Rapid change is taking place along Crenshaw Boulevard. And while the 23-mile thoroughfare stretching from historic Hancock Park to the cliffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula may not be as famous worldwide as its Hollywood cousins Sunset Boulevard and Hollywood Boulevard, there is a rich history that often goes untold.
Today, Crenshaw Boulevard is the certified spine of the Black community, but at its birth in 1904 it was mostly known for oil exploration. By the 1930s Leimert Park began to develop as a middle-class enclave marked by Spanish Revival homes. In 1947, the nation’s first shopping center (Broadway Crenshaw Plaza) opened to establish the boulevard as a thriving commercial corridor.
Through the years, the neighborhood has changed hands beginning with primarily White residents, then to a thriving Japanese community shortly after World War II, and transforming again into a Black middle-class community by the mid-1960s. Television coverage of the annual Kingdom Day Parade celebrating the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has brought Crenshaw Boulevard into the homes of persons around the world.
The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza is about to undergo a significant makeover over the next six years. Plans are in the works to add an office complex, a hotel, 1,000 residential units and more than 300,000 square feet of retail space. Already in place is the new Kaiser Permanente facility at Crenshaw Boulevard and Rodeo Road; the Crenshaw/LAX light rail will have a stop at Leimert Park and is scheduled to welcome its first passengers in 2019.
There has always been nightlife on Crenshaw Boulevard with musical acts in abundance at the old Mavericks Flat, Total Experience and the nearby Freddie Jet’s Pied Piper and The Parison Room nightclubs. Patrons of the Crenshaw nightlife often ended their evening with a hot meal at the coffee shop located inside the Japanese-owned Holiday Bowl. Some of the acts who performed along Crenshaw Boulevard included The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Ike and Tina Turner and Parliament-Funkadelic.
During the 1980s and ‘90s, Crenshaw Boulevard gained notoriety for being an epicenter of car culture, due in large part to music videos by west coast rappers and in films like “Boyz N The Hood.” Lowrider “cruising” was so popular on a typical Sunday evening that the boulevard was practically shut down to ordinary traffic.
Some landmarks remain. The Paul Williams-designed Angeles Funeral Home stands as a testament to Los Angeles architecture, as does West Angeles Cathedral. It is unknown if the Art Deco design of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza will withstand the planned redevelopment.