Leimert Takes Steps Toward Re-Branding with Pop-Up Plaza and More this Weekend

The Re-Branding/Marketing panel at the Leimert Design Charrette featuring Armen Ross (President, Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce), Jan Perry (General Manager, EDD), and Darrell Brown (Senior Vice President Consumer Banking, US Bank). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
The Re-Branding/Marketing panel at the Leimert Design Charrette featuring Armen Ross (President, Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce), Jan Perry (General Manager, EDD), and Darrell Brown (Senior Vice President Consumer
Banking, US Bank). Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

As I listened to speakers on the “Creative Industry Business Development, Tourism Markets, Branding, Marketing, Event Management, Business Alliances, and Program Partnerships” panel at the Leimert Park Design Charrette this past January, one question kept bothering me:

Why is so much discussion being directed at marketing Leimert Park to the international arena?

It makes perfect sense that they would be thinking big, of course.

As the area undergoes changes courtesy of the new rail line, the Leimert Park station that will (indirectly) connect the Crenshaw and Leimert communities to LAX, and the new development that will likely follow, there is the potential to draw tourists to the area, deepen relationships with sister cities or communities, or even attract innovative investors looking to build new partnerships with local artists and cultural care-takers.

Make no mistake — all of that is incredibly important. It would be wonderful to see Leimert take its rightful place on the map of must-see destinations for being a powerful creative community, the cultural beating heart of the black community, and an important African marketplace.

But Leimert Park, at least in my experience, is still not a particularly well-known quantity to many Angelenos.

While it is on people’s radar because of the construction of the Crenshaw Line, because it is part of “South Los Angeles,” it is vulnerable to being associated with the many stigmas that unfortunately come with that label. Even for many of those who do know something about the community and its history, Leimert’s location within South L.A. still acts as a deterrent — people are afraid they will have to travel through “dangerous” or “sketchy” areas to get there.

Part of the reason that it has been hard to dispel such outdated notions and create a more positive image for the area is that, until recently, Leimert has not been particularly adept at getting the word about what it has to offer the city.

The heart of Leimert Park Village, the proposed Metro station site, and sites owned by community members. The pop-up plaza will be set up at the corner of 43rd Pl. and Leimert Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
The heart of Leimert Park Village, the proposed Metro station site, and sites owned by community members. The pop-up plaza will be set up at the corner of 43rd Pl. and Leimert Blvd. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

For residents living in the area or people that regularly frequent places like the independent, black-owned Eso Won bookstore or artistic hubs like the KAOS Network, the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, The World Stage, or the new Papillion Art Gallery, keeping up with cultural events and happenings probably isn’t too hard.

Someone like myself, who loves the neighborhood but can’t be there all the time, tends to find out about exciting events a week or two after they have happened, when stopping by to see friends or to follow up on a story.

People completely unfamiliar with the area likely never hear about what it has to offer at all. And, despite the fact that so many of the musical, literary, and artistic greats in the African-American community have come through and/or been shaped by the neighborhood, an interested observer would be hard-pressed to find a central source of information detailing that history (although, this documentary and Erin Aubry Kaplan’s work at KCET help fill in some gaps).

That all is beginning to change.

Since the design charrette, stakeholders have been meeting regularly to find ways to make the ideas expressed at the January event bear fruit. One of the approaches has been to build on the success of the Leimert Park art walk (held the last Sunday of the month) and designate the last weekend of the month as “Weekends in Leimert.” Special performances or events underscoring Leimert’s diverse cultural offerings are timed to fall during that period and information about them is now centralized on their webpage.

Another strategy has been to seek ways to enhance the pedestrian environment through street and façade improvements in the Village area. To this end, stakeholders are currently working on a People St. (an LADOT program that helps communities convert spaces into parklets, plazas, or bike corrals) application to turn the section of 43rd Place in front of the Vision Theater into a plaza.

While community leaders like KAOS Network founder and artist Ben Caldwell would prefer to see a community-specific design for the plaza — including an option to paint the street with something other than the polka dots or stripes the city offers (below) — they are very interested in the potential of regenerating some of the street life culture Leimert used to enjoy.

Ben Caldwell wonders if Leimert's plaza might be better if repainted using the inspiration of Ghanaian silk thread paintings rather than the People St. polka dots. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Ben Caldwell wonders if Leimert’s plaza might be better if repainted using the more culturally-relevant inspiration of Ghanaian silk thread paintings rather than the People St. polka dots. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

This coming weekend will see a marriage of these two objectives, as Leimert puts together a series of events, including a Pop-Up Plaza, at the art walk celebrating innovation, art, and the pedestrian environment.

At 1 p.m., Crenshaw WALKS will be gathering at the KAOS Network for a meet-and-greet where they will discuss potential projects the group could work on to promote mobility in the area and bring attention to community-specific mobility needs and aspirations.

At 2 p.m. (til 5 p.m.), Caldwell, together with Professor François Bar and Karl Baumann of USC, will host a “Tactical Media” workshop on the “plaza” along 43rd Pl. The workshop will invite participants to envision innovative ways to re-purpose and re-integrate obsolete street furniture into the design and life of a public space. The main attractions will be objects already re-purposed by USC students and members of the Leimert community, including the “Sankofa RED” pay phone, a “beats” bench, an advertising display-cum-interactive art and poetry canvas, an L.A. Times newspaper box fitted with a window to Leimert’s artistic history, and a social gardening planter project.

Later that afternoon and evening, you can visit local vendors on the plaza offering jewelry, lotions, incense, art, and more, meander through the open galleries, honor Women’s History Month with “Womun: Art and Power” — a celebration of song, dance, music, poetry, and healing — at the Vision Theater at 3 p.m., see “I Wanna Be Loved: Stories of Dinah Washington” at 4 p.m. at the Barbara Morrison PAC, or join in the Sisters of Jazz jam session at the World Stage, starting at 9 p.m.

If you want to take it easy, you can stick around KAOS, where you’ll likely run into local fixtures, Wo’se Kofi (a musician and gourmet who always has a basket of vegan treats) and Kyle Verbs (a rapper and host of the eclectic musical experiment known as Bananas) and be treated to spoken word from the young poets that often gather there in the afternoon.

Or, you could just hang out at the drum circle and dance to your heart’s content.

Drum circle at the Leimert Park artwalk. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog
Drum circle at the Leimert Park art walk. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

Hopefully, things like the branding and social media efforts the community is making, the new studio/community center and art gallery Mark Bradford is building in the Village, the ongoing partnership between KAOS and USC, and the CicLAvia hub Leimert will host at the end of the year will make Leimert Park more accessible to Angelenos and convince them to give it another look.

The international tourists and investors spoken of at the design charrette will eventually matter for the dollars and eyeballs they will bring into the community. But, for the area to be able to grow and thrive on its own terms now, with its artistic and cultural heritage acting as the foundation for the future and not as a nicely preserved snapshot into the past, it is important that the rest of the city also be convinced of the value of investing in and cultivating the talents of a predominantly African-American community, its artists, and its entrepreneurs.

So, head for Leimert this weekend and check out one of the few spaces in South L.A. where art and artists of color have such a safe haven. Talk to the stakeholders that are working to ensure that the streets will once again be their canvas and see firsthand why it is one of the most vibrant places to be in L.A. right now.

You won’t be sorry.

Learn more about the Leimert Park 20/20 Vision and keep up with their events here. The Leimert Park Art Walk is held on the last Sunday of the month, starting at 2 p.m. at 4395 S. Leimert Blvd.

  • FakeyMcFakename

    What’s the rationale behind the plaza design restrictions? Are LADOT saying it’s a safety issue, or did they just come up with it for no apparent reason?

  • sahra

    I believe to streamline the process. The city created several template designs to make the permitting easier. The communities, to my understanding, are responsible for the expense of some of the street furniture, but the city helps with the painting of the street and the planters (in the case of a plaza). Leimert, being full of artists and wanting to have a design that was relevant to the community and image they want to portray, has considered looking at other designs, but I think they would then have to come up with additional funds to make it happen… assuming a variation like that would be possible.

  • FakeyMcFakename

    Hmm, maybe it could happen after the pilot, then.

  • HP

    Would love to see more support from out Council District 10 reps, in particular the one person who has been absent in all of this—Councilman Herb Wesson. Where are you?

  • Feliz Mc Innis

    Though I think your blog of the events occuring in Leimert Park are great, you have failed to mention the open market vendors of Leimert Park Plaza. They are just as much a part of the cultural fabric of the area.

  • sahra

    You’re right… I didn’t make note of them in the piece, despite having spent way too much time hanging around the vendor who sells these amazing-smelling body creams. I didn’t forget — I was thinking about that question because, apart from the artwalk, I believe open-market vending is not allowed in the area, and I know there has been some conversation around that, but I don’t know where things stand right now. Regardless, I’ll make that correction.

  • DMalcolmCarson

    Well done. I would only add that I think one of the functions of the current initiative is to establish a solid template for the kind of development that the community wants to see with the coming of the subway station — thus the title, Leimert Park Village Vision 2020.

  • sahra

    Indeed. I attended the design charrette and I plan on writing on and tracking the larger initiative because I do think it is exciting and could be instructive to other cultural communities looking to have some say over the change that visits their neighborhood… but I haven’t had a chance to sit down with some of the folks behind it just yet.

  • While Wesson has not been at the LPV planning events in person, his representatives have been there. He and CD8’s Parks (the west side of Crenshaw to MLK) are both on board with the current planning efforts.

  • This was a really good recap. In regards to the Vendors in the Plaza, the planning is sensitive to both the covenant restrictions in the Plaza (no vending) and the culture of the vending. Eventually there will have to be an organized reconciliation in regards to street vending so the LPV becomes sustainable for the brick-and-mortar businesses.

  • There are a couple of issues tied to the “fear factor.” On the opposite side of Crenshaw was a large expanse of abandoned buildings and neglected vacant lots called “Marlton Square” which never recovered from the riots and subsequent real estate foibles. This has made the area look more sketchy than it is – in part due to lack of political resolve. Now, most of the blight is removed and it’s being prepped for a future Kaiser campus. Baldwin Hills Crenshaw plaza has already received its badly needed overhaul, but still houses perhaps the sketchiest Walmart on earth – search “24 Pictures From A Walmart That Make Sears Look Classy.”

    Having said that, until you spend time around the residential streets, you miss what is a genuinely well preserved historic area of Los Angeles, with Spanish mission/chapel motifs built in the ’30s, craftsman prior to that, and art deco/modern in the ’30s and ’40s, well kept yards, and a sense of neighborhood pride which prevented a lot of vandalism seen elsewhere in the wake of the housing collapse. The community has drawn a line against expansion of fast food and liquor store establishments. The Leimert/Cherrywood Block Club is very well organized and this “active neighborhood” is also reflected in the thoughtful comments here from Empowerment Congress West.

    In terms of it still being a city secret, I understand what you mean. I hear the wonder and discovery whenever friends from outside this area find their way to my house. But the area is very well known to the city’s larger African American community. Taste of Soul, the annual food festival, draws hundreds of thousands. Similar numbers stayed up late into the night to watch the Space Shuttle navigate MLK. The King Day parade is well attended.

    Finally, though Crenshaw Blvd. requires an All Terrain Vehicle, there is a lot of bike-friendly pavement in the area and more to come.

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