Rebuilding South (Central) L.A.: The Reality of Rebuild

28 Apr


I begin this entry by making a small confession: in my poem, ‘The Fire Still Burns’, I wrote the following ‘have you heard from Rebuild L.A.?’. Now the poem expresses frustration at the entire Unrest, including the hypocrisy from certain prominent individuals vowing to help rebuild the community and never did, but that line was aimed at the organization that began shortly after the fires had subsided and the National Guard left South Central. In a past entry, The Rebuilding of L.A. – Just Not What We Thought!, I share my feelings of the real Rebuild L.A. as it relates to the downtown sector and L.A. Live, built in a different area than the Southside.

To put the blame squarely at Rebuild L.A. would be erroneous. I have to admit upon doing research, the organization though short in their own goals, achieved a bit of success as Peter Uberroth, the chairman of Rebuild L.A. at the time hired businessman Bernard Kinsley who was a well respected Xerox executive and major fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund as a day to day operations chief. Along with other key hires, Rebuild L.A. secured almost 500 million in corporate commitments. It seemed as if the organization would hold to its commitment of rebuilding. If you lived in the Southside, you saw the signs; a new Albertson’s grocery store in the Baldwin Hills – Crenshaw Plaza, a reconstructed Shell gas station that also served as a training center for younger residents in the community, little by little, it seemed the organizers and politicians did good on their promise.

However, a year later as described in the article written by Robert Reinhold for the New York Times in 1993, that promise was stalled. Rebuilding was being done, but the areas in which it occurred, will surprise you. [italics, the author]

In all, 1,118 buildings were checked, and 513 of them were found to have been repaired. Most of the restoration was to shops looted and burned in the riots, which caused $1 billion in damage. But while nearly half the destruction has been repaired in Koreatown and nearly two-thirds in Hollywood, less than a third has in the largely black and Hispanic South-Central area.

The hardest hit neighborhoods in need of rebuilding – in South Central – were not addressed. From my personal experience, I saw empty lots that used to have buildings sitting on top just sitting there, not used, deserted in contrast to the grocery stores, training centers that were rapidly being created. There are two major factors listed in the article which should catch everyone’s attention but I will post them here. [italics, the author]

Those who have rebuilt have tended to have deep personal or commercial roots in the neighborhoods, while the large numbers of absentee landlords appear to be waiting for signals of better economic times. In the South-Central area, less property is locally owned, there are both fewer people and fewer resources and banks generally have been less willing to lend there than in Koreatown or Hollywood.

A check of county property records suggests why. Like much of the South-Central section, many of the owners on the blocks are Iranians, Koreans and Chinese who have migrated here in large numbers in the last two decades and live in affluent suburban enclaves. For example, the owner of record of numerous burned-out buildings on Vermont Avenue and other main thoroughfares is Eli Sasson of 626 South Spring Street, an office building in downtown Los Angeles. Mr. Sasson did not return repeated telephone calls for comment on why his properties remain vacant lots.

The survey was conducted by visually checking all the addresses in the city that suffered more than 10 percent damage according to a compilation by the Department of Building and Safety after the riots.

Although I assume this is the case in any major inner-city, the owners of the properties that were burned down or damaged in South Central, did not belong to the residents themselves. Sad but true, South Central was a neighborhood that I and others like me could live in, but could not take advantage of owning most of its land or storefronts. This happened over years and years before the present day, and don’t be surprised if it continues a year for now. The system of fleecing off the pocketbooks of the poor is profitable and won’t end anytime soon. As a side note, Mr. Sasson’s story is very interesting as this L.A. Times article reveals. The pictures on this page were taken on or next to his property from this article.

The history of Rebuild L.A. and its unraveling can be found on this link, and I want to add that President Clinton had a hand in the rebuilding through the ‘Empowerment Zones’ that I heard quite a bit in that time. I have posted a link here and here  to help us all understand how they work. All I know from living there is the fact South Los Angeles is no different from when it used to be called South Central Los Angeles. The only thing that’s changed is the name, but not much else.

You see, from the author’s standpoint, unless the private sector which means businesses, banks, etc, is interested or enticed to rebuild an area, they’re not going to come in and revitalize the neighborhood. Local politicians can keep rolling out a bus through the neighborhood over and over again with the Urban League or any other organization that caters to the community, it won’t matter if a lack of money and commitment thereof doesn’t result in having the nice restaurants or movie theatres like L.A. Live or The Grove at Farmer’s Market. It just won’t happen and residents who have moved on from the Southside have long realized that. It is pretty ‘messed up’, but that is what it is.

The only true enclave for Black people to congregate in the city proper (and not in the Inland Empire) and hang out is the Leimert Park neighborhood bordered by View Park and Baldwin Hills, mostly upper middle class to mid middle class (from my estimation) and the Baldwin Hills – Crenshaw Plaza has been a mainstay for years. One can only assume now that Marlton Square is finally on the way to restoration, perhaps more shops and stores benefiting the African American community will be included. In the meantime, for the rest of the South Central Los Angeles I grew up in, Rebuild L.A. has been partly vindicated since the effort was made. Still, I can’t help but wonder if it was doomed from the start. It sounded good in principle, born of fire and fury, but like any other flame, it had lost its intensity. It had lost its spark. Rebuild L.A. in its original incarnation lasted five years, quietly fading into the back pages of the news.

But wait, you may ask, what happened to the stores that were ‘Black Owned’? You know, the ones with the signs with the afrocentric black, red, green and white text? Glad you asked, because while Rebuild L.A did their part to stay true to their name, the fire and rage of the residents who lived in the community also played a pivotal part – one that resonates as a sad chapter on not only the city’s history, but the Southside’s history as well.

More on that next time.
P.S. The irony to all this? Rebuild L.A. has a Twitter account. (Though I don’t think it’s actually them…..)

Charles L. Chatmon
Chatmon’s Books

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Posted by on April 28, 2017 in Uncategorized


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