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Jazz returns to Central Avenue


The 17th annual Central Avenue Jazz Festival, happening July 28 and 29 at the corner of 42nd Street and Central Avenue, will feature a stellar lineup of local, regional and national talent.

The music starts both days at 11:30 a.m. and goes until 7 p.m.

Saturday the Los Angeles Unified School District All-City High School Jazz band kicks off the action, and the day will include performances by the Diana Holling Band, Sons of Etta: Tribute to Etta James, the New Jump Blues featuring Antonio Fargas and Danielle Withers with the Gerald Wilson Orchestra finishing off the day.

Central Avenue veteran entertainer Ernie Andrews starts the day on Sunday followed by Phil Ranelin, the Ray Goren Band and the event ends with Pancho Sanchez on stage.

Admission to the festival is free, and the music takes place in the shadow of the historic Dunbar Hotel, which is currently in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation.

Built in 1928 by dentists John and Vada Somerville, the facility was originally known as the Somerville Hotel, and played host to the first NAACP convention ever held on the West Coast the year it opened.

The building, constructed entirely by Black laborers, contractors and craftsmen and financed by the African American community, would also serve as a hub of activity for the community during the era when the Jazz and music scene was hot and heavy in Los Angeles–the 1930s and 1940s.

In the 1930s, a nightclub opened in the hotel and played host to such musical talents as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, and among the people who stayed at the Dunbar were W.E.B. DuBois, Joe Louis, Ray Charles, Thurgood Marshall.

It was also a gathering spot for the Jazz Age intellegencia, including Langston Hughes, Ralph Bunche and James Weldon Johnson.

But in the 1950s when African Americans were allowed to stay in White-owned hotels in other parts of the city, the Dunbar’s existence as a hotel slowly began to decline and by 1987, the structure had been vandalized, covered in graffiti and become a haven for transients.

That year, plans were announced to renovate the hotel and turn it into low-income housing. The hotel itself was transformed into singles and two additional housing complexes were built adjacent to it–Somerville I and II.

But the nonprofit organization in control of the property struggled financially and the hotel fell into disrepair again. The city was forced to take it over.

Now the hotel is part of a $29.3 million private/public partnership called the Dunbar Village that consists of the renovation of all three structures with the goal of preserving local history, developing affordable housing and supporting job creation and training.

Developer Thomas Safran and Associates partnered with the nonprofit Coalition for Responsible Community Development and as part of their joint agreement will ensure that the 30 students participating in the organization’s construction academy this year at Los Angeles Trade Tech have the opportunity to work alongside skilled craftspeople.

About 158 temporary construction and 15 permanent jobs will be created by the Dunbar Village project, which broke ground in December.

Additionally, the hotel will be reconfigured into 40 units of affordable senior housing, while the Somerville I and II will consist of 40 affordable family units.

Other amenities will include a community room with communal kitchen, media lounge, billiards, table library/reading area, a laundry and fitness room.

The project will also contain ground-floor retail spaces and provide a new public plaza on Central Avenue that will integrate a museum, Head Start program, and computer center into the mix.