Make your own free website on Tripod.com
Earl Underwood,co-owner of The Leimert Park Gallery and founder of
Leimert Park Business Center  - Unedited interview

Q.     Tell me about yourself.
A.      I think I'm the type of person, in fact I know I'm the
        type of person that wants success and would like to see everybody else
that's around me successful.  I think that's basically the sentence that
sums me up.  And that's what I work for, I work for success.

Q.     How would you describe your business effort in this community?
A.      Well, the specific community is the African American
        presence in Los Angeles.  I'm really aggressive in my business and my
two main concern at this point, is education and for all and especially
education for children and to promote the arts within Los Angeles.
That's my two main goals.  Secondary, to create a much more lively
economic pace for the community.  Open up a lot more businesses, and
certain offices in the community and possibly the rest of the world.

Q.      Where are you originally from?  And how did you come to Los Angeles?
A.      I'm from Brooklyn, New York.  I was looking for a change in my life.
And as you probably know New York is very competitive, and you might say
it's that neighborhood thing. And actually when I came out to
California, it was the first time I traveled in my life, I came out here
where I was 27 - 28 years old.  I've been out here for 15 years, and
it's the first time I've gotten out of New York.  I was somewhat
surprised at the attitude, the laid back attitude of California.  I
kinda of thought it was a perfect situation for me to get involved and
start doing something.

Q.      What interested you in this business?
A.      Well a series of mistakes and failures, I guess.  I always liked the
arts.  I wasalways involved in the arts.  I always explored artistic
types of things, that I never explored in New York City.  But what I did
explore when I was out there was architecture. I think the biggest thing
coming from New York was that I'd seen such a big difference in the
range of people. Especially, in the appreciation for the arts that type
of thing.  So I kinda focused in on the arts.  My trade, I'm a printer,
that's what I do.  I kinda of see a similarity between printing a
perfect picture and art, more of like an artistic type of presence that
you need to get into.  My wife and I which I married when I came out
here, we started a mail order business.  And the mail order business
what catalogue that we put together.  What we were trying to do was to
start national distribution, we did about 10,000 catalogues, and we had
a real good response.  But a lot of people wanted to come in and see the
work, we had wholesalers, we had showrooms and that kind of thing.  One
thing lead to another, we were located at that time in Burlingham,
California.  It was completely White, we were the only Black people in
the vicinity which didn't really bother me because with did a mail order
business, we didn't have to rely on this type of retail.  But something
just kept calling me to the community.  I visited Leimert Park when I
first got here.  I was really impressed by the high concentration of
black owned business as well as the high concentration of cultural
channeling.  So I felt like I wanted to change locations, and get right
into the community, and I started looking for vacancy in Leimert Park,
and finally we wound up in this place here.  This is a little bit more
space than I intended to use.  But as I walked into Leimert Park I
started to see potential, and at this point we don't have enough space.

Q.      You stated earlier that you would like to build a Black business
community.  How do you feel your shop is acheving this?
A.      Oh, because it's an element within the bulk of societythat really has
to have some type of presence.  Art is really a refection of the
community.  If you go into a community a well to do community, or any
community an look at the different types of shops, specialty shops, that
are in that community, the success is graded by just how much space is
allotted for a gallery, the reservation of that particular culture.  So
Art is a pretty significant factor, it's almost like a barometer as to
how well that particular culture is doing in that community,
financially, morally and you know that type of thing.  The more you see
attention given to the arts; usually it indicates the more stable the
community is.  That people can appreciate their own community, their own
culture, their own art.  It just has something to do with society as a
whole.  I think that the other business part of the community, is proud
of being here, and everything like that.  I think it's a significant
part of the community.

Q.      Are you involved in the local merchants association?
A.      Yeah, I'm a member of the merchants association.  I'm also a member.
I'm actually on the board of directors of the Leimert Park Village
Community Development Corporation (LPVCDC) .  And it's probably the most
exciting thing that has happened in Leimert Park for a number of years.

Q.      Can you tell me more about the CDC?
A.      Well CDC is designed to improve the community, we kind
        of keep the integrity of the community since we are a culture
community, and we are working towards keeping that element prevalent
with in our stores and within our businesses.  And we had the ability to
bring in money.  Improvements within the community, there's federal
monies available, state and city monies available and what the CDC does
is go after that money and administer some of the changes that we need
to have.  Just to give you an example, we have $500,000 to work with and
what that's going to do to the district here in Leimert Park.  The
landowners and tenants will figure out what to do with the money, how
they would like to see the changes made.  We also are responsible for
renovation of the park, that's probably going to happen this month.  We
take on the responsibility of cleaning up the village.
[THE TAPE WAS TURNED OFF AT THIS POINT].
        We also have the best lighting, how we increased the lighting in the
village maybe about 400% gives it a sense of security, safety for folks
that are coming to the village.  It's a real exciting project, I'm
really excited to be on the board of directors.  I think the real
cultural push in the 60's was Dan and Alonzo Huevos they opened up the
Brockman Gallery.  I think at that point it was known as an artistic
cultural community.  And it's been going up and down for a number of
years.  I think when Dan and Alanzo first started, they'd seen
businesses - actually all the things that have worked out of their shops
and it's kinda changed to a more commercialized aspect.  And also that
change is probably the most obvious change, it's more commercial.
Cultural business have taken over response of the artist.  Prior to the
civil disturbances there's a lot more activity down here.  You know the
civil disturbance kinda messed up things for the entire L.A. area not
just Leimert Park.  Of course you know about the crack epidemic, I mean
that was citywide.  All those factors had a tendency to impact a
community.  We are now probably as you can see are on the up swing and I
think it's a more commercially minded mind set that we have in respect
to promoting the business, promoting the areas and using those types of
resources.  And the CDC has to offer professionalism that has developed
in the whole area.  So I think that we went down for the last time and
if we look at it again in the next year we'll probably better off.  It
would probably be the most significant change in the last 20 years.

Q.      How would you describe the community?
A.      Black middle class communities, since well before the 60's, I'd say
since the late 50's, when Black folks started moving in to the
communities.  I'd say that it's about 98% Black.  It's a wonderful
community.  It's the first planned community in the United States
actually where we've designed and developed our own commerical and
cultural status.   As far as the lay out and the structure, it's a very
comfortable place to live.  What we're having now is that a lot of the
Black folks that could afford property in the 40s and 50s are now
starting to get old.  And where we're curious to see who comes in to
take their place.  Whether it's a family member or you know another
Black couple.  And what we're seeing now is that we are starting to get
a lot of young Black families looking for homes and property in Leimert
Park.  And I think it's the kind of thing that getting out and we will
probably be famous.  And when Hispanics move in, you know it's fine with
me.  But I think that Leimert Park is really proud of it's heritage.
Once you get to Leimert Park, you're not too quick to move to another
community.  Because it's really a nice community.
END OF INTERVIEW.