Encore for South LA’s Dunbar Hotel

Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre helps revive a historic jazz landmark on Central Avenue.


Marisa Labog and Joe Schenck rehearse on the balcony in the lobby of Dunbar Village. | Christina Campodonico


By day, a “For Lease” sign hangs in the window of the Dunbar Hotel’s empty storefront on Central Avenue, but on Saturday night this barren room came to life as dancers from the Heidi Duckler Dance Theatre kicked up dust from the concrete floor, grabbed onto the room’s barred windows and clung to its steel columns, captivating a crowd of dance-lovers and community leaders who descended upon the historic South Los Angeles landmark to see “Dancing at Dunbar.”

Hours earlier, at 5 p.m., the troupe previewed its choreography for a handful of residents living at Dunbar Village, the affordable housing development on site with the Dunbar Hotel.

An air of easy comfort pervaded the lobby. Some audience members relaxed in large leather armchairs, nibbling on fruit and cookies. Others milled in and out of the lobby with their bikes and grocery bags, pausing briefly to look up at dancers Marisa Labor and Joe Schenck as they wrapped themselves around columns and bannisters on the second-level balcony overhead. [Read more…]

Sights and sounds from the Central Avenue Jazz Festival

The 19th annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival last weekend brought out crowds of L.A. residents to enjoy authentic Mexican and soul food, local crafts, and, of course, the sweet sounds of jazz. This year, the Jazz Festival was bigger than ever, with two music stages, kids activities and a plaza offering health screenings, stands representing local organizations and businesses, and artists making and selling a variety of crafts.

Watch the audio slideshow below for the sights and sounds of the festival. 

Visit our Flickr for photos from the event.

18th annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival

Cuba LA performing at the 18th Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival.

Cuba LA performing at the 18th Annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival.

Count on it:  the last weekend of July is the weekend for the Central Avenue Jazz Festival.  This year is the 18th annual festival on Central Avenue, between 42nd and 43rd streets.

This year’s line-up included old favorites like Ernie Andrews and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, and Latin jazz acts like Cuba LA.

The festival pays tribute to Central Avenue’s historic connection to the Los Angeles jazz scene when musicians like Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Billy Holiday stayed at the Dunbar Hotel and jammed at the jazz clubs that dotted the street.

The Dunbar Hotel was renovated and recently opened as a senior living facility.   During this year’s jazz festival, young music act, such as the A Place Called Home music group played in the Dunbar’s courtyard. [Read more…]

28th Street Apartments rekindle tradition of former YMCA

In 1924, a group of African-American leaders decided their Central Avenue neighborhood needed a place for black men and boys to socialize. After a successful fundraising campaign, the 28th Street Y.M.C.A. was born. The facility re-opened in December as an affordable-housing community. Omar Shamout visited the new 28th Street Apartments to learn more about its staff and residents.

South LA landmark YMCA opens as 28th Street Apartments

News Release from the office of 9th District Councilwoman Jan Perry
Monday, December 3, 2012

Los Angeles, December 3, 2012—A distinguished landmark in South Los Angeles—the 28th Street YMCA designed by African-American architect Paul Williams—has been restored to serve low-income adults and youth transitioning from homelessness to independent living. Co- developed by Clifford Beers Housing (CBH) and Coalition for Responsible Community Development (CRCD), the $21 million, 49-unit community also will serve homeless and low- income individuals, including those living with mental illness, CBH executive director Jim Bonar told an audience of dignitaries at the opening of the 28th Street Apartments today.

“With this milestone, we are witnessing the culmination of our shared dream to celebrate our rich history, develop quality housing for our young people and create a space in which they can grow and thrive, said Councilwoman Jan Perry (9th District) who worked closely with the developers to ensure this historic landmark was brought back to life and would continue to serve the community. “By reinventing this iconic Paul Williams building in the Vernon-Central community, we are moving our community forward, and I thank both CRCD and Clifford Beers Housing for investing in our youth and their future.”

Referring to the project, CBH’s Bonar said, “This building is far more than just an early design by the legendary Paul Williams. It was an integral part of life in the robust African American community which dominated Central Avenue from the 1920s to 1960s. Our plans for the renovation of the existing building and the new wing were guided by two imperatives: to honor the history of the building and revive its service to the community in the 21st century. “

In its new incarnation, the original YMCA accommodations have been transformed into 24 units including kitchenettes and private bathrooms—a far cry from its former configuration with 50 rooms, shared bathrooms and a common cafeteria. The new wing, comprised of 25 studio apartments, will accommodate low-income and formerly homeless individuals. Eight units are set-aside for 18-24 year-olds. Recreation amenities include a restored gym and a rooftop garden.

On the ground floor of the historic building CRCD will operate the new VCN City of Los Angeles YouthSource (no space) Center, which will provide educational and job training opportunities for young adults.

“The project and partnership with Clifford Beers Housing demonstrates our commitment to affordable housing and supportive services for our city’s most vulnerable populations and further affirms the mission and vision of CRCD and its work in this neighborhood,” said Mark Wilson, CRCD Executive Director.

Also playing a major role will be Kedren Community Health Center, a provider of mental health services. “We can’t over-emphasize the importance and need for affordable supportive housing for the community, noted Dr. John Griffith, President and CEO. “ Kedren is excited to partner in this endeavor. The services provided to the residents will make the important difference in helping to transform lives of the persons in recovery.”

Designed by Koning Eizenberg, the project was built to LEED Gold criteria.
“The design goal was to clarify the original 1926 work by Williams while also defining a complimentary addition that strengthened the overall development,” said architect Brian Lane.
New units are housed in a separate five-story wing behind the original building. The south facade is shaded by vertical photovoltaic panels and wrapped to the north with a perforated metal screen that reveals a pattern abstracted from the building’s historic ornament. An elevated roof garden provides outdoor social space that links old and new.

Funding sources for the project came from the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles; Corporation of Supportive Housing; Wells Fargo Bank; Los Angeles County Community Development Commission; Mental Health Services Act/Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health; California Housing Finance Agency; Los Angeles Housing Department; Community Development Block Grant (through the City of Los Angeles Community Development Department); California Tax Credit Allocation Committee.

Photo retrospective shows cultural heritage of Central Avenue

Gloria Wilson on the new Ford DeLuxe outside her and her husband’s home on Maple and 30th St, circa 1953. Contributed by Lynda Wilson.

An ambitious photography project involving South LA’s Central Avenue community hopes to show there’s more to the area than a history of riots.

Documentary photographer Sam Comen, urban planner Jason Neville and members of the Central Avenue Business Association teamed up to create a first – person photography exhibition telling the history of one of LA’s legendary cultural neighborhoods.

“Central Avenue: A Community Album,” which premieres on Saturday, showcases a curated collection of historical photographs, dating all the way back to the 1940’s, submitted by neighborhood residents as well as new pictures taken by Comen in February and March of this year.

“We collected over 800 photos from the community from over 40 individuals and organizations,” says Comen. “That’ll be edited down to 200 photos shown in the community album in addition to 40 of my photos.”

During the early 20th century, Central Avenue was a vibrant African American cultural and commercial center. Economic problems and blight dilapidated the area throughout the years, made worse by the Watts riots in 1965 and the LA riots in 1992. Comen wants to help demystify the history and the area’s new reality.

Juan Carrillo, Zena Gramajo (seated,) Mariela Godinez, and Grecia Andrade photographed at Central Ave. and 41st St. on their way home from Jefferson High School on March 14, 2012. Photo by Sam Comen.

“South LA has two main narratives: one is the intellectual and musical narrative that took place during the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s in a place that has made significant cultural contributions and the other is the riots,” Comen points out.

“Twenty years later, there’s going to be the temptation to dramatize and compartmentalize what has happened. These photos have documented the sweet moments in life. It’s important to show everyday and family life in light of the past tragic events. I want to open the discussion again with these photos. If I can broaden the conversation beyond those two narratives, then I’ll be satisfied.”

While canvassing the neighborhood in search of old photos to scan and capturing his own images, Comen discovered the area’s economy was improving.

“I didn’t know about the new Central Avenue. There’s a thriving and cohesive community there. I think it’s experiencing a renaissance.”

Demographic changes have transformed the Central Avenue community. Just like in many other neighborhoods in South LA, it has become predominantly Latino, a reality captured in this exhibit. The Community Album exhibit focuses on how cultural heritage and racial and ethnic diversity have contributed to building a thriving community.

Simon Redditt, age 105, in his apartment on Central Avenue on March 21, 2012. Now known affectionately known as “Papa Si,” Redditt has lived in the neighborhood since he moved from Memphis in 1938. Photo by Sam Comen.

With the recent closure of the California Redevelopment Agency, organizers of the exhibit felt it was necessary to take matters into their own hands to continue the revitalization of their neighborhood.

Comen says the Central Avenue business owners are attempting to bring cultural tourism to the area, through arts-based revitalization efforts like this exhibit.

“It was definitely a team effort,” acknowledges Comen. “We had business owners and people that work in the community reach out to their personal networks. We made posters telling people about the project, our team canvassed Central Avenue to speak with storeowners about spreading the word to their clientele. That’s how we ended up having so many people willing to participate. It just goes to show the cohesiveness and energy of this community.”

“Central Avenue: A Community Album” premieres Saturday, April 14, 2012 from 7:00 to 10:00 pm and will remain through Saturday, April 21, 2012.

Opening night will feature live music by a jazz quintet, courtesy of youth center A Place Called Home. Local small business owners will serve complimentary light food and beverages.

The exhibit is part of the annual Month of Photography Los Angeles (MOPLA) citywide annual initiative that showcases LA’s photography community, inclusive of commercial, fine art and photojournalism.

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.

Dunbar Hotel takes a step toward renovation

A who’s who of the jazz world — Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Lena Horne — once laid their heads to rest in the Dunbar Hotel on Central Avenue. It was the center of the West Coast jazz scene in the thirties and forties; the first African-American owned hotel in Los Angeles.

In recent years years, the Dunbar has fallen on hard times as the neighborhood became better known for poverty and violence than a vibrant heart of Black Los Angeles. It housed low-income apartments, occupied largely by elderly residents.
image On Monday, CD 9 Councilwoman Jan Perry joined community, government, and private partners at the historic hotel to break ground on the Dunbar Village project.

“Central Avenue and the Dunbar Hotel have long been an important part of our Los Angeles history. It is wonderful to see the Avenue come alive again and know that this historic landmark will be restored for people to enjoy for generations to come,” said Perry. “Dunbar Village will preserve our shared history, create quality jobs for local youth, and offer much-needed affordable housing for families and seniors.”

According to Perry, developers were asked to create plans that “enhanced and celebrated the historic integrity of the Dunbar Hotel property, while offering quality housing and job opportunities for the community.”

Thomas Safran and Associates (TSA) and the local non-profit, Coalition for Responsible Community Development (CRCD) were chosen for a partnership to develop the $29.3 million Dunbar Village development.

Dunbar Village includes refurbishing the Dunbar Hotel, including 40 units of affordable senior housing, and the renovation of the existing Sommerville I and II apartments, with 41 units of affordable family housing. All three properties will be connected to create the Dunbar Village, an 83-unit mixed-use, intergenerational community for seniors and families. image

The project with give jobs to local young people involved in the CRCD’s construction and trades training program. The CRCD estimates the project will create 158 construction jobs and 15 permanent jobs. Perry says the buildings will be Silver LEED certified.

A bit of history of the Dunbar, courtesy of Councilwoman Jan Perry’s office:
Hotel Somerville; owned by and named after the University of Southern California’s first African-American graduate, Dr. John Somerville, opened in 1928 to serve African-American’s seeking accommodations while visiting the City of Los Angeles. The hotel hosted abolitionist leaders, writers, and musicians, such as W.E.B Dubois, Langston Hughes, and Lena Horne. It became the focal point of Central Avenue from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, due to its high profile visitors and first class accommodations. The hotel was later renamed the Dunbar Hotel, after African-American poet, Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Until the 1970’s, the Dunbar Hotel created economic activity on Central Avenue and was one of Los Angeles’ epicenters of African-American thought during the civil rights movement.

Community cleans up South Los Angeles neighborhood

By: Travis Cochran


Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News:


Members of the community speak about the clean up:

“It’s beneficial for young people to get out and be a part of maintaining and cleaning and sprucing up their own community,” one woman said. “That in and of itself is a great impact.”

Another person involved in the clean up added, “Overall, it’s pretty good. We’ve been cleaning up. It feels good to clean up a community with all of this dirt and trash everywhere.”

“When we have some graffiti on, it just keeps happening,” a man at the event said. “It’s a cycle. Everybody wants to represent something, so when we have some graffiti in the area, it affects our corridor. It affects our small businesses.”

One man says he’s a believer in programs that helps the community, especially when it comes to inner city youth.

“They may have parents who work two, maybe even three, jobs or long shifts,” he said. “It gives them programs to be in while their parents are away at work, instead of just being at home or being on the streets with nothing to do.”

“A lot of them tell me they don’t litter no more,” another event-goer said. “They used to litter before, but working here, they know how hard it is to pick up the trash, so they stopped littering.”

“It shows that this community is not being left behind,” a man said. “The community does care about it. The Coalition for Responsible Community Development is very proud to assist with the clean up.”

Another woman in the community praised the coalition’s efforts to keep the city street clean.

“That’s one of the reasons I moved into this area because when I was looking for places, I noticed how clean and well-kept the neighborhood is,” she said. “That’s directly due to CRCD that has a youth program and a street cleaning program.”

Central Avenue Farmer’s Market offers flu shots

Listen to the audio story:


Kaitlin Parker, Laurel Galanter and Stephanie Sherman contributed to this report.

It is that time of year again. No, not Thanksgiving, we’re talking about flu season. This morning at the Central Avenue Farmer’s Market, a group called the Immunize Los Angeles Families Coalition offered free flu shots for community members. The line for shots started to form before the nurses even arrived.

About 20 men and women, many of them pushing strollers or holding young children, gathered around a folding table to begin filling out immunization forms. South Los Angeles resident was one of the first in line. She was here hoping to protect her health and was pleased that the flu shot was free.

South Los Angeles resident: We need the flu shot. Now, we don’t have no job, and it’s hard to pay for the flu shot.

She has also worried about the health of her son.

South Los Angeles resident: And I have to give him the flu shot, too, because I don’t want him to get worse. Now, it’s not too bad because it’s cold, but maybe later, it’s going to be very cold.

Flu season can last from as early as October to late May.