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Community News: Mid-City

MID-CITY : St. Elmo Village Plans Renovation

February 28, 1993|JAKE DOHERTY

Above the fishpond inside the art oasis of St. Elmo Village is a sign bearing the creed: "If it is to be, it is up to me."

As residents and supporters of the village plan its renovation, it's clear they have taken that message to heart.

The Design Professionals' Coalition, organized after last spring's riots, recently finished a workshop in which architects, planners and engineers volunteered their time to come up with blueprints for the renovation and remodeling of the village in the 4800 block of St. Elmo Drive.

Coalition members interviewed resident artists and village art workshop participants before outlining the renovations for the 10 circa-1920s frame bungalows and two garages, said Michaele Pride-Wells, coalition president.

"We were able to get a lot of expertise together for a short period of time to produce something through a process that creates so much energy," Pride-Wells said. The coalition's mission is to provide professional services to low-income communities and to encourage the community to plan and rebuild, she said.

The idea of bringing people together around a common vision fits well with the philosophy of St. Elmo Village. Rozzell Sykes and his nephew, Roderick, have been doing that with their art since they moved into the area in the 1960s.

They built sculptures of the junk they found in the yards and planted succulents and lush green shrubs. As more artists came, paintings went up on the sides of the houses and the courtyard soon looked as if a rainbow had crashed to earth.

Scheduled and spontaneous workshops for children and adults in photography, painting, graphics, music, writing and computers help people discover "their inner voice," said artist and instructor Talita Long.

However, the workshops are "never just about art," Long said. She often talks with the kids about "what's going on in their lives."

Thousands of visitors to the village, its workshops and gallery have been greeted by the self-help message painted in the courtyard: "If you live in a shoe box, brighten it up, be proud of it." Everyone must fix up his or her corner of the world, Roderick Sykes said.

The village, which became a nonprofit corporation in 1971, is close to securing a $270,000 loan from the city Housing Preservation and Production Department and has attracted the interest of the Southern California Gas Co.

Through a pilot program, the gas company will train about 15 low-income residents to do much of the weatherization work and repairs and will replace worn-out appliances free of charge, said Art O'Daly, the utility's community development manager.

Jacqueline Alexander, an artist and resident, said a fund-raising campaign is being planned to pay off the loan once it is received. Support for the village is important, she said, because children from many schools visit St. Elmo to get their creative juices flowing at a time when programs around the district suffer cutbacks.

"Creativity and art save lives," Alexander said. "Once your creative side is an integral part of your life, you don't think about doing other things that will get you in trouble just for a dollar."

St. Elmo Village information: (213) 931-3409; information for the Design Professionals' Coalition: (213) 380-1751.

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