Deeds to L.A. Homes Ban Black People From Living In Them.
There is a restrictive covenant in the deed of our house that explicitly states that the house may never be owned by black people.
Our house sits in a little South Los Angeles neighborhood called Leimert Park. The neighborhood is named for its well-known developer, Walter H. Leimert. In the 1930s, Mr. Leimert hired the Olmsted Brothers of Central Park fame to design the neighborhood complete with park, theater, shops, churches, and schools for upper-middle class white families. The result is a quintessentially Los Angeles neighborhood, with picturesque Spanish cottages flanking tree-lined streets.
I understand that it was Mr. Leimert himself who placed the covenants in the deeds. I have considered that perhaps it was not animus toward black people, but Mr. Leimert’s entrepreneurial spirit and respect for the preferences of his buyers that led him to do this. I am aware of the good he did for this City and the good his family continues to do for this City. Furthermore, there is inherent folly in both revisiting the heroes of old, because most would not meet current ethical standards, and there is danger is deleting shameful chapters of our history lest we repeat them.
But I’ll tell you what, I sure am tired of saying his name.
The fact that Leimert Park is now a predominantly black neighborhood trespasses well beyond irony into realm of rudeness. His name serves a constant reminder of this legacy. So every time I say “I live in Leimert Park” or see the well-placed city signage enshrining his name, some of the wind leaves my sails. I intellectually understand the problems with renaming Leimert Park, expense, social turmoil, etc. but based on the constant emotional toll and at the risk of sounding crude... screw that.
Is there a more appropriate naming scheme? Funny you should ask. Beloved Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley grew up in Leimert Park. In fact, he loved it so much, he refused to leave the modest home of his youth well into his tenure as mayor and only did so to meet security needs. Mayor Bradley was the first black mayor of Los Angeles (or any major city for that matter). Perhaps we should rename Leimert Park "Bradley Park" in his honor.
By contrast, Mr Bradley’s name is currently enshrined on the local elementary school which has been systemically neglected since there were no longer white students in its halls. In August, the State of California declared it among the top 20 lowest performing schools in the state. Perhaps, to maintain the lesson, Mr. Leimert’s name should be affixed to it.
More interesting facts for locals and others:
Nestled in the flats below Baldwin Hills, the Leimert Park acreage was originally pasture land owned by a man named “Lucky” Baldwin. He then passed the land on to his daughter, Clara, who married a man named Stocker. She gifted the land to the City of Los Angeles on the condition that those names be prominently displayed. They are.
Prior to being developed, the land was used as the location of the 1932 Olympic Village and during development became famous as the site where the Black Dahlia was found. Besides Mayor Bradley, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles both lived in Leimert Park. Leimert Park continues to be a hub for black artists and social activism. It is experiencing a sharp increase in property value because of both gentrification, which, from what I can tell, means white people of means moving in, and revitalization, which, from what I can tell, means black people of means moving in. As the vast majority of homes are owned, we have not experienced people being kicked or priced out as they have in Boyle Heights and elsewhere.
Crenshaw Boulevard was first named Angelus Mesa Drive, thus Angelus Funeral home, Angelus Furniture, etc. There was a race track on the site of Albertsons Grocery (which is home of some of the best fried chicken in the city). MLK, Jr., Boulevard was previously called Santa Barbara Boulevard, thus Santa Barbara Square, which is now being demolished in favor of a Kaiser facility.
The Supreme Court did away with restrictive covenants in 1948 (paving the way for us to eventually buy our home), but old timers tell of de facto enforcement until the late 1960s. They talk of the unspoken promise by LAPD that Black Angelenos be east of Western by sunset or be subject to unlawful harassment, arrest, or worse. One woman told me her father bought their home with the aid of a white agent in the mid-60s and rented it to white people until her family could live there safely.
EDIT: I have just discovered that my old voting place at 3725 Don Felipe Dr., Los Angeles, CA was part of the original hacienda that sat on Baldwin's land. Baldwin surreptitiously acquired the land from Vicente Sanchez, recipient of the original Mexican land grant and the first "mayor" of the area. The building is now widely considered to be the oldest structure in Los Angeles. At the great architect Paul Williams's urging, a black realtor group purchased the building and has held onto it for community use for some time. Super cool.