The World Stage Performance Gallery, an iconic cultural institution in Leimert Park, is being threatened with eviction.
In what some community members are calling an attempt to gentrify the Crenshaw District’s Leimert Park neighborhood in preparation for the forthcoming Crenshaw light rail line Leimert Park Station, eight long-time village businesses have recently been informed that their leases will not be renewed or have been served eviction-related notices, including The World Stage.
A community rally will be held at The World Stage Performance Gallery, 4344 Degnan Blvd., on Saturday, Oct. 19, at 1 p.m.
According to The World Stage’s board president Wiley Brown, soon after the city council voted to approve the Crenshaw Line on May 22, the eviction notices began to arrive. “It’s unethical, and frankly, shameful that the women and men, the culturally-aware business owners who helped to make Leimert Park a cultural landmark for the African American community, are being forced out at a time when the Crenshaw Line Leimert Park Station is going to bring unparalleled business opportunities to the area. The city leaders cannot let this happen,” Brown said.
Brown and community stakeholders organized a meeting with 10th District City Councilman Herb Wesson, who failed to show, but later his chief deputy Deron Williams arrived. According to Jazz singer and World Stage board member Dwight Trible, who was at the meeting, Williams agreed to:
Organize a meeting with the property owners who were seeking to evict the long-time African American tenants and those being forced out;
Work through the city council to designate Leimert Park as a cultural landmark;
Work to help finance a “light and signage package” which would bring business-friendly neon-lights and attractive signage for Leimert Park businesses and;
According to Trible, when the stakeholders tried to contact Wesson’s office to follow up on the meeting, initially, their phone calls were not returned and, ultimately, a Wesson staffer confessed that “they had hit a roadblock.”
“I was upset that Wesson was not at the stakeholder meeting, but chief deputy Williams looked us all in the eye and seemed so genuinely concerned. He said that he was from the community, and he would not standby and let this happen. That’s why I was so shocked when Wesson’s office completely dismissed us when we called to follow up on their promises to Leimert Park. The stakeholders in this community are facing an existential crises and Herb Wesson, our elected representative, has turned his back on us,” Trible said.
Apparently spurned by Wesson, The World Stage is in the middle of an emergency capital campaign. It is taking donations through its website (theworldstage.org) in an effort to raise $25,000, while simultaneously working on a long-range strategic financial plan.
“The owners are not speaking or negotiating with any of the tenents in the area. We don’t even know who the new owners are. Everyone is now leasing on a month-to-month basis, and we are trying to work this out because we dont want to have to move out of Leimert Park,” said Conney Williams, artistic director of the World Stage. “We have even been working with elected officials in attempts to get the space recognized as a cultural landmark. Aside from raising the funds, we are trying to figure out our financial plan moving forward.”
The World Stage executive director said the funds are largely being gathered to put towards relocation, if it comes to that, and to otherwise have the money to keep the organization’s classes, workshops, and programs running as usual.
The World Stage is only one of the many business that has been affected by this.
Jinga Jinga at 3347 1/2 W. 43rd Place, idenitified as a Jazz lounge that also teaches African drumming and spoken word, reached the end of its lease this month. “It’s not an eviction,” said owner Nate-El. “They’re not renewing our lease. They are forcing us out.”
That sentiment is shared by a multitide of other business owners who claim their buildings were under new ownership before they heard anything about it. African Heritage & Antique Collection, Zambezi Bazaar, Sika, and Gallery Plus—all located on Degnan Blvd. along with the World Stage—are only a handful of businesses that are waiting to hear the fate of their livelyhoods.
And this is not the first time the shopkeepers have faced this situation. In 2002, a new landlord purchased village property and proceeded to raise rents. At the time, the World Stage was also one of the businesses impacted. However, they were able to stay in the village.
Artist Kisasi Ramesess and hair stylist Steward Clemons of Venusian Locks were not so lucky. Both were forced to move out of the village.