The anti-gentrification movement in Boyle Heights has taken two tacks. On the one hand, there is the fairly conventional fight against new, large-scale apartment complexes such as the Wyvernhood and the Sears Project. At the same time, a smaller, younger, more radical group has taken to protesting art galleries and, earlier this summer, a coffee shop.
Both of those tactics have recently been seen in South Los Angeles, too.
A week and a half ago, a group of activists showed up to protest outside an art show at Dalton Warehouse, an artist space just east of USC. On Facebook, the name of the event was “Fk White Art,” a reference, perhaps, to the now-infamous message spray painted on one art gallery in Boyle Heights last year. The description on the Facebook page read:
Join us in disrupting the party of some gentrifying artists that recently moved into our neighborhood. As a historical black community with an influx of economic refugees from south of the border, it is very alarming to see white artists from Chicago swoop in and begin to displace workers and families.
With the time and luxury to create abstract art that doesn't relate to the actual struggles of our communities who are constantly attacked for our mere existence, we have already expressed to the hipster neo-colonizers that their presence puts our lives in danger.
We are not trying to have dialogue or negotiate. Our demand is that they close up shop and leave South Central immediately.
According to an artist who rents a studio in the Dalton Warehouse (he asked not to be identified, fearing reprisals from protesters), the space isn't exactly a gallery; it's 10 artist studios with a public gallery area. The warehouse displays artwork but does not sell artwork, or make any money. He says there were about 20 protesters last Friday, holding signs saying things like “Gringo Get Out.” They shouted, “Get the fuck out of our neighborhood” and called him a “white supremacist.”
At least one of the organizers is herself an artist — Skira Martinez, who owns the nearby Cielo Gallery, and who could not be reached for comment. In 2015, she told Artillery Magazine: “It’s been my experience as an artist that wherever you set up becomes the next hot spot. That’s the one thing I fear … but USC is right there, it’s unavoidable. If this [open lot next to Cielo] is now owned by Metro, it could be gentrified any minute. It’s hard to say.”
Damien Goodmon, a community organizer who runs the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, agrees with the protesters.
“I think artists in South L.A. and Boyle Heights should be serving the needs of the community,” Goodmon says. “There’s already an existing arts community in South Central.”
The Crenshaw Subway Coalition has been fighting a number of proposed developments in South L.A., including the Cumulus project at La Cienega and Jefferson boulevards. And at a community event on Thursday night, Goodmon spoke out against a proposed makeover of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. Under the proposal approved by the City Planning Commission last month, the indoor shopping mall, which opened in 1947, would be converted into a Grove-esque outdoor mall, surrounded by new buildings that would comprise 551 for-sale condominiums, 410 market-rate apartment units and a 400-room hotel. There would also be a brand-new, 10-story office building. The whole development would triple in size to more than 3 million square feet.
In a written statement, Rachel Freeman, general manager of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw, said: “New quality housing units will provide the opportunity for people to return to the neighborhood they grew up in. It will also serve community members looking to transition their parents from nearby homes to quality apartments. We believe the plan will meet community demand and deliver a great benefit to our neighborhood.”
An unspecified number of those housing units, according to Freeman, will be “workforce housing,” which means they will be reserved for people making up to 150 percent of the area median family income. The median family income in Los Angeles County is now $64,300; 150 percent of that is $96,450.
Although no housing would be torn down, Goodmon says the project will lead to “indirect displacement” by increasing the value of surrounding properties and raising rents. By not including any affordable housing in the proposal, Goodmon says, “They’re catering to the interests of the uber rich — the gentry.”
Larry Gross, who runs the Coalition for Economic Survival, says splashy developments with new amenities such as grocery stores and coffee shops do make neighborhoods more desirable. “Our position has always been [that] providing increased services and amenities is a good thing, as long as the people who are already living there get to benefit from them as well,” he says. “There’s not enough safeguards being put in place to prevent displacement and preserve the affordable housing that’s already there.”
“This is the big gentrification issue that’s being felt in every major urban area,” Goodmon says. “It was only a matter of time before it hit South L.A.”