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CURBSIDE L.A.

Black History In L.a.

February 08, 1993|CECILIA RASMUSSEN

Central Avenue, once the hub of Los Angeles' black culture, is home to several landmarks, including the fabled Dunbar Hotel and the original Golden State Mutual Live Insurance Co. building. But roles African-Americans have played in the region's development extend far beyond Central. Here are some other historic sites.

1) VAL VERDE

* Santa Clarita Valley, roughly bounded by Interstate 5, California 126 and Hasley Canyon and San Martinez roads

The community began in the mid-1920s as kind of a black Palm Springs. Entertainers such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Della Reese and Billy Eckstein visited the rural summer retreat and occasionally gave impromptu concerts at the Val Verde Park. It lost some of its luster in the late 1960s when other, once-segregated vacation spots dropped their color barriers. Eventually, farm workers moved into the cabins.

2) BUNCHE HALL

* UCLA, 405 Hilgard Ave., Los Angeles

Ralph J. Bunche was the first black American to win a Nobel Prize, capturing the Peace Prize for his efforts to end a Middle East war in 1950. He attended John Adams Junior High School, Jefferson High School and UCLA before earning his doctorate at Harvard and beginning his career as a diplomat. The building named for him is on the northeast side of the campus.

3) SAKS FIFTH AVENUE

* 9600 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills

Local black architect Paul R. Williams designed the Art Moderne-style store in 1937 and the Los Angeles County Courthouse at 1st and Hill streets in 1958. Williams, who died in 1980, also designed the Tudor mansion in Pasadena used in the "Batman" TV series, the Second Baptist Church in South-Central Los Angeles and homes for several stars, including Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant and Lon Chaney Sr. Williams became the first black member of the American Institute of Architects.

4) MUSEUM IN BLACK

* 4331 Degnan Blvd., Los Angeles.

On a quiet block between 43rd Street and 43rd Place in Leimert Park, museum owner Brian Breye has a dazzling array of African masks and black memorabilia.

5) THE OAK TREE

* 1100 block, South Hobart Street, Los Angeles

Cornelius Johnson, a black athlete who won gold medals in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, was snubbed by Adolf Hitler when the Nazi leader refused to shake hands with blacks. The Olympic Committee presented team members with three-inch sapling oak trees. Today, Johnson's oak has grown to 40 feet and is visible from the street.

6) BIDDY MASON PARK

* 333 S. Spring St., Los Angeles

A former slave, nurse and midwife, Biddy Mason purchased this land for $250 more than a century ago and opened a refuge for black families. A striking 8-by-81-foot mural in the tree-shaded mini-park and rest area memorializes Mason's long and humanitarian life.

7) FIRE STATION NO. 30

* 1401 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles

Opened as a segregated facility in 1924, this dilapidated, scarred old building has sat vacant since its closure in 1980. It is the city's oldest fire station that was completely staffed by African-Americans.

8) CALIFORNIA EAGLE

* 4071-4075 S. Central Ave., Los Angeles

From 1879 to 1964, the California Eagle, dedicated to improving the lives of African-Americans, was the longest-publishing black newspaper on the West Coast. It began as the Advocate, and its masthead read: "Devoted to the cause of good government and the advance of the Afro-American." The newspaper led the fight to gain black support for women's suffrage in California in 1911. Later, the paper was renamed the California Eagle, and journalist and labor activist Charlotta Bass became editor. Today, S & J Appliances occupies the site.

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