South Seas House finds new life serving South LA community

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West Adams is filled with grand, old Victorian homes, but near the freeway off of Arlington Street, one of these houses sticks out like a sore “blue” thumb. It features Polynesian-style gables that seem to slope forever and pillars made with the same stone that line the streets. It was known for years as the South Seas or the Tahitian house.

imageIt is a landmark and a piece of history, but these days, it’s something else entirely: a recreation center.

“When I was told that I was coming here, I had no idea what this place was, so I said give me the address let me find out what this is so I driven up here and I said ‘it’s an actual house!’” said Carlton Stubbs, Recreation Coordinator at the South Seas House.

Stubbs’ job was to create unique programs for the unique house. The most popular include summer camp and computer classes. It’s a tight-nit group of kids, many of whom Stubbs hires back as counselors. Todd Hightower has been working there for six years. He says the South Seas House feels like home to all of the people who visit it.

“I grew up in the neighborhood so it kinda feels good to still be working in the neighborhood and it’s kinda good to be giving back,” said Hightower.

imageJoseph Depuy built the home in 1902 and it stayed in his family until the 1970s. The city bought it for a street-widening project that would never happen. When plans took shape to demolish the house in the mid-90s, the community stepped in. Laura Meyers formed the South Seas House Action Committee with many other members of the community. She says saving the house became something more during a turbulent time in Los Angeles history.

“It became a symbol if you could rebirth the house you can rebirth the community,” said Meyers.

After a $1.5 million dollar restoration, the South Seas House reopened as a recreation center in 2003. With the house revitalized, the surrounding area followed. The park next door became a place for families instead of gang members. Stubbs says in all his time working at different centers in the city, he’s never seen so much commitment from a community.

“A lot of what went into this house was community driven. A lot of love was put into it by the community so they have a stake in it, which is how all communities should be,“ said Stubbs.

Today, the South Seas House looks exactly the same as it did in 1902, but with a fresh coat of blue paint and yellow trim and with a few more kids running around.

Jury selection begins in trial of slain South LA teen

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Pedro Espinoza sat silently in court wearing a brown suit, glasses, and sporting a fresh crew-cut. He kept his eyes focused on his lawyers, asking them questions periodically. Directly behind him in the first row, sat the Shaw family. While the defense questioned potential jurors, Jamiel Shaw Sr. watched Espinoza, the man he believes gunned down his son. 17-year-old Jamiel Shaw Jr. was shot March 2, 2008 while he was just three doors away from home.

image“He was a good kid, never been in any trouble, never been arrested, never been suspended from school,” said Shaw.

Espinoza is a member of the 18th Street gang and an undocumented immigrant. He had been released from county jail on gun charges just one day before Shaw was shot. Twenty-three year-old Espinoza now faces the death penalty.

“Even though in California, what’s the odds of having the death penalty?”said Shaw.

The Shaw family has spent the four years between the arrest and the trial trying to get “Jamiel’s Law” on the city ballot. The law would allow police to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants if they have been identified as known gang members. Shaw Sr. says that if this had been in place four years ago, his son might still be alive.

“These are the ones that they need to protect us from. Criminals, killers, murderers, rapists. And they’re not doing it, because if they did, they would have had him because he’s three gun charges in a row, and you didn’t know he was in the country illegally?” said Shaw.

Opponents of Jamiel’s Law argue it could lead to racial profiling. The Jamiel’s Law petition failed to get the signatures needed in 2008 to be placed on the ballot. Shaw Sr. says they will continue to try to make Jamiel’s Law a reality as a way to honor the son who was taken from them too soon.

“MVP three years in a row, all city, getting recruited from Stanford, Rutgers, and a lot of small schools. The kind of kid you’d think would make it. You think he would have made it, but he didn’t of course,” said Shaw.

The juror pool will be cut down to 12 jurors and 6 alternates in the next few days. The trial is expected to take between two and half and four weeks.

Harold & Belle’s stays in the family and takes you back to the glory days

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imageIn 1969, New Orleans transplants Harold and Belle Legaux opened a new hot spot in the Jefferson Park area of Los Angeles. Creole food, atmosphere, jazz music, and good drinks were served every night at Harold & Belles. It became in institution.

“It is the local watering hole for most people in the community who are what you would consider movers and shakers in our community.”

That was Rev. Eric Lee, one of the many business and political leaders in the area who visit Harold & Belle’s two or three times a week. It’s like an extended family, and one that’s very protective of one another.

Inside, Harold & Belle’s is like a time capsule, transporting you back to the restaurant’s glory days in 1969. It’s the same beige wallpaper, same tables, same bar stools, even some of the same people. The only thing that’s changed is the addition of more and more family photos on the wall.

Ryan Legaux, General Manager of the restaurant and grandson of the original Harold and Belle, is featured in many of those photos. But times have been tough and sales are down 30% from just a few years ago. When Ryan’s father, Harold Jr., passed away last year, his mother and her business partners considered closing it all down.

“I told them ‘no, ya know, stick it out if you can I’d like to take it over and create more business for it, kind of keep it going.”

They agreed, but Legaux would not be getting a family discount. To finance his dream, he applied for a $2.6 million loan from the federal government. Though he has been approved by the city council, Legaux hasn’t yet received federal approval. He remains optimistic.

“Our intentions are good and we’re straightforward as to what we’re trying to do.”

Legaux says he’ll keep the doors open with or without the loan. He owes it to his family.

“It also is a family legacy. It’s my grandparents name on the building, on the business. It’s my parent’s hard work for 30 plus years. It’s my career for the past 10 plus years. When I want to have kids and when I want to have a family of my own it’s going to be a part of their legacy too.”

The world has changed outside in 42 years. But inside Harold & Belle’s is still serving the same food, drinks, and the same family.