As the Crenshaw/LAX Metro Line moves toward its expected 2019 opening, that won’t be the only project in the area caught in the gleaming spotlight of pride. County officials this month have unveiled final recommendations on what may be a historic transformation of the famous Leimert Park Village, long considered a center of L.A.’s African American art and culture scene.
The 1.9-square-mile neighborhood, located not far from Exposition Park and near Baldwin Hills, is poised for a surge in new investment and economic development as one of several stops on the Crenshaw/LAX Line. The area has always been a popular gathering place for African American artists as well as cultural discourse among the thousands of persons who visit there each week, but the aura of the Village has faded over time because of needed upgrades, the departure of long-time tenants, and because of the economic downturn. Those days are over, says Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who envisions a shiny new destination point perfect for shopping, dining and, most importantly, increased interaction and fellowship among stakeholders and visitors. The Metro line may be the key.
“I believe the train can be a tool for taking Leimert Park Village to a whole new level,” Ridley-Thomas said during a speech before a gathering discussing “Transit Oriented Los Angeles 2015: Investing in Vibrant Communities.” When plans were undertaken for the Crenshaw/LAX line, Ridley-Thomas two years ago suggested the idea of an underground station at Leimert Park Village. He believes the station will encourage more travelers to stop by and spend a little time at one of the city’s true artistic gems.
“If developed right, sites along the Crenshaw/LAX line truly have the potential to transform surrounding communities,” he continued. “With open-mindedness and progressive thinking, we would be able not only to ease traffic congestion, but to revitalize the economic fabric of these neighborhoods.”
The Urban Land Institute (ULI), one of the nation’s most respected sources of information on urban planning, future growth and development, believes the Art Deco-inspired neighborhood can become one of the city’s brightest hot spots in attracting visitors from throughout the southland. In its final report, ULI concluded that “Leimert Park Village has all the key ingredients in place—an engaged community, strong political leadership, and an authentic and uniquely built environment—to enhance its prominence and prosperity while also protecting its cultural integrity.”
Among their recommendations are to make improvements to the entire area, specifically completing renovations to the historic Vision Theater to allow both entities to serve as “anchors for cultural programming” that would attract both residents and visitors. They want to fill the empty storefronts and surface parking lots along Degnan Boulevard with retail, dining and cultural amenities. The plan will include housing for local artists, while integrating local, original artistic pieces into public spaces. Streetscape improvements include adding bicycle lanes, improved lighting, and a paseo similar to the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.
ULI believes their recommendations are unique to the area in calling for a “catalytic investment” and “urban revitalization,” basically terms that specify enhancement and to “not redefine” the existing character of Leimert Park Village as the true cultural hub of L.A.’s Black community.
A number of festivals are held yearly in Leimert Park Village, including book fairs, music festivals and the popular African Marketplace. At its height, the village was home to more than 125 businesses, including many restaurants and coffee shops, art and dance studios, book stores, museums and cultural bazaars.