Wednesday, July 29, 2015

To Designate or Not To Designate?

Map of View Park-Windsor Hills
Los Angeles, California

Hello Everyone:

Today we are going stay on the subject of gentrification with a look at how one neighborhood in Los Angeles is dealing with the situation.  The neighborhood is the Southwest Los Angeles community of View Park-Windsor Hills, called the "Black Beverly HIlls."  It was here, that affluent African Americans, excluded from the city's tony neighborhoods of Hancock Park, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, and Brentwood, could buy a house.  Angel Jennings reports in her Los Angeles Times article, "'Black Beverly Hills' debates historic status vs. white gentrification," that long time residents are facing an influx of "joggers" and "dog walkers"-a community euphemism for Caucasians with their dogs and brightly colored track suits.  For one resident, Karen Martin who grew up in the community, It's like an alien sighting.  For other long time residents who treasure view Park as symbol of African American affluence and a stronghold of culture, it is a disturbing situation.

Scenic view from View Park-Windsor Hills
Los Angeles, California
The residents of this upscale community have fended off proposals they believed threatened the neighborhood's character defining features, notably it solid African American identity.
Currently, the effort to place View Park on the National Register of Historic has metastasized into a serious point of contention.  Some residents see designation as an honor for this community steeped with a sense of pride in the past which makes the place feel like home. Others see designation as a way to attract white buyers in search of affordable Westside housing.  Tammy Williams is one residents who beams with community pride but opposes designation.

View Park Home
Tammy Williams is typical View Park-Windsor Hill resident.  Ms. Williams bought her 4,000 square-foot Mid-twentieth century Modern home in 2003 in an area referred to by some the "Black Beverly Hills."  For Ms. Williams it was a feeling of You have arrived. Later, while standing out on a new neighbor's patio, with a friend, they inhaled the magnificent view of the downtown skyscrapers in the evening light, feeling We've made it!  This excitement was more of a general feeling, not just for herself.  View Park was not always a predominantly African American community.

Until the sixties, View Park was predominantly Caucasian.  The Supreme Court removed housing covenants which prevented non-white homeowners, and the first group of black families, mostly upper middle class, began to move in and integrate the neighborhood.  As the first wave of African American homeowners moved in, Caucasians fled, leaving spacious homes with pools and breath taking views of downtown.  At one point singers-musicians Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner called the community home.  It still has a celebrity cache.  Angel Jennings writes, "By the 1970s, blacks outnumbered whites nearly 3 to 1.  A decade later, the ratio was 9 to 1."

Not Beverly Hills, it's View Park-Windsor Hills

Currently, the unincorporated neighborhood is "84% African American, and combined with neighboring Windsor Hills, Baldwin Hills and Ladera Heights, constitutes the West Coast's highest concentration of black affluence." According to the 2010 census, "Half of View Park's residents have earned a bachelor's degree or higher...and the tract that contains most of the neighborhood had an average family income of $90,000-tens of thousands of dollars above the countrywide average for white families and 21/2 [?] the median income among Los Angeles County blacks."  Some residents attribute this statistic to the collective hard work, individually and collectively, "to win a place atop this hill that they fight so hard to maintain its character."

Tree lined street in View Park-Windsor Hills
When urban planners announced plans to build low-income housing at the bottom of the hill, residents banded together to defeat the plan.  Residents also prevented the Department of Recreation and Parks from installing restrooms at the local park because they feared it would attract problems.  Some have even voiced their resistance to the Crenshaw-LAX light rail because it could bring new people to the base of their quiet community.  All of this may sound strange to some of you but if this was an affluent white community, would still sound odd?  Thus, concerns over problems from outsiders moving in, changing the historic and cultural fabric have galvanized residents to form the View Park Conservancy ( and place their community in nomination for the National Register for Historic Places.

MacLean House c.1928
According to National Register historian Paul Lusignan,

That federal designation could come with property tax credits for new homeowners who maintain a property's historic characteristics and limited federal protection from developments...

Some residents welcome designation as a way to add value to their homes.  However, other residents point their fingers at outside developers and home flippers, accusing them of trying to snatch the home of people dealing with financial misfortune.  These residents see designation as potential marketing tool to attract new, mostly white, buyers to View Park's historic homes, some of which have been built by well known architects and sell for comparatively less than homes a few miles away.  Musician Reggie A. Carson told Ms. Jennings, Somebody found a gold mine and they are trying to milk it...Seniors happen to be the predominate demographic here and they are also the easiest to get rid of.

1928 home on Angeles Vista and Deane
Ben Kahle, a conservancy co-founder and licensed realtor posted the following comments on a 2013 online forum, quoted by Ms. Jennings,

My plan is to walk my dogs as many neighbors as I can , and to be seen as a friendly face...When the time comes, I'm thinking of having my wife bake some of her amazing cookies...and mention that I'd be interested in buying their homes.

Ben Kahle grew tense when he discussed his comments with Ms. Jennings, later expressing his regrets,

I definitely understand the concerns that people would feel after reading some those things.  He also stated that he would not intentionally do anything that would hurt the neighborhood.

Pictures of View Park Seville Homes c.1930
View Park is not the only predominately African American community suffering an identity crisis.  Darrick Hamilton, an associate professor of urban policy at the New School told Ms. Jennings,

From Washington D.C., to Oakland, working-class neighborhoods that have been stronghold for black are becoming increasingly diverse as people shun suburbs for the convenience of city living...So far, the trend has skipped many more prosperous African American neighborhoods, such as those in Prince George's County, Md., where buyers as well as sellers continue to be predominantly black.

Olympic Village under construction c. 1932
View Park-Windsor Hills
Unfortunately, the recession has had a lingering effect on African Americans and Los Angeles's red hot real estate market, which makes View Park an exception.  Ms. Jennings mentions that researchers have found "Some black homeowners grabbed the low, adjustable interest loans that subprime lenders dangled before them to refinance their homes..." A definite recipe for homeowner disaster.  Still others used their home equity as a down payment on business ventures, private education, and investment properties.  Lance Freeman, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University said,

Some fell behind on payments and their homes ended up in foreclosure.  This occurred much more frequently in black communities.  Prof. Freeman is the author of "There Goes the 'Hood: Views of Gentrification From the Ground Up."

To add further injury, a recent Zillow study found that African Americans are denied a home loan "at twice the rate of whites, and so it is more likely that banks, flippers, and non-African American buyers will grab those foreclosed properties."

Pictures of housing construction in View Park c.1928
Writer and analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a Windsor Hills resident, is empathetic to concerns regarding the incoming Caucasian residents-those joggers and dog walkers.  He told Ms. Jennings,

We have so few areas...So little turf we can call our own.  This is yet another invasion by another group coming in to destroy both the culture, the lifestyle and economic continuity of our areas.

Nevertheless, View Park Conservancy co-founder Andre Gaines notes that the organization's roster of 476-strong is an indicator of community support.  Angel Jennings writes, "It took the group less than a year to its fundraising goal $100,000..."  Mr. Gaines told Ms. Jennings, Some of that money,...will pay for the firm Architectural Resources Group to complete the documentation needed for National Register nomination, including maps, photos, and description of each property.  In the interest of full disclosure, ARG principal Katie Horak was one of bloggers professors at the University of Southern California.

Pictures of View Park Seville Homes c.1930
Recently, ARG sent out a pair of white women toting laptops and cameras to survey the individual properties.  Unfortunately, they were greeted by a few expletive spewing residents.  Katie Horak, one of the firm's principals has this to say, There were definitely tense moments, but that's not uncommon...People get protective of their homes, as they should.  Historic preservation is not a profession for the overly sentimental or thin skinned.  Opponents of designation have passed out fliers, advertising their website According to the website:

We are long-time residents of View Park and Windsor Hills, who are diametrically opposed to any goals or plans to turn View Park in to a historic district and/or Historic Preservation Overlay Zone...Historic preservation has been transformed into a real estate gimmick to start the gentrification process...(Ibid)

On the social media pages, one opponent told the conservancy, in no uncertain terms, View Park will not be colonized...I'm coming at you with FULL FORCE.  Okaaay.  This white hot anger forced the conservancy to hire security for their next fundraiser.

Homes in View Park c.1927
 Meanwhile, we return to Tammy Williams who felt that "she arrived" when Ms. Williams moved to View Park.  She carries with her an over stuffed three-ring notebook chronicling the battles waged by the community residents over the decades.  Ms. Williams launched her own organization, View Park Arts & Cultural Foundation ( One of the pages features posters of movies shot in View Park such as: Ray, Love and Basketball, What's Love Got to Do With It, and Something New.  The films bring together the stories of African Americans.  Regardless of their position on designation, View Park residents all say that these stories give them a sense of pride and make them feel protective of their home.  According to Ms. Williams,

You make the black people disappear and its breaks the legacy for the next group who earned their way back to this community...Those pushing for historical designation...are only interested in the real estate.  They are not looking at the people.

However, View Park Conservancy member Cookie Parker has different point of view.  Ms. Peters told Ms. Jennings, The neighborhood's growing diversity, including an influx of young people, is healthy for everyone,...There's a vibrancy.  Every place needs life and new blood

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