It was through the Leimert Park Book Fair that author and book fair founder Cynthia E. Exum was contacted to do the definitive book on Leimert Park. Arcadia Publishing, a well-known publisher of local history books, asked her to consider the project.
“I thought it was a wonderful offshoot of what I do at the book fair,” said Exum, who also felt it dovetailed nicely with her background in urban planning. Her partner in the venture would be retired librarian and Our Authors Study Club member Joyce Sumbi.
Sumbi, unfortunately, did not live to see the book published. She died of cancer during the project and, as a result, Exum said she lost the enthusiasm for it.
But Arcadia persisted, and eventually the book, “Images of America: Leimert Park,” came to be.
Before Sumbi’s death, her research revealed that the Leimert family maintained a business nearby, so they contacted family to find archival images. After meeting with Walter H. Leimert III, he put them in touch with his wife, Maty Guiza-Leimert, who would become the book’s co-author.
“We connected,” said Exum of meeting Guiza-Leimert. “It was actually magical. She was very interested in helping me write the book, she and her husband both. They actually went with me to some of the museums–the Huntington in Pasadena, to USC and Northridge to find images.” They also picked up the tab on those trips, including the cost of collecting and purchasing old images.
“They were actually involved in the whole process,” said Exum. “The wonderful thing that people should know is that many of these pictures have never been published before. I was very honored. The family went into their archives and gave us photos that had never been released before.”
“Working with Cynthia was an honor,” said Guiza-Leimert, during a telephone interview. “It definitely felt like it was supposed to happen this way.”
Even before Guiza-Leimert was contacted by Exum, she had begun archiving photos and other information from several of the Leimert family projects. In fact, she called Arcadia to suggest a book on Leimert Park, but was told the project had already be given to Exum. “That was a very pleasant surprise,” said Guiza-Leimert.
A divine coincidence, you might say.
It was Walter H. Leimert III’s grandfather, Walter H. Leimert Sr., who purchased 231 acres in what was then the central part of Los Angeles for $2 million in 1927. Leimert Sr. then commissioned the Olmsted brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted Sr., the master planner of New York’s Central Park, to design and develop Leimert Park, which would become one of the first comprehensively planned communities in Southern California.
Among other things, the book details the land’s history from the Spaniards, to E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin, for whom Baldwin Hills is named, to the Leimerts.
“What I’m most proud of is that the book goes a long way to promote and market Leimert Park in a very positive way in showcasing its history as one of the first planned communities,” said Exum.
She points out that Leimert Park has been home to such well-known personages as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Tom Bradley, Ella Fitzgerald, and others.
More than 200 vintage and current images take readers on a unique journey into the history of the area.
“Our hope in sharing our archival photographs and contributing to this book was to provide a historical perspective of Leimert Park’s origins for those that lived it and to document it for future generations,” said co-author Guiza-Liemert.
Exum views the publication of “Images of America: Leimert Park” (Arcadia Publishing, $21.99, 128 pages, ISBN: 9780738595870) from a national and local perspective. “The story of Leimert Park is the story of communities all over America,” said Exum. “Leimert Park started out as a planned community for what was at the time the burgeoning middle-class. Over the span of eight decades lots of things happened, including the internment of many of Leimert Park’s Japanese residents during WWII, restrictive covenants that kept African Americans from purchasing homes, the civil unrests of 1965 and 1992 and the resurgence that Leimert Park is currently experiencing. It’s an American story, but it’s also the story of our community. I’m proud to have been able to work with Maty Guiza-Leimert to document and preserve such an important part of our history.”
“It was a marvelous interaction,” said Guiza-Leimert of her association with Exum. “We were consumed in all this richness of history.”
“Images of America: Leimert Park” is available at Eso Won Books in Leimert Park, online, or through Arcadia Publishing (888) 313-2665 or visit www.arcadiapublishing.com.