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Destination Guide showcases famous history of Black LA

9/22/2021, 3:27 p.m.
From the glimmer of Angelus Funeral Home to the grandeur of the Watts Towers..
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From the glimmer of Angelus Funeral Home to the grandeur of the Watts Towers—and everything in between—South Los Angeles is in the midst of a renaissance. You can witness it in striking new construction taking place. You can sense it in a renewed interest in one of the most venerable communities within the City Of Angels.

Usually, it’s the historic Central Avenue Corridor that draws the most attention. That was the original home of Black Los Angeles, especially the transplants following World War II. And while the glory days of jazz clubs, department stores and parade routes have long since faded, there is a new drive to return not only this stretch of fame but other areas to prominence and pride.

The Los Angeles South Chamber of Commerce wants to get in on the “ground floor” of this revitalization. They’ve come out with a unique Destination Guide that, they hope, will attract visitors to the region and infuse not only monetary benefits, but place the area among the most popular landing spots for tourists.

“Our Destination Guide is a resource for visitors to an area that often receives bad press, but is filled with unique and historic points of interest that are too often overlooked,” said Arnetta Mack, communications director for the Chamber. “We noticed that the official Los Angeles visitors guide omitted South LA. Most of the images of South LA come from Hollywood. Hip Hop music. That’s not all we are. There’s a rich history here filled with arts and culture.”

Mack, along with Chamber president Dexter McCloud, felt it was an opportune time to showcase the vaunted history and positive changes taking place in the much-maligned area situated primarily south of the Santa Monica Freeway. They want people to take the Metro Rail. Take the bus. Utilize rideshare. If practical, ride your bike over. Whichever mode of transportation, they’ve highlighted some stops for a leisurely afternoon guaranteed to peak an interest for more.

The Central Avenue Corridor, for instance, is home to both the historic Dunbar Hotel and the Lincoln Theater. Ongoing refurbishment at these two sites is designed to return them to their past glory. The corridor was once a favorite location for a long list of notable entertainers, ranging from Count Basie to Bing Crosby. In a nod to this history, each summer the Central Avenue Jazz Festival attracts music lovers from across the Southland.

There’s so much to see and learn. One high school nearby serves as a veritable who’s who of some of the most famous and influential African-Americans of the 20th Century. You can visit the boyhood home of Nobel Laureate Dr. Ralph Bunch. You can see where music legends like Barry White, Etta James and Johnny “Guitar” Watson learned their chops. Since the revitalization of Downtown LA, there are more visitors to the area, learning about its broad background.

“The Destination Guide is highlighting these and many more locations that will be of great interest to not only visitors, but to the new residents of the area,” Mack said. “An important part is to highlight the business sector. It is thriving. With more convenient modes of transportation available, we want to take advantage of the expected tourism.”

That “expected tourism” may arise from the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics. Urban planners are already preparing the Slauson Corridor Project, a running and cycling trackway stretching west from the Los Angeles River to the Crenshaw/LAX Metro line. Officials hope for a 2024 opening.

Perhaps the most remarkable redevelopment is taking place in Jefferson Park. As a major selling point for tourists, the guide points out all of the sporting venues, museums and the USC campus, which for decades has welcomed some of the nation’s brightest young Black minds and future leaders.

The guide lists historic Leimert Park as a must-see destination point. There, visitors will find the newly-restored Vision Theatre, long known for music, performance and art exhibits, and exceptional Afro-Caribbean cuisine. Just a bit west of this area is Baldwin Hills, now home to the largest population of affluent African-Americans in Los Angeles. Somewhere tucked within these environs, tourists may catch a glimpse of the childhood home of Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex.

Not to be left out, West Adams—the old “Sugar Hill” area of Black professionals—holds a significant place within the Destination Guide. The Chamber hopes that visitors will love viewing the beautiful Victorian, Italian Renaissance, and California Craftsman-style homes, along with the Peace Awareness Labyrinth and Gardens. The Underground Museum there is expected to open in 2022 and will serve as an arts and cultural center.

Guided tours of these and other areas are not yet available, but they are “in the works,” according to Mack, via future Chamber partnerships.

One unique section of the guide is “Our Heritage.” It’s designed to “unearth” the Black people and their stories that most people have never heard of. One example would be Biddy Mason, the former slave who in the mid-1800s literally walked from Utah to Spring Street in Downtown Los Angeles to serve as a nurse and midwife. She eventually founded the local African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“We are very excited about what the Destination Guide can do to encourage more interest in maintaining and attracting visitors to these and so many interesting places within Black Los Angeles,” Mack explained. “There is such a rich and storied history here. The Chamber will continue to focus on advocacy and community engagement in order to retain and present this history of Black Los Angeles for generations to come.”