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

Listen to the audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

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.

Preschool: A possible answer to Los Angeles’s academic troubles

By Alex Abels

The final story of a four-part series on Jefferson Park and the changing urban neighborhood.

At 1 p.m. on a Thursday in April, four-year-old Tony Williams appears to be living every kid’s dream – whizzing down the slide at the Leslie N. Shaw Park with a goofy smile plastered on his face. Most kids stuck in a classroom would envy Tony on this warm afternoon in Jefferson Park. Unfortunately, Tony is actually the envious one – he wants to go to preschool but can’t.

Tony’s father, Paul, who was recently laid off, thought he had explored all of his preschool options in the Jefferson Park area. He could find nothing in his price range or with an open seat for his child. “There’s only so much I can do,” says Williams. “He should be at school learning to read and count and making friends.”

This is a common problem, not only for residents of Jefferson Park, but for all of Los Angeles. Preschools, especially quality preschools, are out of reach for about half of all four-year-olds in Los Angeles County, mainly due to lack of availability. With 10 million residents, LA County is one of the most heavily populated in America. There are currently more than 155,000 four-year-olds living in Los Angeles, but only about 70,000 licensed spaces exist for them in preschools.

Jefferson Park faces these problems and is even worse off than the average neighborhood in LA. The proportion of residents under the age of 10 – almost 20 percent – is among the county’s highest, according to census data. So with a multitude of children ready for preschool and severe lack of facilities, residents of Jefferson Park have a dilemma.

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Jefferson Branch Library: Never judge a book by its cover

By Alex Abels

The third of a four-part series on Jefferson Park and the changing urban neighborhood.

imageThe Jefferson Branch Library, open for nearly a century, is a building that has witnessed the changing landscape and make-up of the Jefferson Park community. It is one of the few buildings in the neighborhood placed on the National Registrar of Historic Places, recognizing its early 20th century Spanish-style architecture.

Over time, the functions of the American public library have changed, particularly found in urban communities. In some locations, patrons use the library’s computers to look for jobs. Homeless people use it as a respite from the elements. Some locations increasingly use it as a community center. Virtually all libraries have expanded their scope in one way or another, and the Jefferson Park branch is no exception.

Named in honor of Vassie D. Wright, founder of the first Black History celebration in Los Angeles in 1949, the library has long offered the surrounding community a rich menu of activities. Wright began the Our Authors Study Club, devoted to studying Black History which later launched California’s first Negro History Week, later transformed into the Black History Month that is nationally recognized today. The Our Authors Study Club still meets at the Jefferson Branch Library the third Saturday of every month, often working to raise money for college scholarships for students, one of a library’s newer functions in a new century.

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A neighborhood icon survives the swirl of urban change

By Alex Abels

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

imageAlmost every community has one – a place to hang out, grab a bite, see friends and feel safe – think Central Perk in “Friends” or the Regal Beagle in “Three’s Company.” Places like these aren’t always portrayed in the media for predominantly black and Hispanic communities, but Jefferson Park has what many in the community call their “black Cheers”: Harold and Belle’s, a family owned Creole restaurant.

“The people here, it’s almost like family, ok. Everybody sitting at this bar, we know each other, we look after each other. We buy each other drinks, we buy each other food, it just depends what day it is. It’s almost like our cheers,” says Tony Sargent, who has lived in Jefferson Park for 40 years and has been a regular at Harold and Belle’s for most of that time.

Harold and Belle’s opened where it stands now in Jefferson Park in 1969 by Harold and Belle Legaux, a Creole couple who moved to the Los Angeles area from Louisiana. Many other Creole families from the seventh district of New Orleans were moving into Jefferson Park at this time, and the restaurant served as a small gathering place with a juke box and go-go dancers. The Legaux’s son took over in 1979, expanding the restaurant and making the Creole menu a bit more upscale. The restaurant has recently transitioned to the care of their grandson, Ryan Legaux, the current general manager of the restaurant.

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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.

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