As the sun finishes rising and the first construction vehicles begin to roar across the street from the Leimert Park Village Plaza, it is business as usual, but the construction of this train stop may completely revolutionize this Los Angeles neighborhood—for better or worse.
“I live in Baldwin Hills, and my first experience with Leimert was in January, and I fell in love,” Sharayne Douglas said. “It feels like home to me, so I like to come here to get rejuvenated, you know, pick up things like shea butter and stuff of that nature that I can’t get at a regular beauty supply store.”
Douglas’ sentiments are not uncommon for residents and non-residents alike, who find solace in the predominantly African-American community. At just over a square mile, the neighborhood has both benefited and been hindered by its relative isolation, but being a part of LA Metro’s ambitious new Crenshaw/LAX line will change all of that.
Concerns over gentrification or the buying out of properties between now and the stop’s opening at the end of 2019 can be found easily around Leimert Park, but so can excitement about the increased foot traffic. It depends on who you ask.
“I’ve always felt, and I promote the fact that, the light rail system gives us another tool for marketing Leimert Park,” Vision Theatre Director James V. Burks, who has been a central part of the Leimert community since 1968, said. “They come with their own marketing department: Ride the train, get here, get there, but there’s also now going to be a connection between Leimert Park and Vision Theatre with every African-American community in Southern California from Bakersfield, Ventura, San Bernardino, Long Beach, Riverside, Inglewood, Compton, Carson, to right here by just hopping on the train.”
Vision Theatre is a historic building and has been undergoing massive renovations for over four years, but due to construction and financial delays, it will not officially close its doors until December 22. Due to these delays, including having to check all plans with a consultant since the building is officially a historic site, the theatre has been in limbo. However, all renovations are planned and on schedule to be completed by the end of 2019, which is right around the time the train stop will open as well.
This is no coincidence, as the renovations and the train stop are the central focuses of the Leimert Park 20|20 Vision Initiative. The initiative revolves around six main objectives: Design and cultural preservation, infrastructure and façades, transit oriented development, economic development, branding, marketing, and business development, and a collaborative fund development. The Greater Leimert Park Village Crenshaw Corridor Business Improvement District commissioned the initiative, and the objectives were identified by the Leimert Park Stakeholders.
One of the principals behind the planning process, and the founder of the Urban Design Center, Sherri Franklin, is excited about what the coming years will bring Leimert.
“The stop creates access literally and figuratively to Leimert and the Greater Los Angeles area,” Franklin said. “We know that transit connectivity helps communities thrive, and I don’t think such a small area can be viable without being a part of this transit system.”
As it was mentioned earlier, though, the opinions on the train stop vary depending on who you ask. Businesses tend to be more positive, while private citizens are more hesitant about how their communities will change, from housing prices to even their favorite businesses being pushed out.
“Just last night I was here and there was a block party with black-owned food trucks,” resident Turay Turay said. “We were able to kinda be out here and be together. So, I’m looking forward to the [2020 Vision Plan] because there will be stuff like a new coffee shop along with the train, so I’m excited and a little concerned as always when there’s a big big change and everybody is effected and may have to leave.”
Douglas described herself as “protective” over Leimert Park because it makes her feel so at home, and she doesn’t want to see the community change. She lived in England until she was seven and then Florida until she was 22 and moved to Los Angeles to attend the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and she says she has already seen places like Leimert get “bought out.”
“Everything is black-owned here and has some origin to Africa where most of the people in the area are from,” Douglas said. “So that’s where you get that homey feeling and the direct-connect instead of having to go through different realms like a Target to get traditional African products.”
Despite some residents’ hesitations, businesses like the Vision Theatre not only want the community to stay involved, but they believe they need it to survive. With such a close knit community, people like Burks have continued to emphasize that they will stay focused on residents and not just the new foot traffic.
“This theatre represents South Los Angeles, which I think has gotten less resources from the city in general,” Burks said. “Arts and culture is just a strong a tool for social economic development as building a factory or housing. But to accomplish this with the Vision, we need and want the community to have involvement.”
Although it may be business as usual for now, other than the large construction site at the corner of the neighborhood, changes are coming to Leimert Park, and everyone is cautiously hoping for the best.