But it’s coming…
The entire city of Los Angeles is undergoing a cultural re-gentrification, driven by the economics of arts and culture. Why would the most cultural spot in the black community for the last three decades be exempted?
The merchants and artists and gadflys and other eclectics that make up the cultural gumbo we call “Leimert Park Village” have witnessed its flavor fade—not because of their own volition.
Well, maybe some of it is…
Leimert Park Village goes through these property flips every ten years or so. In the early 1990s, when the cultural side of “the Village” was at its peak, it was also when “the AR-teest” were at their most difficult. Most of these artists could have owned their properties over their near thirty year engagements. A few do, but most don’t.
Most of these properties have been flipped twice in the last 20 years. The artists go through these “eviction threats” every ten years or so. In previous times, some were able to work through it while others fell to the side and left the village. Each time, the cultural aspect of the village faded and Leimert Park lost some of its shine. This time is different. It could lose all its shine—for a new type of shine, a new kind of culture flavor. There is nothing to stop it.
Never before has Leimert Park, or its cultural eclectics, had to deal with a $1.2 billion dollar infra-structure investment in the area.
Once the transit line was converted from a bus line to a rail line, the property grab began.
The regional planners knew it.
The property speculators knew it.
City Hall knew it.
How else can an arms broker buy up three pieces of property under the nose of the community and remain invisible in plain site? Everybody knew what was coming except the people who lived, worked and played there. Now they know, and it may be too little, too late.
The “village” was built around actress Marla Gibbs’ investment in the community in the mid-1980s. When Marla Gibbs bought “the block,” which was the Vision Theater and the buildings on the northeast end at 43rd and Degnan, everything in between received a residual benefit—including those absentee landowners who had, by and large, given up on their “South Central” properties. They were just landbanking—“prospecting” for future opportunities.
When Marla came to the area, other artists and culturalists followed, a cultural renaissance was born and the absentee property owners hit “paydirt.”
However, the economic realities of art and culture require philanthropy and benefactors—something the artists in Leimert Park have never had. It’s not that resources haven’t come to Leimert Park Village, to try to help the merchants and the artists. It’s that the resources have never been well received. And the window may have now closed.
When the City, through the then Councilperson (now Supervisor), sought to provide financing to Marla and the artists (including the World Stage) to buy their buildings, they declined (saying they didn’t want “the White Man’s money”—for real). So the City pulled back.
When Marla lost her buildings to foreclosure, the City bought them from the bank. The community could have saved it. Marla was selling shares—a dollar a share—to the community, and couldn’t raise the money. When Marla lost, the whole community lost and it’s been downhill ever since for the artists and the merchants.
Ten years ago, commentator Tavis Smiley was prepared to make a significant investment on the Marla Gibbs site. As the one responsible for getting Eso Won bookstore to move into Leimert Park, we knew that increased activity in the area relied on a combination of commerce and culture. It was an attempt to address the economic side of the equation. Most of the artists didn’t understand the deal. They didn’t want “corporate interests” taking over the village, “like Larchmont.” The village could have been the Grove, before the Grove was built. That’s where all their traffic has gone. So, the City pulled back again and Tavis exited the deal.
Again, Leimert Park was left hanging despite putting a Business Improvement District in place. This time, a newly approved metro rail stop is the driver of the area’s new interest.
That—and the eventual completion of the Vision Theater, is what has caused this new land grab. The Vision Theater, whose renovation started before the downtown Disney Concert Hall and which has taken three times as long to finish, will bring a new, younger, sophisticated urbanite to the area that is moving around the city. Just look at other parts of the city to see the trend. The Art District on the other side of downtown. Chinatown. Culver City.
Just drive down Washington Blvd. and Jefferson Blvd. Art Galleries, four and five to a block. Drive down Central Avenue. Central looks better than Crenshaw does now. The Art and Jazz renaissance throughout the city that has free jazz sets and free arts exhibits all over the city—and, of course, black people are there. But they are multi-cultural gathering reflective of the expanding demography of the city. Why wouldn’t Leimert Park become multi-cultural?
Well, it’s about to.
The new property owners are “multi-cultural.” They’re not African American, and they understand the economics of arts and culture. They also have no obligation to keep the village “black.” They are positioning themselves for when Crenshaw Blvd. will be shut down under rail construction. Leimert Park is being modeled after Larchmont Blvd.
Leimert will be the new Larchmont.
The question then becomes, will those who are a part of it now—be a part of it then? Or will they fade to black?
Leimert Park is gone as we know it. But “the village” is not going away. It’s just going to take on a different flavor—21st Century “global” flair. Just like the rest of the city.
Can Leimert Park’s current occupants keep their flair up within this new culture shift?
They will have to compete (meaning come up with money). Or they will be gone too.
Leimert Park Village is undergoing a “flavor change.” Who will be part of that flavor?
Economics not withstanding.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist and author of, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.