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Community News: Southwest

BALDWIN HILLS : Sprucing Up 'Jungle'--and Its Image

July 18, 1993|ERIN J. AUBRY

Los Angeles may seem like a jungle to some, but don't tell that to property owner Ralph Isaacs.

Isaacs, president of the Baldwin Village Apartment Owners Assn., is tired of what he views as the bum rap accorded Baldwin Village--an area popularly known as "The Jungle" that consists almost entirely of apartments that have long been associated with crime and drug-trafficking at the foot of Baldwin Hills.

As part of an effort to improve the area's image, the association last week hosted a banquet in Ladera Heights to honor two members for best improving their properties over the past year.

"The main thing we try to do is improve the negative image of the place," said Isaacs, who speaks with a sense of urgency. "Image is our No. 1 problem. So the crux of our group is hands-on ownership."

Isaacs, a retired schoolteacher who owns five buildings in the village, formed the association five years ago to upgrade the area's reputation and address the fact that too many apartment complex owners were absentee and neglectful of their properties.

The association has just 36 members in an area that has about 300 apartment complex owners, but Isaacs is working hard to increase participation. "People tell me I'm lucky to get 10% response," said Isaacs, who has sent letters to all owners in the area, "but we want more."

The group meets bimonthly at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza to discuss beautifying the neighborhoods roughly bounded by Rodeo Road on the north, Stocker Street on the south, La Brea Avenue on the west and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the northeast.

Owner Bernadine Towns, who along with her husband, Walter, was one of the members honored last week, said the couple typically refurbish complexes with their own family in mind. "I grew up near 107th and Central, and I know what L.A. used to look like," she said. "We want to keep up properties so well that we could move our own families in. It's important to keep things nice for the children growing up in the area."

The couple spruced up their Gelber Place properties with paint, fences, parking enclosures and mercury-vapor lights.

They and other association members say that although drug-related crime is still a problem in the village, it does not occur as often as some perceive.

"The word of mouth is that it's a larger crime (area) than it actually is," said Capt. Garrett Zimmon of the Police Department's Southwest Division, who works closely with Isaacs and the association. "When the apartment owners do things like improve lighting, that helps remove the threat of crime, or what people perceive as crime: loiterers, abandoned cars, old sofas on the street. This group has really taken responsibility for improving the quality of life there."

In addition to property improvements, the association contributes funds to various groups, including an annual donation to Jim Gilliam Park, a sprawling site next to the village that sponsors several children's programs. At the banquet last week, the association presented park representatives with a check for $1,500. Members pay annual $100 dues, which go toward donations and special events.

It is money well spent, said Walter Towns, who believes the organization does collectively what each apartment owner should do individually. "Every one of us has to take responsibility," he said. "Otherwise, it all falls apart."

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