California Fool’s Gold – Exploring Morningside Circle

California Fool's Gold

Alright… the winner, thus far, in the Los Angeles neighborhoods blog poll is Morningside Circle. I know you probably thought I forgot all about it but what happened was my camera was broken and I just got it back from the store.

So Morningside Circle. If you’re a resident of Morningside Circle, let me know. For the most-voted-for neighborhood, it sure was hard to find out anything online. Wikipedia doesn’t have an entry (despite having one for just about every other neighborhood in the city) and I found next-to-nothing online.

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography‘s map of Morningside Circle, available in both art prints and merchandise

I knew it was somewhere in the vast South Los Angeles area so I asked South Angelenos Kirk Gee and Big Nick Nickerson and they weren’t really sure where it was but Nick thought it was by Manchester… which turned out to be right. I checked the city clerk records (Court File: 01-1874). According to a motion introduced in 2002:

“the Eighth District Empowerment Congress has been working aggressively on the “Naming Neighborhoods Project” to identify and appropriately name the unique communities found within its membership area. Frequently, the diverse and dynamic characteristics of the individual neighborhoods are cast aside as an entire area of the City of Los Angeles is deemed “South Central.” By properly identifying the existing communities throughout the area, the Empowerment Congress members have sought to instill a feeling of community pride and foster a greater sense of community empowerment.”

The boundaries of Morningside Circle are defined as Florence on the north, Western on the east, Manchester on the south, and Van Ness on the west. To the west is Inglewood and Hyde Park, Manchester Square is to the east, Canterbury Knolls is to the north, and West Park Terrace is to the South. Curiously, despite the neighborhood’s name, the neighborhood’s shape isn’t circular at all, in fact, it’s a perfect rectangle.

A mural of Marcus Garvey

The neighborhood is dominated by small, Spanish-style bungalows. On the peripheral streets there are two story apartments and low-rise commercial buildings. Some of the streets are fairly tree-lined and the neighborhood is relatively green.

Circle Park — perhaps the titular park of the neighborhood?

The area of South Los Angeles, south of Slauson and west of Main, was opened up to the black population following the 1948 court decision Shelley vs. Kraemer, wherein the Supreme Court banned the enforcement of racist housing covenants. In the 1970s, Mexican and Central American immigrants began to move to the area in large numbers. Today, Morningside Circle is roughly 79% black, and 19% Latino, mostly Mexican and Guatemalan.

The area is served by the highly-regarded 74th Street Elementary School. When it let out, the sidewalks were flooded with kids in white golf shirts who joined the white-T-wearing non-students milling about on the sidewalks and balconies of the neighborhood.

A typical storefront. I liked thatched awning.

The boundaries of Morningside Circle are also home to all the businesses. There are a lot of churches and about an equal number of chicken restaurants (and a Church’s Chicken). The most impressive, smell-wise (I’m vegetarian so that’s all I can go by), was Smokee Joe’s Bar-B-Q on Florence. The grill outside was filling the air with delicious-smelling smoke. The slogan on the sign says, “Dem people know what they doin’.”

The most impressive church, at least from the outside, is the Krst Unity Center of Afrikan Spiritual Science on Western. The entrance is flanked by two 12-foot-tall statues depicting Queen Tiye and Ramses II. They were designed by Charles Dickson.

In fact, walking around the neighborhood, the predominant smells I encountered were the twin temptations of chicken and weed. The rest of the businesses in the neighborhood are mostly barbershops (especially on Western) and beauty salons.

Smokee Joe’s Bar-B-Q Grill

One guy, wearing a plain red shirt yelled down from his balcony to “have a blessed day” and announced that he was, himself, feeling blessed. When I saw him later, he ran down the stairs from his apartment, leaving his bemused friends smiling, and I saw that his eyes matched his shirt. He gave me a business card for Blessed Towing which is on Vine in Hollywood… if you ever need a tow service or a blessing.

I also saw a place on Manchester and Wilton called the Black Silk Lounge that was available for rent but had a minimum age of 35, according to the sign on the door. Maybe you just have to be 35 to rent it out. Something to look forward to when I’m old enough to run for Prez.

If you’ve got anything to say about Morningside Circle, chime in!

Support Eric Brightwell on Patreon

Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICSHidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft ContemporaryForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County Store, the book SidewalkingSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistCurbedLAEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on AmebaDuolingoFacebookGoodreadsInstagramMubi, the StoryGraph, and Twitter.

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