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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Chesterfield Square

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 14, 2013 12:12pm | Post a Comment
BLOW SOME MY WAY -- CHESTERFIELD SQUARE

Chesterfield Square signs

INTRODUCTION
 TO CHESTERFIELD SQUARE

Chesterfield Square is without a doubt, one of Los Angeles’s most obscure neighborhoods. The obscurity is somewhat surprising given the neighborhood’s longstanding and dubious distinction of having the city’s and county’s highest violent crime rate. As a matter of fact, most of the Los Angeles’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods are rather obscure – communities like Compton, South Central, and Watts aren’t even in the top ten.

Divine protection

Although I don’t in any way wish to minimize the seriousness of crime, both visitors and residents of the neighborhood are more likely to be felled by heart disease, cancer, an accident or suicide than by violent criminals -- especially those who are not or don't appear to be affiliated with a gang. Furthermore, citywide violent crime rates for Los Angeles are the lowest they’ve been since 1966. It may be rough by Los Angeles standards but it's hardly San Pedro Sula. In other words, nothing bad is going to happen to you.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Chesterfield Square

Chesterfield Square is a neighborhood located in South Los Angeles’s Westside. It is neighbored by King Estates to the north, Exposition Park to the northeast, Vermont Square to the east, Vermont-Slauson to the southeast, Canterbury Knolls to the south, Hyde Park to the southwest, Angeles Mesa to the west, and Arlington Park to the northwest. The population of Chesterfield Square is currently about 59% black (mostly of unspecified West African and Belizian origin), 37% Latino (mostly of Mexican and Salvadoran origin), 2% white, and 1% Asian.

Last week I headed to the neighborhood with filmmaker Diana Roark on what turned out to be a decidedly relaxed and slightly warm autumn day, the kind of day with enough heat to magnify the mingling scents of food cooking, weed smoking, and rose gardens.

Given the time and day of our exploration, most residents of the neighborhood were likely at work or in school but we did encounter numerous people hanging out in parks, on corners, and in lawns and on porches – most all of whom were politely friendly and some of whom shared stories that helped inform this piece. If any of them are reading this, thanks for your kindness, stories, and opinions. I hope you enjoy.


*****

EARLY HISTORY OF THE AREA

Human history of Chesterfield Square and California began some 13,000 to 15,000 years ago when the first transplants arrived after their ancestors crossed the Bering Strait from North Asia. We don’t know what they called themselves but around 3,500 the ancestors of the Tongva arrived in Southern California and displaced or were absorbed into the local population. By 500 CE the Tongva occupied 10,000 km² of land, including most of Los Angeles County.


SPANISH ERA

The first European nation, Spain, first visited Southern California in 1542 but sustained contact with the Tongva and other Native American nations only began in 1771, after the construction of Mission San Gabriel Arcángel some 27 kilometers east in the Whittier Narrows. After conquering the Natives, the Spanish divided most of the land into ranches administered by the missions although the lands that now comprise Chesterfield Square were part of an area of public lands located between the Pueblo de Los Angeles and ranchos to the west. 


MEXICAN AND EARLY AMERICAN ERA

After eleven years of war revolutionary war, Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821. In 1846, when Mexico was just 25 years old, the US invaded and by 1848 had conquered California. The state was admitted to the Union in 1850. Los Angeles County was one of the original counties and then included parts of what are now Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange Counties.


SHOESTRING STRIP ANNEXATION

Detail of map showing annexations of Los Angeles

On 26 December, 1906, after 125 years of being landlocked, Los Angeles finally became a coastal city with the Shoestring Strip Annexation that expanded the city’s borders to the southwest and, via a narrow corridor, to the San Pedro Bay in the south.


BEGINNING OF CHESTERFIELD SQUARE

In 1912, two brothers – Charles List and R.D. List – entered the picture. R.D. List was a South Pasadena-based notary public and real estate speculator and he and Charles bought and subdivided a development that they named Chesterfield Square. I haven’t found what inspired their choice of name. Was it the Earl of Chesterfield? Chesterfield cigarettes, couches, or overcoats? Chesterfield County, Virginia? Maybe they just liked the way that it sounded.

Detail of LARy map showing Chesterfield Square (solid orange lines represent Yellow Car train lines)

In 1912 the streets of the tract were paved and the Los Angeles Railway’s Division 5 carhouse was built nearby, on the southwest corner of the intersection of S Van Ness Avenue and W 54th Street. The stations yellow cars ran down 54th, 48th, Santa Barbara (now Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard) and stretches of other streets in the neighborhood.

Streets lined with Washingtonia robusta

Many of the neighborhood’s streets are still lined with towering, spindly Washingtonia robusta palm trees planted in those years.

Chesterfield Square Park

Chesterfield Square was also home to (and is still home to) Chesterfield Square Park, a small but pretty, formal park with axial walkways, mature sycamores, and a walk street – Concordia Walk – along its southern edge. There are two other pocket parks, or “parklets,” in Chesterfield Square, located at the intersection of 54th Street and S Van Ness Avenue and Slauson Avenue and S Van Ness Avenue.


HARBOR SUBDIVISION

Diana walking along the Harbor Subivision right-of-way

Chesterfield Square’s location was placed just north of the the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad’s Harbor Subdivision line, which at that time connected Downtown Los Angeles to a port in Redondo Beach. In the 1920s, to capitalize on the oil boom, it was extended to Torrance, Wilmington, and Long Beach. Although mostly used by freight trains, it also served as a passenger rail. The Harbor Subdivision was the ATSF Railroad’s (and its successor, the BNSF Railroad’s) primary route between The Harbor and Downtown until the 2002 opening of the more direct Alameda Corridor to the east.


GROWTH OF CHESTERFIELD SQUARE

Examples of typical homes in the neighborhood

A 1923 advertisement in the Los Angeles Times offered homeowners the chance to buy a “swell, new modern bungalow, built of the best materials” with “better improvements than in Wilshire District, at half the price.” Sales of homes in Chesterfield Square began to really take off in the 1920s – fueled by the real estate and oil boom of the time. Today the neighborhood is still comprised mostly of homes built in the popular styles of that era including Spanish Colonial Revival and California Craftstman homes, evidently chosen from pattern books (in many cases a street with contain several homes of almost identical design distinguished by slight, ornamental variations). Development would eventually grind to a halt when the Great Depression hit.


THE CARLTON THEATRE

The Carlton Theatre (image source: Cinema Treasures)

The neighborhood picture palace, the 1,200 Fox-owned Carlton Theatre, was formerly located at 5409 S. Western Avenue. It was around at least as early as 1924, when it announced the addition of a children’s matinee in the paper. Although the Tim Burton film Ed Wood depicted the premier of Plan 9 From Outer Space taking place at the Pantages in Hollywood, it in fact first screened in Chesterfield Square’s Carlton Theatre. Before the 1950s ended, the theater was re-purposed as a church. The building was demolished by 1972 and today the lot is still empty.


RAY HARRYHAUSEN 


Harryhausen's old home (right)

In the 1930s, inspired by the work of Willis O'Brien (the man who was responsible for animating King Kong), a teenaged Chesterfield Square resident named Ray Harryhausen began experimenting with stop motion animation in the garage of his home at 4822 Cimarron Street. When we stopped by the house, the owner was sitting on his porch. Diana talked to him about Harryhausen having lived there, which he was unaware of. 


The building on the left was formerly home to Harryhausen's effects studio


In 1956, Ray Harryhausen began renting a space and operating an effects studio near the intersection of Cimarron and 54th Street. It was there that he created the visual effects for 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958). In 1960 he moved to London, UK and for many years was the biggest name in movie effects. He passed away 7 May, 2013.




WAR YEARS

In the 1940s, World War II helped transform Los Angeles  into an important manufacturing center. To meet the demands of the war industry, thousands of working class Southerners moved to the working class neighborhoods of South Los Angeles. Though white immigrants were able to live just about anywhere that they could afford to, blacks were confined to roughly 5% of the city’s area, mostly to the neighborhoods of Watts and South Central.


END OF RACIST HOUSING COVENANTS

In 1947, an incident in Missouri brought the case of Shelley v. Kraemer to the US Supreme Court. As a result, racially restrictive covenants were found to be unconstitutional. Homeowner associations, developers and white gangs would still pursue various methods to keep black Angelenos from moving into “their” communities including restrictions against multi-family residences, drive-by shootings, cross burnings, harassment and physical attacks. Despite all that, black Angelenos quickly spread west and south of South Central.


LEON T. GARR



One black resident who came to South Los Angeles and came to prominence was Leon T. Garr. Garr was born in 1914, in Ruston, Louisiana and moved to Los Angeles in the early 1940s after having served in World War II. After co-founding Coast Construction in 1958 he launched Garr Construction in 1963. In 1991 he transformed a failed savings and loan into Founders National Bank. Along the way he proved himself to be a major force in South Los Angeles and today several Chesterfield Square locations give evidence of his philanthropy including the Garr Child Care Learning Institute, the Garr Academy of Math and Entrepreneurial Studies School, the Leon & Mattie Garr Foundation, and the Garr Banquet Hall. In 2012, Antwone Fisher directed the biographical documentary, This Life of Mine: The Leon T. Garr Story, about Garr. On 23 March he celebrated his 99th birthday.


THE BIRTH OF BLACK CLUBS

Black clubs, in many ways the precursors to modern gangs, began to emerge partly to counter the harassment of black Angelenos at the hands of white gangs. The largest black club on South Los Angeles’s Westside was The Gladiators, whose turf was centered around the intersection of 54th and Vermont, just beyond the borders of Chesterfield Square. As whites increasingly left the region, interracial violence was increasingly replaced by intraracial violence – primarily between the many clubs of South Angeles’s historically black and poorer Eastside and the clubs of the upwardly mobile black Westside. Though there was violence, it wasn’t even close to the level that arose in later decades. Fights over girls, American football rivalries, and class resentment were rarely deadly and in 1960 there were only six gang-related deaths in the entire city of Los Angeles.


CHESTERFIELD SQUARE BECOMES A BLACK NEIGHBORHOOD


By 1960, the previously separate black populations of South Central, Watts, the black Westside and Mid-City had merged to form one large, contiguous black majority region. “South Central,” named after the neighborhood which had flourished along South Central Avenue, became increasingly accepted as shorthand for any and all black communities throughout South Los Angeles and the name “Chesterfield Square” began to vanish from the public consciousness.

Nuance and distinction between communities of South Los Angeles began to reassert itself in 1965, when residents in Watts launched a violent uprising in the wake of perceived racism on the part of the LAPD. In the wake of the unrest, which resulted in 34 deaths, the population of upwardly mobile blacks in South Los Angeles increasingly left the Eastside for the Westside, including Chesterfield Square.

THE END OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS ERA & THE BEGINNING OF GANG ERA

The second half of the 1960s saw several key moments in Civil Rights history. In 1965, Malcolm X was was murdered. Martin Luther King Jr was murdered in 1968. Although it might sound like conspiracy theory, it is a matter of fact that the FBI deliberately created conflict between the preeminent Black Nationalist organizations of the day with their anti-dissident COINTELPRO program, hoping that they'd wipe each other out. They were certainly involved in the 1968 assassination of the Panthers’ Fred Hampton and the following year, a fight between the Panthers and US over at the UCLA campus in Westwood turned deadly.

In the wake of the disintegrating Black Nationalist movement, teenage groups like the Baby Avenues (later known as The Crips) and, in the Chesterfield Square vicinity, the LA Brims both coalesced in 1969. Like other clubs at the time such as Compton’s Pirus or the Black P. Stones in Mid-City, they initially all dabbled with Black Nationalism before quickly devolving into mere criminal gangs. 


GOOD FRED

Good Fred La Rutan mural

Frederic Douglas "Good Fred" Ellis was born on 21 April, 1946 in Detroit, Michigan. In 1954 he joined the US Air Force and served with the 49th Air Squad until 1958. While in the military he acquired the nickname, "Good Fred." He graduated from barber college in 1961 and opened his first hair salon, La Rutan, in Chesterfield Square on Western Avenue in 1968. In 1971 bought a larger location on 54th Street and began manufacturing The Good Fred Oil, designed specifically for black hair and celebrated in a jazz song of the same name by Dawn Norfleet. La Rutan's patrons included Bobby Womack, Clifton Powell, Nina Simone, Richard Pryor and others. More importantly, he was a philanthropist and positive force in the community, contributing to a variety of local causes. He passed away in 2011


GROWTH OF THE LATINO POPULATION 

Gonzalez Auto Body Shop with Aztec calendar mural

In the 1970s, much of South Los Angeles’s industry dried up or relocated. The factories that remained increasingly turned to newly-arrived immigrants from Mexico rather than the heavily-unionized black labor force. In the 1980s, as the US became involved in several Central American wars, refugees from that region began to flee to Los Angeles, often settling in South Los Angeles, eventually helping Latinos form the dominant ethnicity of South Los Angeles’s Eastside. On the other side of the 110, the Latino population grew and continues to grow but the region remains primarily black. In fact, in 2013 every black majority neighborhood of Los Angeles is located (with the exception of West Compton) in South Los Angeles’s Westside.


ANTIQUE STOVE HEAVEN

Inside Antique Store Heaven

Antique Stove Heaven opened circa 1978. Around 1988 they moved to their current location on Western. Their stoves have been featured in films including Devil in a Blue Dress, Driving Miss Daisy, Eraser, Hunger Games, and Nixon. They’ve been featured on the TV shows The Christopher Lowell Show, Hot in Cleveland, The Lynette Jennings Home Show, and Weeds as well as commercials for Blue Cross, Campbell's Soup, Carl's Jr., Jack in the Box, Kraft Cheese, Oreo Cookiesand Sunny Delight. Diana and I popped in and were shown around the facility. The stoves really are beautiful and I found myself wondering if underneath the layers of black, my own 1960s stove might actually be a thing of beauty. After looking at it again, I unfortunately don’t think so.


THE 1980s – A TIME OF CRISIS

The 1980s were trying times – especially for working class communities. The HIV/AIDS epidemic began around 1981 – the same year the federal budget for mental health was slashed and psychiatric patients were essentially dumped onto the streets. At the same time the Central American Refugee Crisis worsened considerably when the US increasingly funded right wing death squads in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Crack hit the streets around 1984 and every year from 1985 to 1992 Los Angeles’s homicide rate increased.

In 1979, the Westside Crips (founded in 1971) splintered into the rival Gangster Crips and Neighborhood Crips. In the 1980s, after more splintering, Chesterfield Park became bore witness to the development of and became home to the Rollin’ 40s Neighborhood Crips, the Rollin’ 50s Neighborhood Crips, and the Rollin’ 60s Neighborhood Crips – all of which include smaller sets – as well as the 51 Trouble Gangster Crips, the Westside 54 Van Ness Gangster Brims and no doubt others.


54th STREET MASSACRE

One of the worst single instances of gang violence that Los Angeles has witnessed in modern times was the 54th Street Massacre which took place in Chesterfield Square in 1984. Back then, Keith Tyrone “Ase Capone” Fudge’s car was allegedly stolen by a rival gang member, Percy “Buddha” Brewer. On the night of 12 October, Fudge, Harold Hall, and Fred “Fat Freddie” Knight allegedly rolled up and blindly fired 15 to 20 shots into the crowd gathered at a party at a residence on 54th Street. When the smoke cleared Brewer lay dead, but also Shannon Cannon, Darryl Coleman, Phillip Westbrook, and Diane Raspberry. All of the victims and assailants involved were teenagers at the time, some as young as fourteen years old.


GRIM SLEEPER

Many of the alleys in the neighborhood are surprisingly overgrown

At least as early as 1985, Lonnie David Franklin, Jr. is believed to have begun his reign as one of the country’s longest active serial killers, nicknamed The Grim Sleeper.” His nickname is a reference to the fact that he’s believed to have taken a 14-year break from murder after one of his attempted victims survived an attack in 1988 and he perhaps got spooked. He is believed to have begun killing again in 2002. His last known murder victim before the hiatus was of Alicia “Monique” Alexander, then 18, whose body was found in an alley near the 1700 block of West 43rd Place on 11 September, 1988 in Chesterfield Square after she’d left her home to walk to a convenience store.


MARTIN LUTHER KING JR - KINGDOM DAY PARADE

MLK mural (and Tupac painting)

All was not grim and gray in the 1980s, however. Santa Barbara was renamed Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard in 1983. That same year president Reagan signed a law declaring Martin Luther King, Jr Day a national holiday. In 1986, the first Kingdom Day Parade was organized by Celes King III and Larry E. Grant. Now an annual tradition, the Kingdom Day Parade passes through King Estates, Chesterfield Square, Leimert Park, Arlington Park, and Angeles Mesa. It’s probably the best known cultural event that takes place in the neighborhood. Grant passed away in 2012 at 86 years of age but the parade rolls on.


BOYZ N THE HOOD

Diana N the Hood

From 1 October to 28 November, 1990 a film crew shot Boyz N the Hood in Chesterfield Square. The exterior of the Furious Styles character's home is he home at 5918 Cimarron Street. Brandi’s house is 5906 Cimarron Street and the Baker home is at 5911 Cimarron. It was directed by John Singleton who at 23 was the youngest person ever nominated for a Best Director Oscar. Although it was preceded by 1988’s Colors, Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society came to be seen as the quintessential examples of the “Hood film.”




THE LA RIOTS

The 1980s saw the highest level of Korean immigration to the US. Although most initially moved to Koreatown, designated along Olympic Boulevard in Midtown in 1980, many opened or took over businesses in South Los Angeles. On 16 March, 1991, then-15-year-old Latasha Harlins was killed in Vermont Vista by Soon Ja Du, a Korean-American shopkeeper. That same month black motorist Rodney King was severely beaten by five white LAPD officers in the San Fernando Valley's Lake View Terrace neighborhood in an event that was secretly caught on tape. In the first case, Du was given probation, community service and fined $500. In the King case, three of the four LAPD officers involved were acquitted of all charges.

The results of the two trials are usually pointed to as the catalysts of the Los Angeles Riots which erupted just down the street from Chesterfield Square but quickly spread to it and far beyond. Over 60 people ultimately died in the uprising including 27-year-old Franklin Benavidez, who was shot and killed after fleeing from a Chesterfield Square gas station that officers claimed he’d attempted to rob. The officers, who fired at least ten rounds, also struck 19-year-old Victor Muñoz, claiming he’d brandished a handgun although it later turned out to be a beer can. Muñoz was hospitalized for two weeks and disputed the officers' account.

*****


Aftermath of a violent carrot explosion


Today Chesterfield Square -- though it still suffers from violent crime, poor schools, and other ills -- seems like a comparatively peaceful place (during the day at least). Fans of Craftsman architecture; Central American food, Mexican food, or Soul Food; or anyone simple desiring to experience the totality of their hometown should definitely check it out.

Googie car wash facility on MLK


Anthropomorphic appliances


CHESTERFIELD SQUARE EATS

Entrance to Panaderia Mi Guatemala

There are several eateries in Chesterfield Square including BBQ Express, El Arca Bakery & Restaurant, Flor Blanca Pupuseria Restaurante, Guatemalteca La Feista, Las Delicias, Master Burger, Natural Soul Food Non Profit Café, New Orleans Fish Market, Panaderia Mi Guatemala, and Sonsonate Grill.

Mel's Cafe and Bakery from across the street

Diana and I stopped into Mel’s Bakery & Café, a soul food place established seven years ago on W 48th Street initially just intending to get something to drink but the delicious aromas proved impossible to resist and Diana grabbed some of the mac ‘n’ cheese which I tried and found to be absolutely fantastic. The small eatery has a nice, relaxed vibe and customers came and went exchanging greetings and small talk that made it evident that everyone present was acquainted and friendly with one another. Across the street at Spirit of Health Longlife Adult Day Health Care Center a woman exchanged pleasantries and expressed her love for Mel’s.

Home to Foxy's Nightclub?

I couldn’t be sure whether or not there was really a bar there but supposedly a joint called Foxy’s in this rundown but not unattractive building. According to a Foursquare tip, “3-7 pm on Thursday. Domestic beers $1.75.” I didn’t see any signage outside. 


Family Market -- The clown's kite says "neighbor to neighbor"

There are a few small markets in the neighborhood including A&W Market, Family MarketSinai Mini Market, 2 & 1 Liquor Store, and West-Vern Liquor. The neighborhood’s sole supermarket is a 4 For Less, part of a national grocery store chain owned by Kroger.


MUSIC AND MOVIE SHOPS

Video 2000

The only place that I saw selling DVDs was Video 2000 at 1434 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Looking online and in the yellow pages I couldn’t even find a listing for it, however, it looked from the posters in the windows like its stock was mostly mainstream American movies. There's also a mural titled Rugrats on Wilton.

Rugrats on Wilton


Sounds of Success

I didn’t see any music stores nor did my research turn up any. There was music coming from many sources however and the old school gangsta rap of a previous generation seemed to be particularly popular. The only artist I could instantly recognize was that of Eazy-E. There was also an eye-catching purple lowrider bumping The Dramatics’ wistful classic “Hot Pants in the Summertime.” I'm sure that there are some musicians in the neighborhood. I saw a kid practicing guitar in a garage. Please let me know who they are.




CHURCHES

54th Street Seventh Day Adventist Church

In addition to the many beautiful Craftsman homes in the neighborhood, there are several churches, some of which are quite lovely. 54th Street Seventh Day Adventist Church is probably one of the oldest around as it was likely built in the earliest days of the neighborhood’s development. From the outside it rather resembles Liberty Baptist Church, another beautiful church in the neighborhood that was built in 1914.


Pilgrim Congregational Church

I’m also not sure of the construction day of the Pilgrim Congregational Church although the distinct, wood-shingled structure looks fairly aged.


Brookins Community AME Church

Brookins Community AME caught my eye with its distinctly Deco exterior. Online research gives various construction dates for buildings on the property including 1908 and 1930. A plaque in front of the church states that Kansas-born Bishop Hamel Hartford Brookins was instrumental in quelling the Watts Uprising and that in 1977 he founded the Brookins Community AME Church.

Brookins Square sign on Gramercy

In 2008 the intersection of 49th Street and Gramercy Place was designated Bishop Hamel Hartford Brookins Square and it happens to be one of the most charming areas of the neighborhood.


St. Brigid's Church

A mid-century stunner is St. Brigid's Church, which in 1955 was awarded an Award of Merit From the American Institute of Architects and also of The National Catholic Institutional Distinctive Design Award.

Religious Society of Friends meeting house

Some of the more humble churches include Church of the Nazarene, Embajada de Dios Church, Greater New Jerusalem Baptist, a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, a Religious Society of Friends meeting house, St. James Community Baptist Church, St. Matthew Baptist Church, and Word of God Baptist Church.


GETTING THERE AND AROUND

Another form of transit -- a car apparently belonging to a member of Suicidas 

Though the Yellow Cars are long gone, Chesterfield Square is still well-served by public transit. There are several Metro lines including 40, 102, 105, 108, 206, 207, 209, 358 and the rapid 705 and 757 lines. LA DOT’s DASH Chesterfield Square and Leimert Park lines also serve the neighborhood. You could also pick up a new ride at Primo’s Bike Shop or Morgan’s Mini Bikes and Go-Karts

If you prefer riding trains, Chesterfield Square isn't too far from the Expo Line, the Expo/Western Station of which is located half a mile (less than a kilometer) north of the neighborhood. When the Crenshaw Line opens, it's Leimert Park Station will be located less than a mile west of the neighborhood.


STAYING IN CHESTERFIELD SQUARE


Room at the Snooty Fox (image from Snooty Fox website)

There are several places to stay in the neighborhood including America’s Best Value Inn & Suites-Los Angeles Downtown-S.W., Bronco Motel, Harvard Motor Inn, Mustang Motel, Santa Barbara Motel, and The Snooty Fox Motor Inn. The sign for the Snooty Fox is great. It depicts the titular mascot with his nose turned up holding a cane and wearing a bow tie, monocle, and derby. Be forewarned: most of them are the sorts of places that charge by the hour and several of them have rooms with mirrored ceilings.


SOCIAL SERVICES

There are several social services in the neighborhood serving people in the neighborhood. Chicago’s CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) established CORE-CA in the Chesterfield Square in 1989. Other neighborhood services include Changing Steps Treatment Center, Clean & Free, Infinity House Transitional Living for Men and Women, and Testimonial Community Love Center.

*****

I sincerely hope that you’ll check out Chesterfield Square and the rest of South Los Angeles’s Westside as its one of the most interesting but neglected areas of Los Angeles. To vote for other Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Orange County communities and neighborhoods, vote here


*****


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

Exposition Park gets a little parkier at the Natural History Museum's North Campus

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 29, 2012 05:48pm | Post a Comment

 

The Natural History Museum and Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of South LA's Westside


In one week I found myself heading to the Exposition Park neighborhood in South LA’s Westside to visit the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County – a stately structure built in 1913 with Romanesque and Beaux Arts elements that film and TV-viewers might recognize it from such films as A Lot Like Love, Bonfire of the Vanities, Buddy, Clean Slate, Continental Divide, Escape From the Planet of the Apes, Madhouse, Mame, No Place to Hide, Pretty Woman, The Monster Squad, Spencer’s Mountain, Spider-Man, The Three Trials and Two Minute Warning. It’s also appeared in episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed, and How I Met Your Mother. On TV's Bones it’s the fictional Jeffersonian Institute.

Continue reading...

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.


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

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 29, 2011 08:54pm | Post a Comment
LETS SHOW THESE FOOLS HOW WE DO THIS ON THAT WESTSIDE

Just as Los Angeles has two Eastsides (one being the largely Latino enclave east of the LA River and the other being South Los Angeles east of the 110 and/or Main St) it also has two Westsides. One Westside is a collection of LA's westernmost neighborhoods (such as Bel Air, Brentwood and Venice) and the area's enclosed cities (like Culver CitySanta Monica and Beverly Hills).

The other Westside is the area of South Los Angeles (and the surrounding communities) that lie west of the 110, south of the 10 and east and north of the 405 (although some of those are can make the historical argument for being part of the South Bay, despite being separated from the Santa Monica Bay by miles of land and other cities). This westside, after white flight in the 1950s to the present, is also colloquially known as "The Black Westside" and indeed, it's still, as of 2011, home to most of Los Angeles's black residents and businesses despite changing demographics.

Pendersleigh & Sons' Map of South LA's Westside

The region of South LA's Westside is a large area bounded by South LA's Eastside to the east, The Harbor to the southeast, The South Bay to the west and south west, The Westside to the northwest and Midtown to the north. Definitions differ of exactly what communities constitute the region with several also claiming the South Bay and/or The Harbor. No doubt part of the reason these neighborhoods are in question are due to residents of and developers in those communities eager to disassociate themselves with South LA, which carries negative connotations for many.

Though the area is mostly Mexican-American, it's home to a large number of diverse black communities; working class, middle class and upper class. And though most of the black residents are of unspecified West African ancestry, there are large populations of Caribbeans, especially Belizeans and Jamaicans. In addition there are significant populations of Filipinos, GermansGuatemalans, Irish, ItalianJapanese, Koreans, Salvadorans and Vietnamese who all call the area home.


WESTSIDE (HIS)STORY

For thousands of years, the area that now makes up South LA's Westside, along with most of LA County, was part of the Tongva's 4,000 square mile homeland. It was later conquered by Spain. After Mexico's independence, it was part of Mexico. During the Rancho Period, most of what's now the Westside was set aside as public land, rather than state or privately-owned property. The area remained more agricultural for much of its history as LA and other communities developed around it. 


EARLY 20TH CENTURY

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South LA's Westside is home to the University of Southern California, founded in 1880. In 1906, the approval of the construction of the Port of Los Angeles and a change in state law allowed the city to annex the Shoestring, or Harbor Gateway, a narrow and crooked strip of land leading from Los Angeles south towards the port. As the wealthy were building stately mansions in West Adams and Jefferson Park, the white working class was establishing itself in Crenshaw and Hyde Park


DEVELOPMENT OF THE WESTSIDE


Development of South LA's Westside mostly began in the northern part of the region, around the turn of the 20th century. In the mid-1920s through the late 1930s, housing boomed in most of the areas north of Slauson.  During World War II, when LA turned into the major center for the production of aircraft, war supplies and ammunitions, thousands of immigrants, both black and white, moved to South Los Angeles from the Midwest and South to work in factory jobs. However, there were still large swathes of areas devoted to agriculture and oil extraction on the Westside up through the middle part of the century.

THE WESTSIDE POST DESEGREGATION

South LA's Eastside was home to two of LA's oldest black neighborhoods, South Central in the north and Watts in the south. Under racially restrictive covenants, blacks were only allowed to own property within the area hemmed in by Main, Slauson, Alameda and Washington; in Watts, and a few other small areas such as Oakwood in Venice. As a result of 1948's Shelley v. Kraemer, the Supreme Court banned used of racist restrictive covenants. As a result, the black population of both areas began to pour out of their overcrowded confines into the rest of South LA's Eastside, the southern parts (i.e. Mid-City) of Midtown Los Angeles, and the northern neighborhoods of South LA's Westside. According to Roy Porter and David Keller's There And Back, "During that time the west side was Vermont Avenue to Western, and there were very few black people living in the area. Where the Crenshaw Center is now was wilderness." Before long the area was predominantly black. 


THE HARBOR FREEWAY and THE SAN DIEGO FREEWAY


The Harbor Freeway (the 110) began construction in the 1950s. It wasn't completed until 1970. Running parallel to Main Street, it supplanted it was that traditional dividing line between the Eastside and Westside in South LA. Meanwhile, construction of the San Diego Freeway (the 405) began in 1957 and was complete by 1969. As a result, the inland communities of Alondra Park, Del Aire, Gardena, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Lawndale, and Lennox were in some sense separated from the South Bay which they'd previously been considered a part of - despite all being landlocked.  


THE "NEW" SOUTH CENTRAL - MIGRATION FROM THE EASTSIDE

Most of South LA's Westside remained overwhelmingly white until the 1960s, when upwardly mobile black residents began to make their homes in Baldwin Hills and Crenshaw in significant numbers. As blacks moved into new areas, the name "South Central" was no longer only applied to the tiny, historically black neighborhood centered on South Central Avenue, but became racially coded shorthand for any black neighborhood south of Pico Boulevard. "South Central" was ultimately embraced as a badge of honor by many residents of the region -- no matter how far they were from the actual, historical South Central.


The construction of the Santa Monica Freeway formed the northern boundary of the "new" South Central, providing a boundary beween the mostly upper-middle class blacks of Midtown Los Angeles from the mostly middle and working-class blacks to the south.

After the Watts Uprising in 1965, many remaining middle class blacks left South LA's Eastside for safer areas. In 1969, the Crips formed and in 1972, the Bloods followed - both in the Eastside. Carson, Inglewood, Ladera Heights, View Park and Windsor Hills became the most popular destinations for blacks leaving the Eastside.

Also in the 1970s, South LA's manufacturing base declined precipitously. The workforce had, till then, primarily been comprised of unionized black workers. After many of them left for the Westside, their void was largely filled by newly-arrived Mexicans and Central Americans. In the 1980s, the black population of South LA's Westside continued to grow.


1990s AFTER THE RIOTS

After the LA Riots of 1992, which began in the Westside intersection of Florence and Normandie, many black residents moved away from the most blighted areas of South Los Angeles. The Eastside was hit especially hard, with communities like Compton, South Central, Watts and most others losing their black majorities. The Westside, with the comparatively affluent communities in the greater Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw and West Adams districts remained desirable for blacks and most retained their black majorities. Today, South LA's Westside boasts the largest number of predominantly black neighborhoods in Los Angeles County although the poorer neighborhoods in core of the region have increasingly witnessed migration of Mexican, Guatemalan and Salvadoran immigrants in the last two decades.


NAMING NEIGHBORHOODS

For many years and for many residents of South Los Angeles, "South Central" or, alternately, "The Hood"... or even "The Ghetto" remain the preferred term, one despite its largely negative connotations in the media, that was embraced with affection and pride. In mainstream media, however, "South Central" became a blanket term for all black and Latino neighborhoods between the 10 freeway and the Harbor - one that lazily painted the many ethnically, economically, historically and culturally diverse communities in the area with the same brush. "South Central" was shorthand for gang violence, endemic poverty and urban blight. For the most part, the only time the local media bothers to venture into the area is when there's a car chase or if the LA Weekly is ranking Los Angeles's top ten Soul Food restaurants. Otherwise, for most Angelenos who don't live in it, it remains a place of the imagination and not reality -- an imagination has increasingly little to do with reality.

In the 2000s, the Eighth District Empowerment Congress began the "Naming Neighborhoods Project" began an effort to identify and celebrate South LA's varied neighborhoods with new designations that were meant to foster a sense of community pride and reflect local identity. The Westside neighborhoods that were born as a result include Angeles Mesa, Arlington Park, Baldwin Vista, Cameo Plaza, Crenshaw Manor, King Estates, Magnolia Square, Manchester Square, Morningside Circle, Vermont Vista, and Westpark Terrace.

and now for the neighborhoods:

*****


ADAMS-NORMANDIE


Whereas many of the neighborhoods of south LA have fanciful names seemingly designed to maximize their appeal, Adams-Normandie is one of those neighborhoods unimaginatively named after the intersection around which it is centered. It's home of the Loren Miller Recreation Center, several churches and Mexican restaurants. Part of the Historic West Adams District, Adams-Normandie's Van Buren Place Historic District is home to many beautiful old homes. It's the most densely populated neighborhood in South LA's Westside and the population is roughly 62% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 25% black, 6% white and 5% Asian. 


ALONDRA PARK (AKA EL CAMINO VILLAGE)


Alondra Park is also widely referred to as El Camino Village, as it's the site of El Camino College. The population is 35% Latino (mostly Mexican), 26% white, 19% black and 15% Asian (mostly Vietnamese). It's sometimes considered South LA and sometimes South Bay


ANGELUS MESA (AKA ANGELES MESA)


Angelus Mesa is a neighborhood in the Crenshaw area -- a product of the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's "Naming Neighborhoods Project." Its Angeles Mesa Branch Library was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. It's also home to the Angelus Mesa-name-incorporating Angeles Mesa Park and Angeles Mesa Elementary - although their names are spelled in keeping with the rest of Los Angeles. I'm not yet sure what accounts for Angelus Mesa's odd spelling, but at least as early as 1920 there was the Angelus Mesa Land Co. The neighborhood is home to the tallest structure in the region outside the USC campus -- the 12-story Good Shepherd Manor, built in 1971.



ARLINGTON PARK


Arlington Park is a narrow, Crenshaw area neighborhood between Leimert Park and King Estates. It's named after Arlington Ave and is a product of the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's "Naming Neighborhoods Project."


ATHENS


The population of Athens is 54% black (largely Belizean), 40% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 3% Asian and 1% white. I'm not sure what it's supposed association is the ancient, capital of Greece. Where that city has numerous ancient monuments, Athens, Los Angeles boasts Los Angeles Southwest College, Helen Keller Park, Chester Washington Golf Course and not a lot else - unless I'm missing something. The main destination for pilgrims to the neighborhood is the house at 1418 W 126th Street, which was Craig Jones's house in the film Friday.


BALDWIN HILLS


Baldwin Hills is sometimes referred to as "The Black Beverly Hills" for his long-established, rich, black population. Today the area is 71% black, 17% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran) and 5% Asian. It's the home to the first Olympic Village, built in 1932 for the LA games. In 2007, BET began airing a TV program called Baldwin Hills, about the lives of rich, black teenagers from the area.


BALDWIN HILLS ESTATES 


Within Baldwin Hills is subdistrict known as Baldwin Hills Estates. The mostly Modernist homes sit on streets like Don Felipe and Don Luis in the Baldwin Hills Estates subdivision, earning a portion the nickname "The Dons." 


BALDWIN VILLAGE


Baldwin Village was originally nicknamed "The Jungle" for its tropical trees and foliage. In 1969, a member of the Chicago Blackstone Rangers known as T. Rodgers moved to Los Angeles and started a chapter in the West Adams/Jefferson Park area known as Black P Stone Rangers. Eventually there were hundreds of that gang's members in The Jungle. As a crime-ridden area sullying the otherwise posh reputation of the Baldwin Hills area, "The Jungle" took on a different meaning - that of a wild, dangerous and untamed place -- one of the cuts even became known universally as "Sherm Alley." As a result, in the 1980s people began promoting the use of the Baldwin Village name, hoping to gain more association with nearby, wealthy Baldwin Hills (and the nearby, by-then renamed Baldwin Hills Village). It was famously featured in the climax of Training Day


BALDWIN VISTA


Baldwin Vista is a neighborhood in the Baldwin Hills area that lies north of Coliseum Street and west of La Brea Boulevard.  There are many mid-century Modernist homes built at the time of the neighborhood's development in the 1940s and '50s. It's designation is a result of the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's "Naming Neighborhoods Project."


CAMEO PLAZA


Cameo Plaza is a small neighborhood in the northwest corner of South LA, bordering the Westside. It's situated on the western edge of the Baldwin Hills range and is also known as Cameo Woods, after gated condominium complex within it's borders. It's another product of the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's "Naming Neighborhoods Project."


CANTERBURY KNOLLS


Canterbury Knolls is a primarily residential neighborhood. Although the name is not widely recognized, the near fatal beating of Reginald Denny by a group of six men took place there. It's also home of the Slauson Super Mall, featured in the Tupac video for "To Live and Die in LA." To read more, click here.


CHESTERFIELD SQUARE


Chesterfield Square is home to Chesterfield Square Park. The population is roughly 59% black, 37% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 2% white and 1% Asian. At the time of writing it suffers from the highest rate of violent crime in LA county. It was formerly the home of special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, it's where Good Fred Hair Oil was invented, and is home to a stove restoration place called Antique Stove Heaven. To read more about it, click here!


CRENSHAW MANOR


Crenshaw Manor is a primarily residential westside neighborhood between West Adams to the north and the Baldwin Hills and Crenshaw areas to the south. The population is roughly 71% black, 17% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran) and 5% Asian. It's also a product of the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's "Naming Neighborhoods Project."


DEL AIRE


Del Aire is a South LA neighborhood that's sometimes considered part of the South Bay, although it's landlocked.  It lies at the interchange of the 105 and the 405. It has the lowest crime rate in the region and the population is 46% Latino (mostly Mexican), 34% white (mostly German), 9% Asian (mostly Filipino), 7% black. 


EXPOSITION PARK


Exposition Park (originally known as Agricultural Park as it was an agricultural fairground where people raced camels) is home to the the California Science Center, California African-American MuseumLos Angeles Memorial ColiseumLos Angeles Swimming Stadium, Natural History Museum and the Exposition Park Rose Garden, to name a few. As with University Park to the north, some business owners and organizations are essentially trying to rip one of South LA's main cultural centers from the region by refining the area as part of Downtown Los Angeles, even though nearly 3 km separate the regions at their closest points. 


GARDENA


Gardena is an inland city with a long-established and pronounced Japanese-American presence and character. The population is highly diverse - 32% Latino (mostly Mexican), 27% Asian (mostly Japanese and Korean), 25% black, and 12% white. There are several stores with large selections of Japanese books, music and movies as well as popular and highly-rated Japanese restaurants. To read more about it, click here.


GRAMERCY PARK


Gramercy Park is home to several churches, mini-markets, and auto shops. It's home to Jesse Owens Park, named after the famous black track and field athlete who famously annoyed Adolf Hitler by taking home four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, thereby calling into question some of the diminutive führer's theories about blacks' supposed physical inferiority. The neighborhood is 86% black (largely Jamaican), 12% Latino (mostly Mexican) and 1% white.


HAWTHORNE


Hawthorne is a diverse city lying south of Inglewood with a population that's 44% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatemalan), 32% black, 13% white, 8% Asian (mostly Filipino). The entirely landlocked inland city tends to represent the South Bay or Harbor Area despite lying almost entirely east of the 405. The city is most famous for having been the hometown of The Beach Boysdios (malos), and Emitt Rhodes of The Merry-Go-Round.


HYDE PARK


Established in 1887 as a stop on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway's Harbor Subdivision, Hyde Park is one of the oldest neighborhoods in LA. It was finally incorporated as its own city in 1922, only to be annexed by LA in 1923. It's generally considered to be part of the larger Crenshaw area and is home to Crenshaw High School. The population is 66% black, 27% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 2% white and 1% Asian.

INGLEWOOD


Although Inglewood was, as with its southern neighbors, traditionally considered to be part of the South Bay, due to its mention in songs by Westside-representers like Damani, Dr. Dre, Mack 10 and (East Harlem native) Tupac Shakur, "The Wood" is probably the most widely internationally recognized community in South LA's Westside. What's more, many films that are set anywhere in South Los Angeles are often, in fact, filmed in Inglewood I suspect because -- despite its nickname of "Inglehood," it's actually quite safe, well-kept and middle-class and looks sort of like the poorer communities that it stands in for albeit with larger, better maintained yards and houses and a slightly more traditionally urban feel in part provided by a couple of not-especially-tall skyscrapers: Inglewood City Hall, Comerica Building, and the La Cienega Business Center. Occasionally films are actually set in Inglewood, like The Wood

Ironically, Inglewood was once a hotbed of white supremacism and, as late as 1931, the Klan still maintained a chapter there. In 1960, there were 63,390 residents of Inglewood, only 29 of whom were black. Embarrassingly recently (22 July , 1970) Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Max F. Deutz ordered Inglewood schools to desegregate. Large numbers of Inglewood's white population left as a result and the black population grew significantly. Beginning in the 1980s, the Inglewood's Latino population skyrocketed. Today Inglewood's population is 46% black, 46% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran) and 4% white. 


JEFFERSON PARK


The development of Jefferson Park began around the turn of the 20th century. Built on the hills, Craftsman and Neo-Georgian styles attracted wealthier Angelenos. After World War II, numerous creoles from Louisiana moved there and it was nicknamed "Little New Orleans." By the 1950s, the area attracted many black and Japanese-American families (who after their internment during World War II, often relocated to different parts of LA than where they had lived previously). Today the population is approximately 47% black, 45% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 3% Asian, and 3% white.


KING ESTATES


King Estates is bounded by Dr. Marting Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the south and Exposition Boulevard on the north. It's also home to the Frederick Douglass Academy High School, named afer another famous black civil rights activist. I couldn't find any demographic information for the neighborhood but the presence of Taqueria & Bakery Oaxaca suggest the likely presence of Latinos. It's existence as a neighborhood is a result of the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's "Naming Neighborhoods Project."


LAWNDALE


Lawndale is a highly diverse city (52% Latino (mostly Mexican), 22% white, 12% black, and 11% Asian (mostly Vietnamese)). It is usually considered part of the South Bay or The Harbor despite being separated from both bodies of water by other coastal cities and neighborhoods. It was subdivided in 1905 by Charles B. Hopper who named it after a Chicago suburb. Lots sold slowly and different promotions were tried such as promoting Lawndale as a chicken raising area. By the 1980s, it (like most of the inland cities traditionally lumped in with the South Bay) was mostly home to working class people involved in nearby industries rather than wealthy beachfront property owners.


LEIMERT PARK


Leimert Park is often said to be the "Soul of LA." It was originally developed in 1928 by Walter H. Leimert. For many years the neighborhood has been a major center of the LA's black arts scene. There are several jazz, blues and hip-hop venues (Project Blowed was begun there) and the area known as Leimert Park Village has a quaint, small town feel. The population is approximately 80% black, 11% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), and 5% Asian. It's also the birthplace of rapper Dom Kennedy.


LENNOX


Lennox is a a Westside neighborhood next to LAX sometimes considered part of the South Bay, sandwiched between the much larger Inglewood and Hawthorne. The businesses include, as is the case in most of South LA's Westside, numerous mini-markets and auto shops. The population is also more aligned with the Westside than the South Bay - 89% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatemalan), 4% black, and 4% white (mostly Irish). 


MAGNOLIA SQUARE


Magnolia Square hemmed in by Century, the 110, the 105 and Vermont. I'm not sure what the name is derived from (It's home to Little Green Acres Square). In addition to the usual selection of fast food chains, liquor stores, mini markets, churches, auto shops there's also It's All Good K'afe and Outdoors Bar B Que Grill. It's a product of the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's "Naming Neighborhoods Project."


MANCHESTER SQUARE


Although the name doesn't ring many bells for most, (or makes people think of the LAX-adjacent neighborhood in Westchester of the same name), Manchester Square is the birthplace of Art’s Chili Dog Stand in 1939, the 8 Tray Crips in 1974, the LA riots in 1992 and was the home of notorious serial killer known as The Grim Sleeper. The population is roughly 79% black, 19% Latino (mostly Mexican and Guatemalan) and 1% white. It's a product of the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's "Naming Neighborhoods Project."


MORNINGSIDE CIRCLE


Morningside Circle was the first neighborhood I blogged about after instituting a poll to determine which communities I would explore and write about, back in Season 2 (2008).  The neighborhood officially came into being as a result of the the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's "Naming Neighborhoods Project." Some of the interesting spots include the Krst Unity Center of Afrakan Spiritual Science and Smokee Joe's Bar-B-Q Grill. It's a product of the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's "Naming Neighborhoods Project." To read more about Morningside Circle, click here.


UNIVERSITY PARK


University Park was established around USC, which (founded in 1880) is California's oldest private research university. Today USC enrolls more foreign students than any other school in the US. Diversity is reflected in local population as well, 48% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 26% white, 16% Asian, and 7% black. 

Sadly (to me) there has been a movement led by several organizations and businesses to redefine University Park (and  Exposition Park) as being part of Downtown, which is visible in the distance and separated from catercorner University Park by the 10 and 110 freeways. Such a move would rob South LA's Westside of its heart and soul by carving out the region's birthplace and most diverse neighborhood.

Aside from Angeles Mesa and Inglewood (if one considers that to be part of the Westside), it's home to all of the region's tallest buildings: Waite Phillips Hall of Education (1968), Fluor TowerWebb Tower (Webb Tower), Radisson Midcity Hotel (1975), and Seeley G. Mudd Building (1982).

Other attractions in the neighborhood include the Lab Gastropub, the Hoover Recreation Center, St. Mary's College, St. James Park, Estrella Park, Bacaro LA Wine Bar, the Estonian House, Bing Theatre, Eileen Norris Cinema, the Spielberg Stage, and the George Lucas Building.


UNIVERSITY EXPOSITION PARK WEST


University Exposition Park West is home to establishments like Denker Recreation Center and James A. Foshay Learning Center. Although there is a good variety of local restaurants, there's also a higher-than-average number of fast food chains represented, as well as liquor stores.


VERMONT KNOLLS


The population of Vermont Knolls is about 55% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 43% Black, 1% White, and 1% Asian. There are several mini-markets, schools, fast food joints and churches.  It's where Paul Ferrara grew up, the director of the Jim Morrison-starring HWY - An American Pastoral and Doors photographer.


VERMONT-SLAUSON


Vermont-Slauson is named after the intersection of Vermont and Slauson Avenues, the site of the Vermont-Slauson Shopping Center (established in 1981) and a Taco Bell. There are also several burger joints, auto shops and mini-markets, as is common with most of the region. The population is 61% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 37% black, and 1% white.


VERMONT SQUARE


Vermont Square is home to Vermont Square Park - as well as Julian C. Dixon Park, named after the late politician. The Vermont Square Library is one of LA's three remaining Carnegie libraries. There are also many barber shops, beauty salons, auto shops, burgers, mini markets, and donut shops. The population -- 57% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 39% Black, 1% white, and 1% Asian -- includes many Belizeans, a fact reflected in the presence of Caribbean Market and Pelican Belizean Market. It's also home to the progressive Streetlight Cinema.


VERMONT VISTA


Vermont Vista is part of the Shoestring Annex. It's home of the Algin Sutton Recreation Area (not sure who Algin Sutton is), and the Bret Harte Preperatory Middle School (named after the poet, not the wrestler). Alongside the usual assortment of auto shops, small markets, there are several BBQ places. The current population is 52% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 45 % black, 1% white, and 1% Asian. It's a product of the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's "Naming Neighborhoods Project."


VIEW PARK-WINDSOR HILLS


View Park-Windsor Hills is a wealthy, mostly black neighborhood -- approximately 87% black (including many Jamaicans), 5% white (mostly Italian), 3% Latino (mostly Mexican), and 2% Asian. It was originally developed in the 1920s and then largely redeveloped in the 1930s with many Modern, Spanish Colonial and Mediterranean homes (often with pools) constructed. Due to the large numbers of doctors, as with Los Feliz it was nicknamed "Pill Hill." The rich black Angelenos moved in after desegregation was finally enforced in today it's still the wealthiest neighborhood in South LA's Westside. It's also the oldest and most educated. It's home to several parks (View Park, Monteith Park, and Ladera Park). Adding to it's posh reputation is Windsor Hills Math-Science-Aerospace Magnet School. Adding to its desirability are Cafe Soul and Gospel and Gumbo.


VILLAGE GREEN


Village Green is a condo community (and surrounding neighborhood) between the Baldwin Hills and the West Adams neighborhood. It was originally known as "Baldwin Hills Village" and ground broke on construction in 1941. The lead architect of the apartments was Reginald D. Johnson. In 1972, the apartments were converted to condos and renamed Village Green.


WEST ADAMS


West Adams is a neighborhood with many art galleries and studios, boutiques and a busy commercial corridor. The West Adams neighborhood is located west of the larger Historic West Adams District (which includes several Westside and Mid-City neighborhoods). It's population is approximately 56% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 38% black, 2% white and 2% Asian. It's also home to the famous Club Fais Do-Do, which used to be a popular haunt for the likes of Billy Preston, John Coltrane, Sam Cooke, and yours truly.


WEST ADAMS TERRACE-KINNEY HEIGHTS-BERKELEY SQUARE


People apparently can't seem to come to a consensus about what to call this neighborhood in the Historic West Adams District jeand it's often lumped in with Jefferson Park to the south. It's home to Gramercy Park, 2nd Avenue Park, Johnny's Pastramiand the lengthily named Exceptional Childrens Foundation School for Retarded Children. Its William Andrews Clark Memorial Library was built around the collection of rare books left by the son of a railroad baron/banker/politician. There are many nice Victorian homes, including the beatiful Joseph Dupuy Residence (now the South Seas House, for its Polynesian influence). There's also the Wilfandel Club House, the oldest black women's clubhouse in the city.


WEST PARK TERRACE


West Park Terrace is sometimes lumped in with its southern neighbor, Gramercy Park. It's a product of the Eighth District Empowerment Congress's "Naming Neighborhoods Project." As far as my research shows, there's no Westpark there, although there is Saint Andrews Recreation and Park. Local businesses that caught my attention include Toffee Sensations, Happy Fish Market, Bottom Line Cocktail Lounge, El Papagallo Bar, Mary and Junior Breakfast and Soul, M&M Soul Food, and Sassy Celebrity Weaves. Soul food, breakfast and toffee? Sounds like heaven.


WESTMONT


Westmont is a neighborhood located just west of the Shoetring Annex, near the intersection of the 105 and 110. It's neighbored by Athens, Inglewood, Gramercy Park, Magnolia Square, Manchester Square, West Park Terrrace, and Magnolia Square. The population is roughly 58% black, 39% Latino (mostly Mexican and Salvadoran), 1% white and 1% Asian. It's home to many small markets, Kindle's Donuts, Ralph's Drive-In Liquor, Lucy's Drive In, Taco Vaquero, Factory, Monster Burger, and Salaam West Bakery

*****

And so Westsidaz, to vote for any communities in the Westside or any other Los Angeles County communities to be covered on the blog, vote here. To vote for Westside neighborhoods or any other Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here. Till next time, keep bumpin' and grindin' like a slow jam, it's Westside!

*****


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Gardena, the South Bay's City of Opportunity

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 8, 2010 01:00pm | Post a Comment

A typical street in Gardena with strong Japanese character

This here entry’s about Gardena. To vote for other Los Angeles County communities to be the subject of future entries, click here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

 

Gardena (in Japanese, ガーデナ; in Korean, 가데나 ) is located in the South Bay or South LA region, depending on your definition. It's a bit odd to consider it South Bay, since it's not on the water. However, there's a perception that it's unlike the rest of South LA, which is erroneously thought of as being much more homogenous than it is.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Gardena

surrounded by the slender Harbor Gateway to the east and south, Torrance to the southwest, Hawthorne to the northwest, West Athens to the north, and Alondra Park to the west. In recognition of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (and on account of it being voted for by readers), I took the CARDIS on a trip, joined by first time traveling companions Matt and Cheryl. We got some eats (‘n’ drinks) at Azuma and Furaibo, some groceries and goods at Marukai, and deeply inhaled the strawberry scented (and hot) air in Sanrio Surprises.

  
                                    Rancho San Pedro                                                          William Starke Rosecrans

In 1784, a Spaniard, Juan José Dominguez, was given a portion of land in reward for his military service which was named Rancho San Pedro in what was formerly a Tongva hunting and fishing area. Anyway, it passed into the hands of the Mexicans afterward, and ultimately was taken by the US. The first Anglo settler was mostly a Civil War veteran, Ohioan William Starke Rosecrans, who established Rosecrans Rancho there in 1869. In 1887, he was followed by another veteran, Kentuckian Spencer R. Thorpe. The name "Gardena" is said to have been proposed by Thorpe's daugher, Nettie.

  

That year, a railway line to Gardena was established and over the next couple of years, many more Anglos came to ranch and farm in the area.


Los Angeles and Redondo Railway

In 1904, Englishman John Bodger established Sweet Pea Farm in the town, then home to 1,000 residents. Another large portion of the farmers and gardeners were Japanese who'd mostly arrived from Hawaii.


Due to the acres of berry farms, the city was nicknamed "Berryland" and there used to be an annual Strawberry Day Festival and Parade. Although the Laguna Dominguez slough and channel fed the area and gave it its green character, it was filled in in the 1920s. Nonetheless, Gardena today still boasts several nurseries and parks that reflect its past. Gardena [along with the neighboring communities of Strawberry Park (to the northwest) and Moneta (to the south)] was incorporated into the City of Gardena in 1930.


Japanese-Americans have long been integral to the fabric of Los Angeles. J-Towns have sprung up around the Southland in Torrance, Boyle Heights, Monterey ParkPasadena, San Pedro, Terminal Island, Compton, Long Beach and Sawtelle, and Gardena (although, as far as I know, only two have acquired nicknames that reflect their Japanese-ness, Little Tokyo and Little Ōsaka).


Gardena Buddhist Church

In 1911, the Japanese Association founded the Moneta Japanese Institute. After the end of Japanese internment, many J-towns disappeared, but in Gardena, many Japanese-Americans returned to their former home after regaining their freedom. In the 1970s and '80s, Gardena saw a massive influx of even more Japanese. Today, at over 60,000 residents, Gardena still has a strong Japanese and Pacific Islander presence, making up roughly 27% of the population. Gardena is also approximately 25% black, 12% white and 32% Latino. Mexican and Japanese are the main ethnicities.


Tozai Shopping Center

Gardena is widely known for its Japanese food but, as this list of Gardena eateries suggests, there is a variety to be found at joints and there are a lot of Korean eateries, Hawaiian joints and BBQ places. Some of the better known restaurants and other food-related places include Azuma, Hakata Ramen Shinsengumi, Ahsah, Ana's La Gran Fonda, California Fish Grill, Jay-Bee's House of Fine Bar-B-Que, Kanpachi, Rascals Teriyaki Grill, Kau Kau Korner, Sushi Boy, Kiraku Ramen, El Rocoto, California 90, Pho Gardena, Pho So 1, Pho Long, Sakuraya, Meiji Tofu, Chikara Mochi, Giuliano's, Sakae Sushi, Polla a la Brasa, MamMoth Bakery, Jade's Bakery, La Villa, Bruddah's, Spoonhouse Bakery, Otafuku, Sea Empress, California Rice Center, Umemura, Daruma Izakaya, Akane Chaya, Kotohira, Classic Burger, Old Time Noodle House, Furaibo, Burnt Tortilla, Rainbow Donuts, A Taste of Jamaica, Fish City, Big Star Cafe, Tokyo Grill, Tottino's, La Perla and the Murakai Supermarket.


Pacific Garden Mall  


...and yes, the Pacific Garden Hotel for the overnight shopper

Today, much of Gardena's character remains, not surprisingly, green and Japanese, as evinced by Sanrio Surprise, Hide's Shiatsu, Pacific Square Shopping Center, Tozai Shopping Center, Masfukai Park and the Gardena Buddhist Church (established in 1926).

Nightlife in evidence takes place mostly at bars like Club Momo, Gaku, Moa, Wild Card, Yes, The Desert Room, Club Diva, The Aloha Room, Celeb, Ray's Place, Marty's and A Sung. Of course, there's karaoke at 501 Music Studio, Suzuran, Donna's, Fantasia, Daruma Izakaya and Sing Sing, for those interested in checking out the local music scene.


The most famous musician born in Gardena is not an aspiring karaoke singer, but rather noted jazz saxophonist Art Pepper. In other Jazz-in-Gardena news, in August the city hosts The Gardena Jazz Festival. The only rock band that I know of from Gardena is The Pretty Kittens, an all-girl rock band in the 1960s.


And although Bookoff is mostly about books (with a huge Manga section), they also had a pretty impressive selection of Japanese Dramas and film, as well as a bafflingly organized music selection. Even Matt, a librarian by trade, could not figure out the system, but we did eventually find the Judy and Mary CD we were looking for. As Cheryl was rung up, the cashier put her money in bowl and said something in Japanese. Cheryl nodded although none of us understood what was going on.






Amoeba Hollywood boasts a pretty impressive collection of Japanese Cinema but nothing compared to the rental store Video Japan. As Cheryl perused the horror films (note to Cheryl: High School Killer), Matt waxed philosophical about Japanese actress Sora Aoi.


Gardena’s been a shooting location for several films. For the years it existed, The Ascot Park Speedway was featured in films quite often, appearing in Roar of the Crowd; the Bowery Boys film, Jalopy; the Elvis film, Spinout; as well as the Jack Hill film, Pit Stop; Gone in 60 Seconds; A Very Brady Christmas; and an episode of CHiPs. Ascot was also the site of the annual USAC Turkey Night Grand Prix midget race on Thanksgiving. It was closed in the 1990s and fewer films have been shot in Gardena ever since.


Gardena Boulevard back in the day

Other film locations include the Marine/Redondo Green Line station, which was seen in Heat, and The Pet Haven Cemetary & Crematory served as The Happier Hunting Grounds in The Loved One. H.B. Halicki was obviously a fan of Gardena. He premiered Gone in 60 Seconds and also filmed portions of The Junkman there. Gardena was also featured in Ed Wood, Mulholland Dr., Run if You Can, Money to Burn, The Abominable..., Fragments (aka Winged Creatures), the Deborah Gibson vehicle Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, The Grind, Flossin and Palmer Chandler's Kitchen Catastrophes. Actor Toby Holguin was born in Gardena. Gardena has been featured on TV a couple of times, once an episode of Hot Rod TV and once on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which featured Jay-Bee's in the episode "Real Deal BBQ." One of the radio station call-ins in CB4 was from a listener in Gardena too.



*****


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