Crenshaw Boulevard: Cruising Through the Decades | KCET
Crenshaw Boulevard: Cruising Through the Decades
Crenshaw Boulevard, the 'Shaw', the Crenshow -- though it may lack the global appeal of its Hollywood cousins, the iconic thoroughfare is best known to many Angelenos as the cultural and commercial spine of black L.A. Of course, as is true with many sections of South Los Angeles, this wasn't always the case.
The street was named in 1904 after banker and real estate developer George Lafayette Crenshaw, often remembered for his upscale Lafayette Square community, located just two blocks from the boulevard bearing his name.1 Twenty-three miles in length from its start in Hancock Park to its terminus on a panoramic cliff in Palos Verdes, Crenshaw Boulevard, as architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne once noted, "begins and ends in wealth."2
Prior to WWII, many of the communities intersected by Crenshaw Boulevard were "protected" by housing restrictions that essentially barred non-white ownership. In the 1930s, the Leimert Park development served as a glimmering addition to Crenshaw, attracting a middle to upper class white population, lured by Spanish revival homes and a plaza designed by the Olmsted Brothers.3 In those years many area residents would buy their fresh produce at the Mesa Vernon Market at the corner of Crenshaw and Leimert Place (before 1930 that section of Crenshaw was known as Angeles Mesa Drive) . With the arrival of Ralph's grocers in 1942, and the Broadway Crenshaw Plaza (now the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza) in 1947, the Boulevard quickly established itself as a thriving commercial corridor.
By the late 1950s and early '60s, many communities along Crenshaw Boulevard became home to middle class Black and Japanese Americans, particularly in the Crenshaw, Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills districts. This middle class, multi-ethnic milieu made the Crenshaw District "a model community for postwar integrationists."4
The nightlife on and off Crenshaw Boulevard also attracted citywide attention by featuring some of the hottest musical acts of the day. The Memory Lane Supper Club (purchased in 1980 by actress Marla Gibbs and renamed Marla's Memory Lane), located just a few blocks east of Crenshaw Boulevard on Martin Luther King Boulevard (previously Santa Barbara Avenue, more on that in a future column), was a Leimert Park favorite. Nat King Cole played the famed supper club just days before his death in 1965. In 1966 John Daniel's opened Mavericks Flat, dubbed the "Apollo of the West." By no means home to just amateurs, it featured acts like The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Ike and Tina Turner, and Parliament Funkadelic.5 According to owner John Daniels, Mavericks Flat was a symbol of cultural pride and a beloved L.A. institution:
Down the block from Maverick's Flat was Lonnie Simmons' Total Experience, a venue that often hosted funk, soul, and disco acts that were still on their way to stardom. The venue was often considered the R&B equivalent of the Roxy Theatre. Simmons turned portions of the venue into a recording studio, and eventually released the Gap Band's third album, featuring the hit single, "Shake" under his Total Experience Records label (note: the song has been used as the bumper theme for KCRW's "Good Food" in years past).7 Other famed nightspots included Freddie Jet's Pied Piper, The Parison Room, and the Flying Fox. After the clubs closed, patrons of the Crenshaw nightlife often ended the night with a hot meal at the coffee shop located inside the Japanese-owned Holiday Bowl.
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