Painting by local
|The cultural influence and small
businesses present in the community is neither new, nor surprising.The
concept of offering an intimiate mixed residential and business district
was planned over sixtyyears ago. Real estate developer Walter H. Leimert
began this community with a purchase of 240 acres of land then known as
Rancho Cienga O Pao de la Tijera in the 1920s. The architectural firm Olmsted
and Olmsted, who created New York City’s massive Central Park, developed
the area into mixed residential dwellings, a commercial center, a school
and a park plaza. In 1947 the Baldwin Hills Plaza, the first indoor shopping
mall in Los Angeles and one of the earliest in the nation, was completed
adjacent to the Leimert Park Village located on the opposing side of Crenshaw
Today the Village is the oldest of
five real estate divisions that have coexist as closely woven communities.
Baldwin Hills Estates, Baldwin Hills, View Park and Windsor Hills are the
four surrounding, mostly middle-class, larger, family styled residences,
which are linked to Leimert Park Village by bounds of physical location,
racial demographics and local cultural history. An irony of
If not for the fact that their stunning views were obscured byUnlike many of the homes located in the adjacent hillside, which have undergone additions, Leimert Park maintains much of the original design. Including a distinct, low-level architecture that reflect Spanish and Mediterranean influences, and the park with a large water fountain which serve as the focal point of the Village. It was not until the forties and fifties when African-Americans began to trickle into this community in recognizable numbers. Against protest from white Angelenos, African-Americans could be found in sparse numbers outside of the highly segregated eastside of Los Angeles, which arouse mostly by President Theodore Roosevelt’s orders to desegregate the war time manufacturing plants in 1942. Until this time, Lynell George, author of No Crystal Stair: African-Americans in the City of Angels,
smoke and helicopters during the riots, the neighborhoods in
the hills west of Crenshaw Boulevard could be mistaken for
Palos Verdes, the exclusive suburb at the other end of the
boulevard. Except for the occasional multimillion-dollar
mansion, homes in Baldwin Hills and View Park ranged in
price from $350,000 to $650,000—bargains, say local
appraisers, who estimate that the same properties would
command $200,000 more on the mostly white westside.
to work within the limits the city fathers ascribed-law andThe first African-Americans who moved from the segregated eastside communies in Los Angeles found better jobs in the then numerous factories and commercial venues, quiet, pepper tree-lined bungalow neighborhoods, quaint shopping areas and good schools in this area of South Central Los Angeles. By the 1960s dramatic demographic and economic shifts had occurred. African-Americans were increasing in large numbers, with whites, Asians and Latinos following respectively in smaller percentages.
medical practices, 24-hour general stores, and restaurants
thrived within city blocks that were decreed their own.
These residents built their neighborhoods up from the inside
out, long before, out of long-simmering frustration they
sought to tear them down. Restrictive covenants circumscribed
the West’s great possibilities; segregated beaches, social clubs,
and musician’s unions meant that Jim Crow’s arms spread far
enough to touch the Pacific as well.
What was once a prospering base region
community now faced increasing social and economic isolation in the post
war years up to the seventies and eighties. Loss of numerous manufacturing
plants from the area, increased population, lack of resources from a lower
tax base for public services, flight
of more prosperous residents and negligence by the city are partially to blame. In the 1970s African-Americans became the dominate racial group with all others representing less that five percent each. In the 1980s and today in the 1990s the area is again experiencing a shift of racial and ethnic composition. Today various populations of Chicano/Latinos, and to a lesser extent Asians and Asian-Americans are migrating in as both business owners and residents.
The1992 disturbances that hit many,
primarily South Central areas through out the Los Angeles basin brought
a surge of renewed interest from locals and city officials alike back to
Leimert Park Village. Multifaceted efforts, ranging from grass-root neighborhood
groups, merchant and urban planner collaboration and city targeted federally
funded teams and project all have invested interest
in revitalizing the area presently. Within all of these efforts, cooperation is sought and needed by the local merchants, residents, non-profit groups and city officials to ensure success of the businesses as they now exist and for the projects in progress or envisioned. Through the various interviews,
cooperation was a main concern for the community’s vitality. Articulated also were issues of conflict. Struggles revolve around funding, inclusion in planning and the direction in which Leimert Park Village will be directed in the future as a residential community, and as a lasting site of African-American cultural expression and entrepreneurship in the Los Angeles area.