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.

A new generation of Park and Rec Staff

By Steve Weingarten, People for Parks

imageGraduates of a Dept. of Labor training program in South L.A. and Hollywood get ready for the working world

Parks mean different things to different people. Children make a beeline for the swings and slides, young adults choose sides for half-court basketball games, and families enjoy scarce green space for cookouts. When Nick Pedreira looks at a park, the Marine Corps veteran sees his future.

Pedreira and dozens of other Green Team members have learned to build and maintain urban parks in an 8-week program funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. Training was provided in classrooms, at a variety of public areas, and at Community-School Parks (CSPs) run by the L.A. Unified School District and People for Parks (PFP).

On Nov. 15, PFP and the Coalition for Responsible Community Development (CRCD) hosted a ceremony in South L.A. for Green Team graduates, who are now certified in skills applicable to private and public recreation facilities for creating and sustaining green spaces and maintaining recreational equipment.

CRCD Youth Development Director Noemi Soto told trainees that their graduation will unlock greater accomplishments, and said she was reminded of rapper Tupac Shakur’s verse, “I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”

PFP President Jack Foley recounted his own stormy youth as the son of a single mother in Northern California, including fights and getting expelled from high school before going on to earn a doctorate and teach at Cal State University Northridge. “Life is a long distance run. You can change. Connect with the people that can help you.”

Albert Areola described how proud he was to graduate. “I have messed up enough during my life. Now, at 20, I feel I have accomplished something. I thank CRCD for helping me to make my family happy.”

imageGreen Team member Kimberly Gafford receives her certification and diploma from CRCD’s Sal Ybarra (center) and Alex Martinez. Gafford developed new skills — and muscles — during more than 150 hours of classroom and hands-on training to create and maintain parks and recreation programs. Photo by Steve Weingarten

Graduate Kimberly Gafford said she developed new skills – and muscles – in the program. “Landscaping is hard. You have to put your love into it. They had us filling wheelbarrows with soil and moving it across the street.”

Gafford is looking for a job now, but is concerned about being taken seriously in a field largely dominated by men. Meanwhile, she is working on the CRCD outreach team and studying speech. “I’m shy,” she said, “but I think that will help me communicate better.”

Joi Chilton was working for Jack in the Box before the training program. “The skills we learned are awesome. I like landscaping, and I love painting and finishing.” Chilton is now working for ADT alarm systems while she looks for work as a painter.

CSPs are landscaped playgrounds providing a healthier environment for students during the week and a safe spot for the whole neighborhood to enjoy during weekends and school breaks. Late last year, as PFP and the school district were putting the finishing touches on their first two CSPs, the Department of Labor agreed to pay at-risk youth while they learned to maintain the unconventional green spaces.

CRCD and another training partner, the Hollywood Beautification Team (HBT), recruited 18- to 24-year-olds from the neighborhoods around Trinity Street Elementary in South L.A. and Vine Street Elementary in Hollywood. Candidates had to pass a background check, but a high school diploma or GED weren’t required.

Trainees got their hands dirty learning the newest techniques in landscaping, pesticides and nutrition, including how to build bio-swales to prevent water from running off and redirecting it back into the water table. The 165-hour curriculum also included career strategies and life skills, such as handling a checking account and managing a budget.

For example, Florida-based Scott Burton, who educates experienced park professionals, gave a 3-hour training to the HBT Green Team on inspecting play equipment, including state and federal requirements for fall protection and other safety issues. Trainee Kathryn Loutzenagiser said Burton “taught us about all the dangers in a park for little kids, and all the things you can do to make parks safer.”

Miguel Cowo has worked with HBT since his senior year in high school, but hadn’t considered urban forestry as a calling until a landscape architect spoke to the class about how cities are going green. “All around us people are planting trees and creating parks, and it came into focus that this could be a great job for us.”

Angel de León said Green Team members are remaking neighborhoods “like you would want to live there. We are making a difference, whether it’s removing graffiti or planting trees. People thank us when we finish a job.”

Loutzenagiser, Cowo and De León all attended Vine Street Elementary as children. At the graduation ceremony, PFP’s Nancy Matthews told the trainees that the public-private partnership with the Labor Department is one way the government can help. “But you guys are the life of this program. You touched lives, communities and people, and have become role models for younger kids in the community.”

For more information about the Green Team program, contact Steve Weingarten of People for Parks at (626) 675-2156.

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.”

Historic South Los Angeles neighborhood breaks ground on new housing project

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News:


University of Southern California alum and renowned Los Angeles architect Paul Williams had a dream for the African-American community around the historic 28th Street district in South Los Angeles.

Williams, the first practicing African American architect west of the Mississippi River, built a YMCA in 1927 that would provide housing and basic social needs for young African American men starting out in the city.

Over the past 80 years, while Williams’ intricate Spanish architecture has remained the signature of the community’s aging center, the late architect’s vision has slowly withered away.

After his death in 1980, the YMCA discontinued providing housing for low-income residents and, in effect, the community around the district began to struggle socially and economically.

Today, though, with the help of Councilwoman Jan Perry, Clifford Beers Housing and the Coalition Responsible Community Development organization, Williams’ YMCA is getting a breath of new life, as ground was broken to begin construction on a new housing project inside the building.

“It’s almost as if he [Williams] is here with us today,” Perry said. “His life touched our lives in so many ways, and that still continues to resonate.”

The project will provide the surrounding community with 49 new apartment spaces aimed at helping low-income residents, mental health patients and emancipated youth.

Perry believes it is the first step in creating a sense of stability in the neighborhood.

“We just need to be able to help people live stable lives,” said Perry. “If we stabilize the people who are in the greatest need, we actually life up the entire community.”

Although the YMCA has teamed up with organizations in the community like Youth Build to promote education, job training and healthy lifestyle choices, members like 19-year-old Joe Serrano believes the new plans help to fulfill an even greater need with the area’s children.

“Today means a lot to the community because there are a lot of people with no homes out there, no where to go and no where to live,” Serrano said. “This is something that is needed in our community.”

The new 28th Street Apartments are set to be unveiled to the community in June 2012.

More stories on housing in South Los Angeles:

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City Planning postpones ruling on luxury apartment complex