Historic Central Avenue Los Angeles

A Brief History of Central Avenue

After the turn of the 20th century, Central Avenue rose to become the center of African American life in Los Angeles. The National Register of Historic Places notes:
By 1915, the African American owned California Eagle newspaper was referring to Central Avenue as the “Black belt of the city.” Previously populated by Mexicans, Anglos, Asians and Europeans, the effort to create an African-American enclave in Los Angeles was a conscious one, spearheaded by the numerous African American-owned businesses, churches, and other enterprises—one pivotal business leader was Sidney P. Dones, who in 1914 opened the Sidney P. Dones Company at 8th Street and Central, which offered real estate, insurance and legal services. Next door was the California Eagle. Other African American owned businesses clustered along Central Avenue between 8th and 12th streets. Home ownership among African Americans moving into the neighborhood swiftly followed.
By the late 1920’s Central Avenue and 41st Street was the new heart of African American Los Angeles.  At this intersection three significant structures stood as signs of the growth of the African American community.  These included the Somerset Hotel, the Hudson-Liddell Building, and the Golden State Mutual Insurance Building.  These enterprises drew black settlement down and around the Avenue. During the 1930s the African American population of Los Angeles continued to climb, with most newcomers settling in the Central Avenue vicinity.  In 1930, approximately 17,500 African American lived in the area; over the next decade nearly 25,000 blacks would join them….
The 1940s was a watershed decade for Central Avenue.  The tremendous influx of African American migrants during and after World War II put major strains on the community---during the war years, 50,000 newcomers settled in and around the Avenue, with more arriving after the war.  

Central Avenue is famous for its role in the development of West Coast Jazz.  During the 1940s, gospel trios and quartets gained popularity and had a major influence in the development of Rhythm & Blues vocal groups—the most innovative of these groups in Los Angeles was the Three Sons of Thunder, formed in 1941.  Mass choirs rose, replacing quartets in gospel music, with the most important being the Wings over Jordan Choir, organized by the Reverend Glen T. Settles.  Jazz clubs abounded on Central Avenue.  The work of Samuel Brown, the first African American music teacher in the Los Angeles public school system (he taught at Jefferson High School from 1936 to 1961) was a major influence on the up-and-coming jazz musicians of Los Angeles.
The origin of jazz in Los Angeles has been attributed to a number of musicians who moved there from New Orleans and formed social dance bands.  Nightclubs became the physical manifestation of jazz music, and these were mainly located along Central Avenue from Little Tokyo to Watts.  The Club Alabam, the Apex Club, the Downbeat, the Flame and the Casablanca are the names of some of these clubs.  Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie brought a new form of jazz – Bebop -- from New York to Los Angeles.  Histories of Los Angeles and the music scene are numerous.  Readers can get started with **** 
Historic resources associated with African Americans in Los Angeles,were accepted in the National Register of Historic Places on February 4, 2009, recognizing the historic importance of the African American community in Los Angeles, California.
A summary of that report is archived here: http://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/afam/2010/afam_los_angeles.htm
The full report is here: http://www.nps.gov/nr/feature/afam/2010/Cover-AfricanAmericansinLA.pdf


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