We have watched community asset after community asset disappear. As the 1960s and 1970s generations age, the legacies of their works fade with them off into the sunset.
The 1980s and 1990s generations weren’t builders. They were off chasing material dreams that ended up becoming 21st Century debt nightmares. The properties left to them by their parents and grandparents are now owned, and being grabbed up, by the latest migrants of gentrification as whites are pushing strollers and jogging down streets we were once afraid to walk just ten years ago.
Yeah, the “South Central side of the city” has changed. Truth be told, so has the “Eastside” and “Westside.” But the shrinking footprint of the African American community is most noted by the growing entrenchment of infrastructure development and demographic shifts that leave a capital-less community nearly helpless on the sidelines while their talking heads beg for jobs and contracts. They didn’t come 20 years ago after the last riot, and they don’t seem to be coming now. The vestiges are the buildings that were once monument of our community’s ingenuity. None more than what was once the “crown gem” of the black community, the Golden State Mutual Insurance Building. Built by 1949 by legendary world renowned black architect, Paul Williams, the building was the pride of the black community and the signet of black wealth and entrepreneurship. At the bottom of “Pill Hill,” where the black affluent lived, this building signaled black progress as blacks moved west in a highly segregated Los Angeles.
Western Avenue was the invisible “redline” for blacks in a city known for restrictive covenants that prohibited leasing and selling Westside properties to blacks. Anything west of Western was the Westside at that time. The building was the home of Golden State Mutual Insurance for 60 years. Once the tallest building in the “new” black community, the Golden State Builing was the constant reminder of what we once was and could do when we, as a community, came together. When the insurance company was closed by the state in 2010, the building was closed and put up for sale. The black community had moved on (westward), but the building remained, a proud relic of black Los Angeles past and present. And just like that, it was gone.
It was thought that the building would be lost to the community forever, as opportunities to procure the building were cost prohibitive to almost all who inquired, and was most surely to be acquired by those outside of our community as Koreatown pushes south, USC pushes west and the black community? Pushed out—as has most every other community asset else that’s been acquired over the past decade. A significant community asset lost.
Or so we thought…
It reflected what has become an all too familiar reality of the African American community—idea rich, capital poor, benevolence dependent—on the “good faith” efforts of others to bring our community back into economic prominence. The real reality of new generations of black idealists and entrepreneurs will not be the opportunities they fake while waiting for “good fake” (faith) efforts to kick in. It will be the opportunities they take, as progress—with fat pockets of money—roll right up into their own backyards.
If “we” don’t take em—somebody will. That’s what we’re witnessing all over South L.A., and the number target is Leimert Park. Leimert Park will be white in ten years—based on emerging development trends. Those who think it’s “a black thang” are about to be streamrolled. Pancaked by our own messy rhetoric, development inaptitude and our own empty pockets.
Count on it.
Money and development is coming and ain’t a damn thing “the community” can do about it. Unless they’re prepared to come up with some money and take advantage of the opportunities that are on the table—right now. Money talks and bullsh*t walks…and there’s a lot of it out there. It won’t be long until we hear, “Whatever happened to…” yep, Leimert Park.
That writing is on the wall.
All is not lost, however…
There is one group out there that recently “made it happen” in a way that gives us faith in the power of community determination. The South Central Los Angeles Regional Center (SCLARC), a community based organization whose mission focuses on people with disabilities (a growing segment of the black and Latino communities), run by brother, Dexter Henderson. Considered a longshot to get the building, they made a fourth quarter “hail Mary” pass and came up with the bank and bonding to close the deal. To the elation of many in the community—who really understood the history tied to the building. SCLARC didn’t wait for anybody to make the deal for them…they took the deal, and the building is back in community hands.
It is a proud moment that shouldn’t be lost in this time of fierce capital competition.
Because, just in case nobody has bothered to turn the page for the past decade or so, ain’t nobody giving out anything any more. The expectation that people are giving up anything is a false one. Like pepper-sprayed agents in march reenactments, it’s an out of place distortion that, as Jill Scott says, “Don’t feel right” to anybody anymore A displaced distortion of a displaced time. There is nothing distorted about the move SCLARC made.
It was a grand play and congratulations are in order. They made it happen and the building, as it did before, once again serves the greater good—our community.
Yeah, we remember the time when the community looked at its assets with pride of having built something for itself. Now all we say…“Whatever happened to…”
We don’t have to say that anymore about the Golden State Mutual Insurance Building. It’s in good community hands, by a good community agency doing good to help us hold on.
And Lawd knows, our community needs to hold on…the world has changed.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist and author of, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Popular Culture. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com and on Twitter at @DrAnthonySamad.