Untold LA: West Adams homes through a photographer’s lens

Jett Loe set out to document the architecture of a

South L.A. neighborhood’s past eras in an e-book



A home built in the “Queen Anne” style. | Jett Loe

Conspicuously absent from tour books and commercial tours of Los Angeles is South L.A. Photographer and television director Jett Loe thinks that needs to change, and has created a new book on the West Adams district to highlight some of the architectural gems in the area.

Loe has documented the treasure of Craftsman, Victorian and Tudor homes of West Adams and their histories in an innovative electronic book, Untold LA. (For now, available via for Mac and iPad via iTunes, where you can download the first chapter for free.)

The book takes its viewers on an interactive neighborhood tour, with more than 500 photographs, 70 oral history audio clips and two hours of behind-the-scenes video commentary that bring the homes to life.

Loe’s wonderment about the homes and the people who live in them made his time on the project stretch from two months to two years. He spoke with Intersections about how the idea for the book came about and how his background influenced the project.

1914 Guasti Mansion Foyer

The foyer of the Guasti Mansion, built in 1914. | Jett Loe

Intersections South L.A.: What is your connection to West Adams?

Jett Loe: I encountered the amazing homes of West Adams upon moving to Los Angeles in 2012 from Northern Ireland, where I was directing shows for the BBC. My wife wanted to live in a communal household and I started looking in the Harvard Heights neighborhood of West Adams. In my search, conducted by foot and bus since I didn’t have a car yet in the United States, I was amazed by the beauty of the homes in the district. Following my discoveries, I was astonished to find that no one had done a “coffee table” book of photos about them. I then launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the book and raised $9,000 in 25 days from supporters who were excited that someone was finally documenting the neighborhood’s architecture.

What were the historical changes that contributed to the evolution of West Adams from the original wealthy section of Los Angeles into the neighborhood it has become today?

West Adams was home to the wealthy and powerful of Los Angeles during the late 1800s. If you were a doctor, banker or lawyer it was convenient for you to live in West Adams and take the streetcar Downtown. Of course, with the invention of the car people could live farther away. The rich created areas such as Beverly Hills, leaving the large, beautiful homes of West Adams to other folks. Once the original owners left, the powers of L.A. stopped focusing on the area and the media paid less attention to it. However, Japanese, African-Americans, Hispanics and others moved into the neighborhood, establishing vibrant communities. For a time it was the locus for Black political, economic and cultural power which is why West Adams was home to such greats as Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles.

1880s Victorian Home by Jett Loe

A Victorian Home from the 1880s | Jett Loe

What types of people have you met as a result of doing this project?

All types: From African-Americans who’ve lived here for many decades, to Japanese families who almost lost their homes during the World War II internment, to young folks who live in communal homes. The mixture of interviews and photographic portraits in the book was intentional; I wanted to show a whole spectrum of people to reflect the diversity the way I experienced it.

What made you decide to make it an e-book?

I always like to experiment with new things. An ebook allowed me to combine the interview skills I’d accumulated during my time directing television with my photography and interactive production abilities. The illuminated screen of an iPad or computer allows photographs to really ‘pop’ and for me evokes the illuminated stained glass windows that you see in so many West Adams homes.

Day of the dead celebration in west adams

A Mexican Day of the Dead celebration takes to the streets in West Adams

Do you think this is the future for photography and books?

For photographers in the U.S., making a living is an ongoing challenge, in no small part to the effects of the Internet, which seems to melt like water so many established business models. Many job positions for photographers have disappeared due to the development of Internet photography. For example, jobs that a newspaper would have had a decade ago no longer exist because now there is always someone on a news scene with a mobile phone. So being a working photographer is a continual challenge. Doing a project like Untold LA with its mix of private funding though a site like Kickstarter combined with selling a version of the project through iTunes is an experiment for me in new models of photography production.

How has Untold LA changed your relationship to West Adams?

When I moved to L.A., I had never heard of West Adams. But I feel that the district deserves to be just as famous outside of Los Angeles as well known spots like the Griffith Observatory. The homes and culture of West Adams are rich, unique and beautiful. I feel privileged that I was able to document a part of it.

1940 lukens home

Comparatively modern next to other West Adams residences, the Lukens Home was built in 1940 | Jett Loe

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#TBT South LA: The Shrine Auditorium

The Shrine Auditorium in the 1920s | LA Public Library

The Shrine Auditorium in the 1920s | LA Public Library

Even as University of Southern California students bike past the Shrine Auditorium and Angelenos attend the venue for its frequent raves and award shows, many are not aware of the long history of this distinctive building.

The Shrine Auditorium was first built in its location off of Jefferson and Figueroa in 1906 as a civic center. The Al Malaikah Shriners, a fraternal organization founded in 1871 that contributes to the community with hospitals and other charities, intended the auditorium to be used as a temple and meeting place for the organization. [Read more…]

#TBT South LA: Church mothers, circa 1960

"Church Mothers" stand outside the First AME Church in South LA, circa 1960. | USC Digital Library

“Church Mothers” stand outside the First AME Church in South LA, circa 1960. | USC Digital Library

For many generations, churches have been integral to the character of South Los Angeles. The First African Methodist Episcopal stands as an example.

Dressed in “Sunday best” attire, the 16 women are pictured standing in front of the First AME, or simply “FAME.” The photograph is from the 1960s.

Founded in 1872, FAME is the city’s oldest African-American church. Before the 1970s, the church had a population of 250 congregants. It now boasts a congregation of about 19,000 members and is considered a mega-church with task forces for health, substance abuse and homelessness issues. [Read more…]

South LA’s Southern California Library keeps social justice history alive


A wall of the library’s exterior features an Olmec statue. | Stephanie Case

It’s been fifty years since Emil Freed—son of anarchists, a Communist Party member, and staunch activist—founded the Southern California Library to save materials at risk of being destroyed amid fear of McCarthyism. A lot has changed in South L.A. since then: the 1992 riots rocked the city, workers’ unions grew stronger, and race, class and sexuality have been at the forefront of political battles. And today, more people than ever are using the social justice library.

“Maybe less than 200 people would come through the door in a year” in 2002, said communications director Michele Welsing. “Now, we’ve seen those numbers go up to as much as 10,000. And for researchers, we’re getting as many people now in one month as we would get in an entire year.”

Take an audio tour of the library with reporter Stephanie Case:

Freed’s small collection of leftist papers has blossomed into more than 400 archives, including vinyl records, film reels and shelves upon shelves of political pamphlets. [Read more…]

South LA vs. South Central: What’s in a name?

Florence and Normandie, considered the intersections where the 1992 riots ignited. | Intersections

Florence and Normandie, considered the intersections where the 1992 riots ignited. | Intersections

Ten years ago, by local decree, “South Central” became “South L.A.”

The name change represented City Hall’s effort to halt the stigmatization of an area that had put up with gangs, shootings, urban blight, diminished resources and poverty for decades.

Some called the change a foolish move that would only bring superficial change. Others took offense, saying they were proud of their “‘hood” roots. All the while politicians like Jan Perry and Mark Ridley-Thomas said the new moniker could give the neighborhood a much-needed boost. One resident (from Vermont Square, to be precise) said the media had made “South Central” synonymous with urban poverty. She told the Los Angeles Times:

“Anything bad happens, you get on TV, and the first thing you say was ‘South Central.'”

Today, city officials along with mainstream media and many Angelenos call the collection of neighborhoods south of the 10 freeway “South L.A.”

If a name can carry as much weight as the proponents for the change seemed to believe, then it’s time for a check-up. How does a name affect the way people see South L.A. — both looking in and looking out? And what can we learn about developments in South L.A. over the past ten years just by asking about a name?

View South Los Angeles in a larger map



A decade after the name change experiment began, Intersections wants to take the pulse of the city. We are asking Angelenos of all stripes to let us know what they think. Scroll down to read comments from city officials, organizers, workaday moms and dads, writers, educators, students, seniors, youth and others, and check back soon for more. 

And we want to hear from you! Please write your thoughts below to join the discussion. Every week we’ll feature new responses at the top of this page. Questions or comments? Email [email protected].




Professor of history at Cal State Northridge

I take it on faith that there were many people for whom the name change meant something really important. It meant that they had shed this stereotype of a community in endless violence, unemployment, poverty, dysfunctional families, drug abuse and all that. So, the psychological benefits that residents derived from that is not something anyone has measured, and I can only imagine that they’re fairly substantial. But I cannot make the connection between the psychological benefits and the material changes. The material changes are happening entirely on a separate track from that psychological benefit.

Sides teaches at Cal State Northridge and is also a writer and editor. The quote above is an excerpt from the full interview with Intersections.


Founder/CEO, Urban Txt

I think “South Central” brings a sense of community for the people who grew up in South L.A. I never felt that it was such a bad place to live. It was portrayed very differently in the movies, it was portrayed bad. If anything, “South Central” is a sense of pride, and sense of community. A place where people grew up with similar issues, similar challenges. I’ve overcome great challenges, and I’ve done amazing things.

My question would be: What were the goals of changing the name to South L.A? Was it to change the stigma South L.A. had? Have we accomplished that? And if so, how? And by changing the name to South LA, who did it benefit most?

What do you see as an important issue now in South L.A.?
There’s a big access divide to technology. If you look at the trends in education right now, there’s lots of trends moving to online systems. Well, if I’m a kid in South A. and I don’t have Internet access, but my teachers are telling me I need to study online, then how do I get that? The access to high-speed Internet affects education, economic empowerment, and access to information to be able to be knowledgeable about what’s happening in your community. I want our kids in South LA to be able to create with technology — not just to consume information, but to create media pieces, to create apps, to create websites. || Daina Beth Solomon

Menjivar’s “hackerspace” for Urban Txt is slated to open in the summer of 2014. To learn more about his organization, read an article from Intersections: “South LA teens code their way to success by learning technology basics.”




I used to hate it when I would hear people, mostly white newscasters, when they would refer to any place where Black people lived … as South Central.

What they were saying is, this event is associated with Black life, Black depravity, Black hopelessness, Black despair, Black crime, Black poverty. Any time you heard someone say ‘South Central,’ what they were actually trying to evoke was the goblin of Black horror. || Sinduja Rangarajan

Click to hear more from Emory Holmes: 

Emory Holmes II is a Los Angeles based playwright, novelist, poet and journalist. His news stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Sentinel and other news outlets across the country. He is author of novels “Black Rage” and “Sunday Hell,” while his crime stories have appeared in three anthologies: “The Cocaine Chronicles,” “The Best American Mystery Stories 2006,” and “Los Angeles Noir.”




“South Central” — that’s the way I’ve known it. South Central, the ghetto. People get scared when you say South Central. The only difference [between South Central and South L.A.] is that when you hear South Central you think it’s all about gangs, criminals, and violence. South L.A. is like the buildings, all the good views, all the good stuff that people come and see, that the tourists come and see. But if you go to South Central you see something else. You’ll see violence. That’s the way I see it. But I live in South Central, not South L.A. || Ashley Hansack




I call it “home” because that’s where I grew up. Because that’s where my family is. That’s where I live. I wouldn’t move out of L.A. Everything’s here. Every freeway that you want to go, each direction is all around Downtown L.A. and South Central. There are beaches about 20 miles away. Disneyland the other way. Hollywood. Why would you move out? Everything’s here. That’s why people are here. || Ashley Hansack




I call it “South Central” because that’s how it’s always been called. They started saying that South Central was a negative term for “South Los Angeles.” People were saying that it was ghetto and all this. I think it’s bullshit… If you ask me where I’m from I’ll say South Central. I’m not ashamed of where I live, I don’t need to sugarcoat anything. I think that’s what it is. South L.A. is just sugarcoated for South Central. You feel me? I think ultimately the hood is going to be the way the people make it. || Ashley Hansack


Organizer, CopWatchLA

I call it “South Central” because I grew up here. To me, “South L.A.” always meant south of South Central. South Central goes all the way into Watts. Once you get into Compton, the South Bay, Huntington Park, or the Southeast, to me, that was South L.A.

South Central has a powerful history. Since many people migrated here from the South or moved here from Mexico, their struggles intersected. And I think this community is one of the only areas where you don’t see animosity or tension between black and brown folks. Especially for young people, because they grow up together. You have black youth that listen to rock en espanol, or Chicano youth who are into hip hop. The culture here in South Central is more mixed. For me, saying “South L.A.” erases that history. || Daina Beth Solomon



I’ve never heard anyone call “South Central” “South L.A.” until today. I do therefore believe it is a superficial action because it seems that it is dividing the community more than anything. …Compton and Inglewood supposedly aren’t included in the South L.A. line divide and those are two of the most affluent POC [people of color] communities that were once grouped in with South Central. || Skylar Endsley Myers

Lina Frausto is a 24 year old from Watts who has spent most of her adult life in New York City.


Intersections South LA Reporter Corps

“South Central” is a word people use to represent culture, language and events that have occurred here. It’s really specific. “South L.A.” is kind of like, ‘let’s forget about all of that and sort of pacify what has occurred in the area.’” || Skylar Endsley Myers

Xochil Frausto is a 24-year-old Watts Native who now lives in Oakland.



Captain, LAPD Newton Division

The name change is one piece of that pie of how the community has changed. Certainly, violent crime is not what it was in 2003. The entire neighborhood changed. How we do policing changed, how we do outreach changed, how we do partnerships has changed. Collectively, all of this is having an impact. The name change, I don’t know how much weight that carries, but it happened at a time when everything started to change. You can’t discredit one thing; many things have had a fight in our success here. || Daina Beth Solomon


Founder and CEO, The Accelerated Schools

I’ve worked in South L.A., and what’s considered South Central, since 1990. And as much as it is associated, nationally as well as internationally, with crimes and drugs and bad things, I have learned to appreciate South Central.

There are wonderful people here. I feel I have a moral obligation, through the school as well as through all of our relationships, to elevate that story. We need to work as hard at capturing the great things as focusing on the murders and drive-bys.

Cosmetics like names are important, because they can inspire and capture value. But at the same time, if we can actually do the heavy lift of preparing kids for college, that’s ultimately what’s important. || Daina Beth Solomon


L.A. writer and author

I think that the name change has helped with the healing process and helped with improving South Central’s image. But names alone can’t change much and I am sure old-timers would miss “South Central.” || Sinduja Rangarajan


Organizer, Strategic Actions for a Just Economy

I say South Central. I think it’s the appropriate name for the culture, which can actually go beyond the bounds of Historic South Central. Historic South Central is just a small piece. But the similarities of the culture extend through the entire area south of the 10 to the 105, and Crenshaw to Alameda. It’s difficult to distinguish one neighborhood from the other. They all have their own little quirks, but a lot of the issues, and the people and the culture, are the same. And the reason they changed the name, I guess because of the stigma “South Central” had, affected the entire area.

I live in Gramercy Park. If you ask me where I live, outside of South Central, I’ll say South Central. If people in South Central ask, I say Gramercy Park.

I don’t say “South L.A.,” because the reason for changing it was the stigma, as if that was going to change all the ills. I believe the way to address it is through politicians and developers and activists.

I’ve never heard a Latino or any immigrant call it South L.A.. It’s “sur centro.” The people that I hear call it “South L.A.” the most are people that don’t live there. Or, the people that do live there are the politicians, and the developers. I think it’s just white-washing. || Daina Beth Solomon



We want to hear your perspective! Write your thoughts below to join the discussion.



Mike the Poet calls South LA “the blood and bones” of Los Angeles

Mike the Poet interacting with students after the open mike session| Photo credit: Sinduja Rangarajan

Mike the Poet interacting with students after the open mic session | Sinduja Rangarajan

Mike Sonksen patted a student’s back, bumped fists with another and hugged a third as he took swift, long strides across the California State University Los Angeles campus on a recent afternoon.

The lanky 40-year-old, popularly known as “Mike the Poet,” had just finished hosting an open mic session that brought together poets, singers and songwriters from across the campus. Sonksen performed during the session, but only briefly. He was focused instead on encouraging the next generation of artists. Beyond crafting poems, Sonksen, who is also a journalist and performer, considers himself a mentor to upcoming poets in the city.

[Read more…]

OPINION: We may forget Dorner, but we won’t forget the LAPD’s history

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) has developed a reputation in the Los Angeles community and in the nation as one of the most brutal and corrupt police departments in the U.S., a reputation stemming from cases such as Rodney King and those involving the Rampart Division. For more of the story please click here.

Jefferson Park’s evolution tells urban America’s story

By Alex Abels

This is the first of a four-part series on Jefferson Park and the changing urban neighborhood.

imageSouth Los Angeles has changed drastically over the past 150 years with many events adding to the changing face of the area. Jefferson Park, an area just west of USC’s campus, is one area of Los Angeles that underscores these changes.

The neighborhood – a microcosm of urban America – is bound by Adams Boulevard on the North, Western Avenue on the East, Exposition Boulevard on the South and Crenshaw Boulevard on the West, as can be seen on the map below.
Boundaries of Jefferson Park

Today, Jefferson Park houses a mix of blacks and Latinos. More than half of the community speaks a language other than English at home, and 35 percent were not born in the U.S. The median household income is about $23,000, and approximately 30 percent of individuals live below the poverty level. Although those outside of the community know it as an area ridden with crime and drugs, similar to the opinion of South LA in general, Jefferson Park is more than just a stereotype.

The area has more than a dozen pre-schools and elementary schools, more than 20 churches and other places of worship and several active community service centers. Children can always be seen relaxing or skateboarding in Leslie N. Shaw Park and adults can be seen chatting through barbershop windows. A handful of intricate murals can be seen from Jefferson Boulevard, reflecting the lives of Jefferson Park’s families, most of whom have lived there for decades.

Any neighborhood – especially one that is so intertwined with South LA’s rocky history – can only be fully appreciated when the past is considered. Though many of its residents have lived there for years, Jefferson Park once looked much different than it does today.

Read more…