South LA Intro

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

..South LA. Possibly the least understood and most stereotyped region of LA.

Home to several infamous neighborhoods, including, among others, Compton, “South Central,” Watts, and Crenshaw, it has come to be emblematic of American inner-city disarray. Paradoxically enough, I find the general area to be one of the city’s most fascinating and most overlooked. In order to get a better feel and to broaden my scope of the area, I’ve made numerous bike rides to the area over the course of the past few months. In doing so, I’ve found that if you’re willing to dig beneath, and eschew the overly-simplified and exaggerated generalizations of the area commonly portrayed by the media, you’ll find a highly underrated area, with killer architecture, real people and a vibe not found elsewhere.

Vastly maligned, the area is one of the city’s most important, with it not only hosting a large swath of the city’s population, but of the area proper. More importantly however, is it played a major role in LA’s cultural scene, having made fundamental contributions to the city’s image and popularity. A handful of things come to mind, most notably those of the “urban” genre, with gangsta culture and music being perhaps the most visible. Though, to me, South LA represents and stands for things altogether different.

Architecturally-wise, it’s more or less like the rest of the city: extremely hit or miss, with no real defined cohesion. Comprised mainly of low-slung, 1-story houses, in Modern and other, post-WW2 styles; these tend to appear in greater abundance to further south you work go (Slauson seems to be the big N/S dividing line). Conversely, significant quantities of bungalows in the form of Spanish and Craftsman styles, too, exist – especially the closer to the 10 you are (King and up is a lovely). The latter culminates in the jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring mansions found in places like
West Adams, which, built for oil barons, actors and railroad magnates, represented the ultimate in Angelino opulence.

Of particular interest to me is what might just be LA’s most underrated neighborhood. Leimert Park. Yup. I have no clue why it isn’t a citywide hotspot right now, though, to be honest, I’d actually like to keep it that way. For one, it has one of the best collections of architecture ANYWHERE in the city, with lovely, intact rows of 2-story 1920s Spanish Revival duplexes and Art-Deco Moderne/Streamline apartment blocks. Lots of lush, tree-lined streets (Google streetview Degnan, 42nd St, Leimert, 8th Ave and Stocker, to name a few), the result of its well though-out and executed 1930s Olmstead Brothers master planning. Additionally, It has wonderful appeal and charm, and thanks to its stable, middle class black population, is not only well-kept, but was spared “urban renewal.”

And what would a blog post on South LA be without the wonderful – even if decidedly unhealthy – grub to be found in the area? Master Burger, Johnny’s Pastrami, Harold and Belle’s, La Taquiza, the Jamaican place in Leimert (Ackee Bamboo),M&M’s Soul Food, and the many, myriad BBQ places found in the area (Woody’s, Phillips, etc) are all stellar. Beware of the BBQ places, as they charge ridiculous prices knowing their captive clientele will never leave them. The only downside is riding you bike down a street like Adams and ending up smelling like catfish due to the preponderance of fish fries/markets on the street!

If anything, I feel that the area is, unequivocally, the “realest” in LA, even if simply because most of the non-superficial coastal attributes and features associated with the city were born out of this area. The “most” LA, if you will. Going by aesthetics and appearance alone the palm-tree lined streets, wood-frame architecture, its unique holy trinity of storefront churches – auto body shops – liquor stores, the asphalt/freeways and endless donut/hamburger stands are, in my opinion, about as LA as it gets. As stated before, it’s often misunderstood, and to the first-time outsider, it can even be unwelcoming.

However, if you’re willing to look over its seedy reputation, and check it out for yourself – with your own 2 eyes – you’ll quickly find it out is, in this day in age, a true diamond in the rough. Hurry up, though..on the heels of several crafty neighborhoods name changes (to make the area more palatable to newcomers), and with the property-hungry USC on the move, a new rail line opening this year, and yuppies fleeing exorbitant the rents north of the 10, it might not stay this way for long.

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