Vernon-Central is renowned for its role in jazz history from the 1920’s to 1950’s. Central Avenue is the location of nationally registered historic landmarks, such as the Historic 28th Street YMCA, the childhood home of Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Ralph Bunche, Second Baptist Church, the Florence Mills Theater, and the Dunbar Hotel (Somerville) to name a few. It is the permanent location of the City of Los Angeles’ yearly Central Avenue Jazz Festival; Lionel Hampton’s highly acclaimed “Central Avenue Breakdown” was written about “The Avenue”. Today, Vernon-Central is deeply impacted by concentrated poverty with 20.7% of all residents unemployed. The current demographics of the area include the following: 52% of residents are under the age of 25, 85% of residents are Latino, and 13% are African American.
According to the Southeast Los Angeles Community Plan:
"In the early 1900's the Black Community in Los Angeles was located in the area around Central Avenue. After World War I, and through the 1920's, the Black Community expanded south along the Central Avenue Street Car line. Since Blacks found it difficult to settle in other parts of the City, due to deed restrictions, social and work discrimination, this area became the center of Black life in Los Angeles. It also became a port of entry for most Blacks into the City of Los Angeles. With the availability of defense related jobs during World War II, a second wave of expansion of Black people occurred in the Community. After the War, and particular after challenges to deed restrictions, Blacks began moving south and west into other parts of the City. As Blacks moved throughout the Community, there was an exodus of Whites to the suburbs. This pattern continued through the 1940's, ‘50's and ‘60's. Other minority groups began to move into the area as well.
Mexican-Americans settled on the eastern boundaries of the Community Plan area. Many Chinese made their homes in the Central Community. During the 1970's and the 1980's Blacks migrated to other parts of the Los Angeles Basin in larger numbers. Mexican-Americans moved into the northern part of the Community and increasingly began settling in the southern part of the Community Plan area. In the 1970 Census, the Black population was counted as 164,981 or 86.2% of the total population. The Mexican-American population was 9.6%. By the 1990 Census, the Black population had been reduced to 39.6%, while the Latino population had increased to 59%. In addition, while the 1970, Latino population was mainly Mexican-American, the 1990 Census indicates a growing percentage of the Latino population originates from Central and South America."
The Harlem Renaissance in Los Angeles
"During the 1920s and ’30s, the Harlem Renaissance saw a flourishing of African American literature, art, music, and social commentary. The New York City neighbor hood attracted scores of gifted black composers, artists, and writers, including many who had fled the racism of the South. Parallel movements occurred in cities across the nation. In Los Angeles, a vibrant scene of jazz clubs, literary societies, and concert venues sprang up around Central Avenue, a main artery that ran through the heart of South Los Angeles, where an atmosphere of cultural energy nurtured the talents of gifted African Americans.
Central Avenue, the social, cultural, and commercial center for black Angelenos, became widely known for its jazz scene. Clubs catered to whites as well as to African Americans, who were excluded from such venues in other parts of the city. Club Alabam was one of the best known clubs, and there were many others, like the Downbeat, the Flame, the Casablanca, and Jack’s Basket Room, run by former boxer Jack Johnson. Local performers played in these clubs, along with nationally celebrated entertainers on tour, such as Lena Horne, Billie Holliday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Elling ton, and Jelly Roll Morton."
SOURCE: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. (2009). Central Avenue and Beyond: The Harlem Renaissance in Los Angeles. San Marino, California:Author. Retrieved from http://huntington.org/uploadedFiles/Files/PDFs/centralave_gg.pdf
The Dunbar Hotel
"The top jazz club on Central Avenue during its heyday was Club Alabam and the place to stay was the Dunbar Hotel, with a guest list that regularly included the likes of Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Lena Horne. Originally known as the Somerville Hotel, the structure was erected in 1928 entirely by black contractors, laborers and craftsmen and black community members helped John Somerville and his wife Vada to finance the entire project."
Angeles Funeral Home
Liberty Savings & Loan
ASSOCIATED HISTORIC SITES:
Home of Ralph Bunche
28th Street YMCA
Second Baptist Church
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Central Avenue is a Historic Cultural & Urban Enterprise Corridor that has hosted a wealth experiences and development over the past 100 years. The Central Avenue Historic Business Improvement District would like to pay homage to the History of Central Avenue and we need your help.
Please share your photos and memories for a commemorative online magazine of the History of Central Avenue. We know that many memoirs have already been created about Central Avenue and we are conducting research to make sure we list them as references. But we want to hear from YOU, the long-time property owners, businesses and residents!
What is your Central Avenue Story?
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