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Boulevard Cafe--A Hub of Black L.A.

Crenshaw area: The restaurant serves the famous while being of service to African American community.

November 02, 1998|EDWARD J. BOYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

That meeting in 1965 or '66--Holoman isn't sure which--was his first entree into politics, "and the little bug took a bite out of me," he said.

He became a part-time administrative assistant in Unruh's Inglewood office while still working at Warner Lambert. He went on to spend five years with Unruh as a full-time staffer.

"Jess had a great, great influence and impact on my life," Holoman said. "He was not just a great politician. He was a great man, a caring guy."

But Unruh, who represented a racially changing district, was nothing if not practical.

"As a new guy on the staff, I was mentioning to Jess about organizing all the Democratic clubs--all the black organizations--so that we could really make a huge difference in supporting him," Holoman said.

Unruh told him: "Up to a point."

"What do you mean, 'Up to a point?' " Holoman asked.

"Frank, if you get them too organized and too powerful, they could kick my white ass out of office," Unruh said.

Holoman breaks out in laughter telling that story.

"Jess was responsible for most of the black legislators in California getting elected during that time--Merv Dymally, Bill Greene, Leon Ralph, Julian Dixon, myself."

A Run for the Legislature

Those years working for Unruh served Holoman well when he entered the Assembly in 1972. He was elected chairman of the freshman caucus that included such newcomers as Dixon, now a congressman, Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre and Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

After one term, Holoman decided to run for the state Senate, but lost to Nate Holden, now on the Los Angeles City Council. That race ended Holoman's political career. But practically every local, state and national Democratic politician has stopped at his restaurant at one time or another. He has become a more recognizable public figure than he ever was in the Assembly.

"I've been interviewed on television more than 30 times," he said. "The United States Information Agency sent journalists from 26 countries here to talk to me after the Rodney King verdict."

A Resource for the Media

Holoman's restaurant has become a quote factory for reporters who know they can fill their notebooks with reaction from the black community on any given story.

"During the O.J. Simpson trial, it was one of the places to be," said Jarrette Fellows, an editor at Los Angeles' Wave Newspapers. "A lot of movers and shakers and people in the know go there."

Writer and social commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson spends Sundays there with friends who "analyze everything, solve all the problems. . . . Needless to say, we leave the problems there just as unsolved as when we arrived."

When word spread that O.J. Simpson was at the restaurant after his acquittal, nearly 500 people, by some estimates, showed up outside. The curious also gathered, but in smaller numbers, when Rodney King stopped by.

"Here you find a mix of the famous and the infamous," barber Norman "Pee Wee" Bradley, a regular, said after finishing breakfast recently.

But for Charles Allen, who ran a video store a few doors from the cafe, Holoman "is the big draw."

"He spends so much time going from table to table, making you feel comfortable," Allen said.

Stella Holeman, executive director of the Black Women's Forum, said the restaurant "feels like home, smells like home and tastes like home."

The restaurant, Holoman said, is not the kind of place that could have been planned.

"It just happened," he said. "This has been some kind of a lifetime experience. I don't travel a lot. The world kind of comes to me."

But it may not be able to come to the same location much longer now that a proposal to redevelop the Santa Barbara Plaza is wending its way through the city bureaucracy.

Holoman has his hand in another restaurant, Frank's Place, on Rodeo Road on the approaches to Baldwin Hills. And his loyal regulars have no question about what they will do if the Boulevard Cafe is redeveloped out of existence.

Bob Boyd, 71, spoke for them all when he said: "We'll go with Frank wherever he goes."

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