A recent decision by the Los Angeles City Council has left Booker T. Burgess and some of his neighbors asking the Shakespearean question, "What's in a name?"
For more than five years, Burgess, 72, says he has felt trapped in a place named The Jungle, a tough, crime-ridden community with a reputation as a haven for violent, drug-dealing street gangs.
"It's been bad, it's not a good place for a senior citizen like me," Burgess said. "People shooting each other, selling drugs on the streets and then threatening to rob you if you go outside. Most of the time, I'm afraid to leave the house."
Part of the problem, some say, has been the negative image the name The Jungle casts on the community of 10,000 people living in two-story apartment houses just north of Baldwin Hills.
The City Council decided a name change would help, and voted recently to rename the area Baldwin Village--a moniker that draws on the positive image of the more affluent Baldwin Hills neighborhood. But some residents, like Burgess, are skeptical.
"A new name don't mean nothing," Burgess said. "It sounds good, but we need more police protection."
Another resident, Prindelle Thomas, agreed. "It doesn't make any difference what you call it," he said. "You can paint over a cancer, but you haven't cured the disease."
Tom Reddy Bailey, who has been robbed in broad daylight in front of his home, said he had already stopped telling people he lived in The Jungle, even before the official name change. "As soon as you say that name, they say 'Oh, you live over there. We don't go over there,"' he said. "I just say I live on Gibraltar Avenue, and I don't say anything else.
"I never liked the name 'The Jungle.' Baldwin Village sounds a lot better. But we need more than just a new name."
City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, whose district includes the neighborhood, proposed the name change to the council. "Of course it's not enough," she said. "It was never intended to be enough. But it is a step to show city commitment toward helping the community get back on its feet."
The area was nicknamed The Jungle more than 30 years ago because of lush, tropical foliage surrounding the apartment buildings. The name took on a more sinister meaning years later, as The Jungle gained a reputation as a neighborhood where landlords did not maintain their property, and drugs were sold openly in the alleys.
Some people think the new name, Baldwin Village, will boost the neighborhood's image because of the semantic link to Baldwin Hills, an upper middle-class neighborhood perched on a hillside.
That idea does not disturb Joseph Gardner, president of Baldwin Hills Estates Homeowners Assn. "I don't have any problem with them using the name," he said. "We only hope that the name change will result in a positive image for their community and ours."
Road to Change
Eric Crumpton, an apartment owner and president of the Crenshaw Apartment Improvement Program, an organization of about 75 landlords and tenants, said neighborhood has just begun to travel along the road toward changing its image.
Crumpton has been using the name Baldwin Village for months when discussing apartments with prospective tenants.
"I receive calls all the time from people who want apartments, but when I say it is in Baldwin Village (and give the address), they say 'Oh, that's The Jungle,' and they say they are not interested," he said.
"I would like people to have a greater sense of security and safety because they live here, not less," he added.
To accomplish that, he said, the police have to provide greater protection, landlords have to screen tenants and take better care of their properties, and tenants must take more pride in the community.
Crumpton said it took years for the negative image to develop, and it might take years to reverse it.
Now that the name change has been approved, Baldwin Village will be listed as a distinct community in the city's General Plan, and signs will be posted to identify the area.
Galanter said the move to rename the area dates back four years to a period just before the Olympics, when community leaders decided to seek a new image for the neighborhood, which is bounded by La Brea Avenue, Marlton Avenue, Rodeo Road, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Santo Thomas Drive. The effort picked up steam when construction started nearby on the $120-million Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, which, when completed later this year, will be a fully enclosed mall with more than 100 stores.
Galanter said there have been other, more concrete measures, too. The city opened a police substation at Jim Gilliam Recreation Center to provide additional police patrols in the neighborhood. Residents say the increased police presence has reduced crime. In addition, the city's Housing Authority announced that it would spend $400,000 to restore a city-owned apartment complex on Gibraltar Avenue that has been vacant for 15 years, posing an eyesore in the community.
Such measures have led to renewed hope in the area that real change is possible. Resident LaRitha Vaughn, 27, thinks the new name will help foster change by giving the community a better self-image.
Baldwin Village "sounds classier," she said. "Maybe people will think better about themselves. Maybe it will help their frame of mind."