The Palm trees along Crenshaw Blvd have an “Olympic” history. Photo by Brian W. Carter
The 1930s Olympic Games planted lasting memories that can be seen today.
When you think of Crenshaw Boulevard, what comes to mind? Low-riders. Traffic. The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. Leimert Park. Mom & Pop shops and restaurants. While all of these elements play significant roles in the culture of Crenshaw Boulevard and distinction of Los Angeles, there are several larger elements that bring our city to life and life to our city. Also a part of our history are the hundreds of palm trees that stand tall; often included in films, commercials, billboards and more. For over 80 years, the palm trees on Crenshaw Boulevard have contributed to our metropolitan aesthetic. First planted along the road in 1932, the flowering plants were meant for beautification precedent to the Summer Olympics. Home to the tropics, these nostalgic beauties are much more valid and contemporary than we know.
Symbolizing victory in pre-Christian times, the palm trees of Crenshaw Boulevard were especially representative of victory in the summer of 1932. Sprinter and victor of the 100 m and 200 m events, Eddie Tolan, also known as ‘Midnight Express’ was an American Olympian who made history for our country in the city of Los Angeles. Similarly, one of many innovations specific to the 1932 Summer Olympics (Games of the X Olympiad), was the victory podium upon which Tolan would be the first African-American to stand and receive gold. Essential to the end ceremonies of various Olympic events, the podium is ironically characterized by the symbolism of the sky-scraping woods.
With palm trees also denoting peace, their placement could not have come at a better time. Occurring during the worldwide Great Depression, the X Olympiad brought peace to the country and our city. Not only in the way of hope for a better economy, but also for a better people. First occupied by Eastern Europeans and Jewish Americans, the Crenshaw District was not extremely diverse. Barring African Americans and Asian Americans, the Crenshaw area was in for a surprise. Developed for male athletes of the 1932 Summer Games was an Olympic Village in the Baldwin Hills region, one of five areas bordering the renowned boulevard.
More than the also important low-rider shows, t-shirt stands, and mall events, Crenshaw Boulevard has relevance beyond these distinguished elements of culture. Beyond the crime and other negativities highlighted by media, characterized by Crenshaw Boulevard and surrounding areas, Crenshaw has history, rich and positive! So next time you’re driving down the boulevard or strolling to your local mom & pop or store, look up at the victorious, peaceful symbols of Los Angeles History. They’re Olympic!