Discovering a piece of Black LA history

By Walter Melton

imageEditor’s Note: Walter Melton grew up in the Leimert Park. He is a columnist LABeez, a regular contributor of Leimert Park Beat and a periodic contributor to Intersections South LA. He has a passionate knowledge and interest in the history of South L.A., and especially the colorful past of the Dunbar Hotel. His mother was a well-known dancer in the 40’s and is inextricably linked to Central Avenue; she was a featured dancer at Club Alabam as well as major venues throughout the country during that era, including the Cotton Club and Savoy. When we received word that Councilwoman Jan Perry would be celebrating groundbreaking on the Dunbar Hotel renovation, we asked Walter if he wanted to cover it for us. He jumped at the chance and sent us this sidebar from his evening at the Dunbar.

The star of the show on Monday was the Dunbar Hotel and all of the history it contained. Some people were there because they love history. Some were there because they had to be there, such as the politicians. Some were there because they were curious. Some thought they knew the history but few really did.

I was one of the few that was directly tied to it. My mother’s photo remained on the wall when I walked in.

image Walter’s mother Margaret is the middle dancer

There was a handful of Black men and women who grew up in Leimert Park or Baldwin Hills. We were talking when I noticed this piece of paper on the wall. I had never seen it but it drew me to it. So I walked over and read it.

I was floored.

Every kid from Leimert Park in the 60’s went to Dolphin’s of Hollywood to buy records. It was an institution. However, I never knew it was connected to Central Avenue until Monday. As soon as I read the paper I yelled over to the other old LA guys and women. The whole building turned when I yelled and watched with fascinated curiosity when we started giving each other high fives. They knew it was a special moment. We learned something about ourselves. image

None of us knew the history because the store was at neither of the locations mentioned in the historical synopsis. And then when I went back to my office, I did some research. I found out John Dolphin was murdered. A colorful account of his killing was on the Internet. I sent out all of the information to every old Black LA person I knew.

Everyone wanted to know why I was there. I told them. They wanted me to thank you for sending me. Must have been 50 of them that wanted me to thank you.

That place holds a special place for me. Four months before Jimmy Hendrix died, he gave a concert in LA. I wanted to go. I doubled-dated with a guy who was at Harvard School with me. The movie The Graduate was filmed at his house. We could not get tickets at any of the locations in white neighborhoods in the Valley. Each location had a line of about 400 people. So something told me to call Dolphins on Crenshaw just south of King Boulevard. They said no one was waiting to buy tickets.

WE FLEW to the store from the Valley playing the Rolling Stones on the cassette player. I walked out of the van, step into the store and purchased my tickets. just like that.

We never knew the origin of the name Dolphins of Hollywood until Monday. And that store contains thousands of memories just like the one I shared with you for all of us.

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