By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Real estate agent Adam Janeiro has spent years catering to the multiethnic, largely well-heeled home buyers who want to buy, restore and live in the historic houses in and around West Adams, a section of South Los Angeles that takes in Arlington Heights, Halldale and other neighborhoods. In short, Janeiro is sowing the seeds of gentrification, by showing newcomers from Philadelphia and West L.A. alike what those neighborhoods have to offer. As middle-class money keeps pressing south, so the levees begin to crack and crumble — Exposition Boulevard, King Boulevard, Coliseum Drive, places where a three-bedroom house can run for $550,000, even with all the talk of underinvestment. “Slauson is where people stop in their tracks,” Janeiro said. “They say, ‘Don’t take me any further south. It’s fine to drive around with you, Adam, but turn the car around.’ ”
Buyers from out of state are far more open to the idea of South Los Angeles than those who grew up here, Janeiro explained. But even Angelenos who grew up on the Westside and can no longer afford it are beginning to acquaint themselves with names like Magnolia Square, Canterbury Knolls and Vermont Square.
“There are these places that are just off the map. People don’t know they exist, they don’t know where they are, and they can’t imagine living there,” Janeiro explained. “And it takes a movement, a shift, something to happen to delineate that [place]. Every day that Maginot Line is getting pushed farther south. For a lot of people, it’s only pushed as far south as Exposition. For now, Jefferson Park has become that place.”
Even with the real estate market showing serious signs of softening, Janeiro believes the changes will be lasting in Jefferson Park, a neighborhood whose western flank runs along Crenshaw Boulevard, the cultural center of African-American Los Angeles. In Jefferson Park, where Janeiro lives, buyers were intrigued by the “esprit de corps” of the neighborhood — the block clubs, the civic groups, the progressive parties. Now, the buying pool has moved beyond the pioneers and the immigrants to a group he calls “mixed-ethnic, liberal-democrat, social-justice urbanists.”
“As the neighborhood became more multiethnic, it became more comfortable for people to consider as a destination,” Janeiro said. “There are people that are trailblazers, who don’t care if no one in the surrounding four blocks looks like them. And then there are people who don’t want Westchester or West Covina, but feel a little more comfortable if one person in 10 looks like them. They want multiethnic, not something that’s monolithic one way or another.”
One buyer ushered into South Los Angeles by Janeiro was Patricia Diefenderfer, a planner for the city of Los Angeles who has devoted much of her energies to preparing neighborhoods to accommodate more housing. Priced out of Echo Park, the neighborhood where she rented for the past five years, Diefenderfer bought a bungalow for less than $400,000 on 49th Street near Normandie Avenue, in a section of the city known as Vermont Square.
Diefenderfer is happy with the neighborhood, especially the 1913 library that is only a few blocks away. But she longs for a greater selection of businesses on Normandie, beyond the liquor stores, auto-body shops and storefront churches. “I’m not just talking about chichi stuff, like coffee, although that would be nice,” she said. “Basically, I would just love to be able to step out my door and have that be a destination, walk out my door and buy a few groceries, have coffee, find something to eat, go to the dry cleaners — what neighborhoods have always been like, and what I believe should be like.”
Diefenderfer said she knows what would happen if she got the businesses she craves. Her neighborhood would have become a different place, with fewer working-class families and more affluent ones. Diefenderfer speaks sadly as she acknowledges this, saying it’s almost as if Los Angeles is designed to deny lower-income families decent stores and anything approaching urban street life.
“To have those things, in this city, you have to be privileged. That is how I feel. And that’s one of the very unfortunate things about this city,” Diefenderfer said. “The other unfortunate thing is that neighborhoods like South L.A. have .?.?. all the right ingredients, and yet somehow, [the amenities] are just not there. And when they get there, the same people will not be there living in it and appreciating it. And I don’t know why that is.”
You’d have thought an entire block of Crenshaw Boulevard was having a party on a recent bright June morning, when basketball star turned entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson unveiled his latest development project in South Los Angeles — a Starbucks outlet carved out of an old bowling alley and coffee shop. A van driven by KJLH-FM blasted the Gap Band’s “Early in the Morning” out of its considerable speakers, while a line of customers 50 deep snaked out of the Starbucks into the parking lot.
Some were eager to get an iced whipped-coffee drink, the kind that is more dessert than coffee. Others clutched basketballs and eagerly waited for a seated Johnson to sign them. The event reinforced a truism long understood by the city’s political leaders: Residents across South Los Angeles are starving for swankier businesses, from coffeehouses to sit-down restaurants.