The Proud Bird is about to be grounded. Next week, barring some eleventh-hour breakthrough, the restaurant and banquet center near Imperial Highway and Aviation Boulevard will close up, the victim of rising rents and the inability to secure a long-term lease from its landlord, Los Angeles World Airports, the L.A. City agency that operates LAX, among other properties. This situation seems to be going around, such as the several long-standing places in Leimert Park Village are looking at potential closure because a new owner who bought property earlier in the year will likely change the terms of rents or raise them.
But whatever happens to individual shops in Leimert Park, Leimert Park will live on. Not so the Proud Bird, which is really a village unto itself.
The rambling grounds that included the huge parking lot and rustic landscaping around the entrance, the generous foyer, the restaurant with the vintage aircraft parked outside the window, the banquet rooms that included a Tuskegee Room named for the pioneer black fighter pilots of World War II -- all of it made the Proud Bird a kind of theme park/resort that felt both part of and far away from the airport-adjacent neighborhoods where it sits.
Imperial and Aviation is a kind of a dead zone between Inglewood and LAX, or -- if you're looking north-south -- between El Segundo and Westchester. That qualifies it as a real crossroads, a place utilized by the prosperous (or once-prosperous), professional aerospace industry and middle-class people, including many of color, who regularly gathered at the Proud Bird for holiday parties and class reunions (my siblings and I threw a modest dinner there for my parents for their fiftieth anniversary in 2006. My mother is famously leery of parties and especially of being feted herself, but she did agree to a fete at the Proud Bird, chiefly because she likes the place. It has a family feel.)
If the Proud Bird goes, there are plenty of big hotels just west of it where you could go to have events. But it won't be the same. Hotels are crossroads of the world, full of people from everywhere.
The Proud Bird is local, singular, an L.A. thing if there ever was one. It is ours, like the Hollywood Park race track, located a few miles from there, is ours. That's closing, too.
I almost never went to the race track when I was growing up, even though I loved horses and lived close by. But it was a touchstone, a marker, a place I passed countless times and always expected to see, that I watched from the distance of nearby Darby Park, which overlooks the practice track where the horses do their morning workout. I can't imagine it not being there, or the view of the track changing to a view of a mixed-use development. A major part of town and its history will be erased.
It's even tougher to imagine what Imperial and Aviation will look like, and feel like, without the Proud Bird -- a landing strip, another gap in the landscape waiting to be filled with transformation. What will happen immediately is that the dead zone between four corners of that particular corner of L.A. will die a little more.
I'm waiting on an eleventh hour.