Across at least three decades and quite probably much longer, Central Avenue served as the social, economic and entertainment hub of Los Angeles.
Some have even called it the West Coast counterpart to the Harlem Renaissance.
Anyone who was or aspired to be anybody made sure their face was seen on this street. There were doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and of course musician’s who called Central home or their “home away from home,” and the amalgamation of people and sense of hope and accomplishment often associated with this boulevard on L.A.’s East Side produced a rhythm and pace that was unique. In fact, the community was so vibrant that it even had its own “mayor.”
The Central Avenue Jazz Festival celebrates that distinctiveness.
“For the past 13 years, the Central Avenue Jazz Festival has served as a community-based celebration of the rich culture of the “Avenue” as it was known in its heyday during the 1920s through 1940s. The festival was born out of that page of history.
“Central Avenue was the jazz hot spot–the heart of a growing cultural movement. It was where legends came to stay, play, and mingle–jazz and blues greats like Billie Holiday and Nat King Cole. It is this significant history that we embrace and celebrate annually at the festival,” said Jan Perry, the councilmember who represents the Central Avenue community.
Perry’s office is sponsoring the annual jazz fest, which for the first time in years is not being spearheaded by the Dunbar Economic Development Corporation (EDC). A driving force that had been singularly focused on revitalizing this historic area, for so long, the Dunbar EDC is undergoing changes.
But several board members from the non-profit have stepped in to form an organizing committee for the festival, which Perry called “a wonderful opportunity to come together as a community and celebrate one of the most historically significant streets in South Los Angeles. . . For me, the Central Avenue Jazz Festival embodies the passion, history and great potential of the Ninth District.”
Perry called Central Avenue the backbone of the Ninth District, and pointed out the various projects that are in progress that will return vibrancy to a street, which was once trod by many of the major music stars of the era.
Among the projects are a Ninth District city hall, which is under construction adjacent to the historic Dunbar Hotel, and represents a $9 million investment in the community. Additionally, ground was just broken on a mixed use development at the corner of Adams Boulevard and Central that will feature 80 units of housing including affordable and family apartments and a new Fresh and Easy grocery store.