In Search of Fairfax

Vitalize Fairfax

In 1980, Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky and the Young Israel Development Corporation (YICDC) launched the Beverly/Fairfax Neighborhood Revitalization Project (more commonly known as Vitalize Fairfax). Recognizing the rising property values as a potentially devastating threat to the neighborhood's Jewish character, Vitalize Fairfax was envisioned as a comprehensive revitalization program that aimed to combine select commercial development objectives with social welfare and cultural concerns. At a moment in which citywide debates regarding the relative merits of economic development and pro-growth policies were starting to mount, Yaroslavsky and YICDC staked a position as self-proclaimed pragmatists who could increase affordable housing options for existing residents, provide residents with new employment opportunities, and enhance the commercial viability of local businesses, all the while preserving the ethnic character of the community.

Central to this approach, Councilman Yaroslavsky and YICDC sought to work closely with select community leaders, merchants, property owners, and residents to help guide the revitalization process and decide how an enhanced Beverly-Fairfax should look. To this end, Councilman Yaroslavsky and YICDC established the fifteen member Vitalize Fairfax Citizens Committee. Yaroslavsky and YICDC called upon the group to recommend specific policies, foster volunteer-based models of community engagement, and nurture public-private partnerships that dovetailed with and encouraged revitalization; they also charged the committee with  “representing our citizens and the grassroots” and “speaking with one voice for the community.” 

And yet, despite employing such inclusive rhetoric and outlining a comprehensive set of objectives for the neighborhood and its residents (i.e. affordable housing, job creation, and business rehabilitation), subsequent actions carried out by Vitalize reflected a relatively narrow set of priorities. They promoted business-oriented solutions to ensuring that the Fairfax neighborhood remained an ethnic place; as such, efforts to enhance the neighborhood’s commercial core and increase revenue for the small businesses — in this case ethnic specialty retail shops and eateries along the Fairfax Avenue commercial strip— took precedence. This entailed securing and processing government loans for small businesses to invest in storefront improvements, helping to establish a local community neighborhood patrol, and spearheading an initiative to plant palm trees along Fairfax Avenue.

While Vitalize Fairfax received much positive publicity, the project revealed and generated sources of tension within Fairfax's Jewish community. A cohort of older businessmen and merchants who were long ensconced in the neighborhood were overwhelmingly suspicious and occasionally hostile toward the Vitalize-led Fairfax Avenue facelifts; they feared that revitalization’s aesthetic enhancements and efforts to attract new, perhaps wealthier consumers might scare away their core customer base — loyal bargain-conscious shoppers. As Henry Goldscher, owner of Henry’s Barber Shop, explained to the Los Angeles Times, “If I put chandeliers, my customers would not come in here. My customers are mostly the old folks…A store, it has to be just the way it was. Believe me, I know. they want to know they can afford it." From the perspective of storeowners such as Goldscher, the stated long-term benefits of revitalization were not clear, let alone enticing, and were outweighed by its immediate and discernible financial drawbacks.

Sources: Celebrate Fairfax! (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Hal Sloane Associates, 1980); Envicom Corporation, SRI International, and Greer and Company, Beverly-Fairfax Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy: Final Report ([Los Angeles?]: 1982); Mary Curtius, “Tidying Up: Some Fairfax Shops Pitch In, Others Prefer Old Mishmash,” Los Angeles Times, March 17, 1983; Josh Getlin, “Fairfax Stores, Sidewalks Shine With New Look: Stores, Sidewalks Shine in Cleanup,” Los Angeles Times, May 23, 1982; Josh Getlin, “Fairfax Area Study Asks Facelift: ‘Community Strategies’ for Rejuvenation Outlined: Ethnic Neighborhood Studied,” Los Angeles Times, September 27, 1981.

This page has paths:

This page references: