ARTS DISTRICT 



Signs for The Furniture & Decorative Arts District seem to include the entire neighborhoods of South Central, South Park, Florence, and Central-Alameda. I got my couch there at a place off Slauson so I can personally vouch for furniture being made there. There's also a huge chair, pictured above.


GRAHAM 

To the south of unincorporated Florence, sometimes lumped together as Florence-Firestone or Florence-Graham is the titular Graham. It's also sometimes referred to as Firestone Park for a tiny park in its northeast. Larger parks include Colonel Leo H Washington Park and Will Rogers Memorial Park
 


GREEN MEADOWS 

Although the Los Angeles Times once published an article, "Asphalt Jungle or Green Meadows" which gently mocked the 8th District Empowerment Congress's Neighborhood Naming Project, from what I've read, it seems Green Meadows is a pre-existing moniker that possibly dates back to the area's pastoral past. Today it's full of meat-dominated restaurants and baptist churches. The population is 54% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran) and 44% black. Despite it's bucolic name, Green Meadows is the second most violent neighborhood in the Eastside after Watts.  


HUNTINGTON PARK 

Eastside's Huntington Park was incorporated in 1906 as a streetcar suburb for workers in the rapidly expanding industries to the southeast of downtown Los Angeles. To this day, about 30% of its residents work at factories in nearby Vernon and Commerce. After the decline of American manufacturing in the area, many of the residents moved elsewhere too. The vacuum was filled almost entirely by two groups of Latinos: upwardly mobile families eager to leave the barrios of East Los Angeles, and recent Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants. Today the population is 95% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran) and 3% white.


LYNWOOD 


Though all of South Los Angeles has a reputation for crime, Lynwood is the second safest community in the region after sparsely-populated West Compton. Incorporated in 1921, the city is named for Mrs. Lynn Wood Sessions, wife of a local dairyman, Charles Sessions. It's the birthplace of actor/director Kevin Costner as well as "Weird Al" Yankovic, who released an album titled Straight Outta Lynwood. The population is 82% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 13% black and 3% white. It's home to the picturesque Plaza Mexico, a celebrated cultural and shopping center.


SOUTH CENTRAL 


In the 1930s and especially the '40s, South Central Avenue was the center of West Coast Jazz. At the time, even superstars like Duke Ellington who played around Los Angeles still had to stay in South Central. Although the most famous, the Dunbar, was located in South Park, there were numerous other jazz and blues clubs on South Central. After the restrictive housing codes were abolished, this Harlem of the West dissipated as the population dispersed, jazz declined in popularity, and the neighborhood fell into disrepair.

Nowadays South Central is 87% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 10% black, 1% white and 1% Asian. It's one of the more urbanized areas of the Eastside and, depending on where one draws the dividing line between Downtown and South Central (e.g. the 10 Freeway or W Washington Boulevard), its home to most of the iconic buildings in the region including Allied Architects Association's Bob Hope Patriotic Hall, the 13-story LA Mart, and the 14-story Art Deco 155 West Washington Boulevard building, built in 1927. To read more about it, click here.


SOUTH PARK 

South Park
is a neighborhood that lies directly south of South Central and is centered around a park of the same name. Before 1948 it was as far south as blacks were allowed to live (aside from Watts) with Slauson forming its southern border. Around 1952, the neighborhood saw the formation of The Slausons, a black gang which organized to protect blacks from attacks by racist whites hoping to keep them from moving south of Slauson. Most of the black population eventually moved elsewhere and today South Park is 79% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 19% black and 1% white.

South Park is also fairly devoted to small-scale industries such as machine shops, auto shops, upholsterers, medical suppliers, etc, much like the Furniture and Decorative Arts District to the east. Notably, it is home to the tallest structure in the region, the 12-story Mount Zion Towers, built in 1971. It's most famous building, however, is the famed Dunbar Hotel.

VERON 

The Villa Basque (image source: jericl)

Vernon has the smallest population of any incorporated city in California (although that might soon change). It's motto is "Exclusively Industrial" (take that City of Industry!). The motto isn't entirely true, Vernon has, after all, some 112 residents. It became industrial around 1919, when two slaughterhouses opened. Eventually it was home to 27 such on a blood-soaked strip of Vernon between Soto and Downey. Vernon is also home to La Villa Basque, a restaurant and beautiful relic of the 1960s (historically, aesthetically and culinarily) that has been used in Mad Men. Iniside it has an amazing Googie coffee shop, a martini lounge and a large dining room. Unfortunately, misguided efforts have been underway to "improve" it with disastrous consequences: loud, horrible music; a cheesy new name (Vivere) -- courtesy owner and disgraced former Vernon mayor, Leonis Malberg


WATTS 

In 1907, Watts was incorporated a its own city, named after Watts Station, then a major stop for the Pacific Electric Railway's Red Car line between Los Angeles and Long Beach. Most of the residents were white and Mexican traqueros who worked on the line.

Watts became mostly black in the 1940s, when southern blacks settled there in search of industrial jobs. In 1965, it was the epicenter of the Watts Riots which saw part of the city burnt to the ground and nicknamed "Charcoal Alley." It was plagued by gangs like the Watts Cirkle City Piru Bloods, Grape Street Watts Crips, Bounty Hunter Watts Bloods and PJ Watts Crips during the 1970s and '80s which contributed to black flight. Today Watts is 62% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran) and 37% black. Although there have been attempts to turn around the neighborhood's decline, it still suffers from the highest crime rate in the region.

It's famously home to the Watts Towers, built by Italian immigrant construction worker Sabato Rodia between 1921 and 1954, probably one of LA's five most recognized landmarks. Rodia himself named the structure "Nuestro Pueblo."  To read more about Watts, click here


WEST COMPTON 

West Compton is an unincorporated community west of Compton. Today, probably in part due to the negative popular associations with the Compton name, many refer to it as West Rancho Dominguez (a reference to Rancho Dominguez… a community which, unlike Compton, it does not lie directly west of). At the time of writing it's the only remaining black majority neighborhood in South LA's Eastside. The population is roughly 58% black, 36% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 2% Asian and 2% white. It also has the lowest crime rate. 


WILLOWBROOK 


Willowbrook
's name comes from the willow-lined shallow brooks and springs that covered the area up through the 19th century. It was still largely rural until the 1980s. Today it is mostly developed although less than most of the region. The population is 53% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 44% black and 1% white. Willowbrook is locally notorious as the home of the troubled Martin Luther King Jr Harbor Hospital. It's also home to the well-known Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

*****
And so Eastsidaz, to vote for any communities in the Eastside or any other Los Angeles County communities to be covered on the blog, vote here. To vote for Eastside neighborhoods or any other Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here. Till next time, y'all know how we get down... 7 dizzles a wizzle, Bigg Bow Wiggle's, up in the hizzle, Fo' shizzle bizzle!
 

*****


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