‘Black Beverly Hills’ Debates Historic Status vs. White Gentrification

Angel Jennings, Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2015

Longtime residents of View Park have a thinly veiled code for the signs of change they see in their upscale neighborhood: “joggers” . . . “dog walkers.”

“It’s like an alien sighting,” says Karen Martin, who grew up in this hilltop community framed by La Brea Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard. “We never saw them before.”

But now they are back. White people. With fluffy dogs. And fluorescent Spandex.

And for some longtime residents who cherish View Park as a symbol of African American success and a stronghold of black culture, that’s unsettling.

Residents of View Park, with its curving, palm-lined streets, stunning views and movie star quality homes, have for decades fought any proposal that they thought threatened their neighborhood’s special qualities–including its solid sense of African American identity.

Now a move that strikes many as an accolade–an effort to put View Park on the National Register of Historic Places–has blown up into a particularly contentious fight.

Some residents covet this honor for a community whose proud past is part of what makes it feel like home.

Others fear that the designation is a ploy to lure in white buyers who can no longer afford to turn up their noses at black neighborhoods now that Westside real estate has gone through the roof.

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View Park was largely white into the 1960s. Then the Supreme Court lifted covenants that barred nonwhite homeowners, and the first wave of prosperous black families–lawyers, doctors and businesspeople–began to integrate the neighborhood.

As blacks moved in, whites fled, leaving 2,500- to 5,000-square-foot homes, some with maid’s quarters, pools and backyard views of downtown, Hollywood and the Pacific.

At a time when places such as Brentwood and Bel-Air made it clear that blacks were not welcome, entertainers including Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, and dance/choreographer Debbie Allen flocked to View Park. Actress Loretta Devine and former Lakers star Michael Cooper still call it home.

By the 1970s, blacks outnumbered whites nearly 3 to 1. A decade later, the ratio was 9 to 1.

Today, this unincorporated neighborhood of 1,700 custom homes is 84% African American, and, combined with neighboring Windsor Hills, Baldwin Hills and Ladera Heights, constitutes the West Coast’s highest concentration of black affluence.

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Some residents say that it’s because individuals and blacks as a group had to work so hard to win a place atop this hill that they fight so hard to maintain its character.

When urban planners decided to build low-income apartment buildings at the bottom of the hill, a group of residents defeated the plan. Residents blocked an effort to put restrooms in the local park because of fears that they would attract nuisances. Some have resisted the Crenshaw-LAX light-rail line out of concern that it will bring new people to the base of their quiet domain.

One group of residents says that it is this same concern of outsiders moving in and altering the cultural and architectural character of View Park that inspired them to band together as the View Park Conservancy and nominate their neighborhood as a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places.

That federal designation could come with property tax credits for new homeowners who maintain a property’s historic characteristics and limited federal protection from development projects, National Register historian Paul Lusignan said.

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From Washington, D.C., to Oakland, working-class neighborhoods that have been strongholds for blacks are becoming increasingly diverse as people shun suburbs for the convenience of city living, says Darrick Hamilton, an associate professor of urban policy at The New School in Manhattan.

So far, the trend has skipped many more prosperous African American neighborhoods, such as those in Prince George’s County, Md., where buyers as well as sellers continue to be predominantly black.

But several factors, including the recession’s lingering effect on African Americans and Los Angeles’ raging real estate market, could well make places such as View Park an exception.

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Author and analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson, who lives in Windsor Hills, says that he understands why some of his View Park neighbors are sensitive to the arrival of new white residents–including those joggers and dog walkers.

“We have so few areas,” he says. “So little turf that we can call our own. This is yet another invasion by another group coming in to destroy both the culture, the lifestyle and the economic continuity of our area.”

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For their part, opponents have passed out fliers calling attention to a website, StopGentification.org. The home page offers this warning: “Historic preservation has been transformed into a real estate gimmick to start the gentrification process.”

In a Facebook discussion of the controversy, one opponent warned the conservancy that “View Park will not be colonized. . . I’m coming at you with FULL FORCE!!!!!!!”

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