The Los Angeles City Planning Office of Historic Resources partnered with the Getty Conservation Institute to create the African American Historic Places, Los Angeles (AAHPLA) project. The project was created to designate landmarks throughout Los Angeles that hold historic significance in the Black community.
Currently, only three percent of the City’s historic-cultural monuments are related to Black history. AAHPLA aims to grow that percentage. The city and the Getty have other partnerships that also help preserve historic sites for African Americans, according to LA City Planning Office of Historic Resources principal city planner Ken Bernstein.
“We completed a citywide survey of historic resources called survey LA, multi-year project with Getty Conservation Institute and Getty Foundation assistance,” Bernstein said. “We have completed a framework for African American history called the Historic Context Statement back in 2018.”
To kick off the project, the City of L.A. and the Getty hosted an event at St. Elmo Village, the keynote speaker was Showtime Lakers star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Watching her husband, Roderick Sykes, and his uncle Rozzell create St. Elmo Village, the organization’s director and administrator Jacqueline Alexander-Sykes knows the importance of preserving meaningful venues.
“It’s important that we don’t tear down the old just to build something brand new and shiny,” Alexander-Sykes said. “If you don’t take care of home, the next place is not going to be any better than where you were.”
Abdul-Jabbar, who led the NBA in scoring for 38 years, spoke to attendees about his experience visiting the historic Central Avenue and seeing John Coltrane perform during his time as a student athlete at UCLA.
“When I got here to start my freshman year, it was only a week after … the Watts Riots had just finished and people were still referring to Central as “Charcoal Alley,”” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Going to see John Coltrane just changed it all for me and so I realized that all the people were definitely in tune with and appreciative of their culture.”
During the event, new Historic-Cultural Monuments nominations were announced. The nominations included the First A.M.E. Church, Stylesville Beauty and Barber Shop in Pacoima, the California Eagle, and the residence of Tom and Ethel Bradley.
At the Kickoff, the attendees were encouraged to take an online survey and be recorded at a listening booth to share landmarks that they feel are important to the Black history and culture in Los Angeles. They could also get their photos taken with historic landmarks as the backdrop via greenscreen.
The attendees were considered as community connectors who would take what they learned about the AAHPLA project and tell it to other community members.
“What’s so important and special about this project is that it’s all with an understanding that we have to have community engagement,” said Getty Conservation Institute associate project specialist Rita Cofield. “We can’t reach all of L.A., but with community connectors, we can reach quite a few people in the community to help us to identify those sites that are important to their neighborhood.”
Vivian Bowers and her husband Greg Cowan came to the kick-off to talk about their business Bowers and Sons Cleaners that still resides on Central Ave.
“We were able to elaborate on things, not just talking about ourselves but other landmarks that are in our area like the Lincoln Theatre, like Second Baptist,” Bowers said. “It’s extremely important to preserve what we built and even let the young people know we were here and we did things and we are still here.”
For more information about the AAHPLA project, please visit https://www.getty.edu/projects/african-american-historic-places-los-angeles/