Urban Rambles – Exploring Bronzeville

Urban Rambles

2017 is my tenth year of exploring and writing about Los Angeles communities. In 2007 I explored Granada Hills, Montebello, and Alhambra, and titled my series California Fool’s Gold in homage to Huell Howser‘s California’s Gold (1991-2012). In 2014 I spun off a related series, Urban Rambles, in which I undertake short, small, loosely structured walks of various corners of Southern California. As part of my tenth anniversary of blogging about Los Angeles, I decided to reach out to friends and people I admire to see where they would choose to explore. The first person that I contacted was a past collaborator, Maya Santos, the talented filmmaker behind Form follows Function (FfF). She suggested exploring a neighborhood which no longer exists, Bronzeville.

Bronzeville was a black neighborhood which rose and fell within the territory of Little Tokyo during the years of the 1940s in which Japanese-Americans were interned in concentration camps. Bronzeville is one of those Los Angeles neighborhoods that mostly exists in newspaper archives and fading memories, having gone the way of Brooklyn HeightsCrown HillEdendale, French Town, Furusato, Greek TownLittle ItalySonoratown, SurfridgeYork Valley, and the Native American villages before them. The idea of exploring such an almost entirely vanished neighborhood intrigued me. Maya enlisted the help of Michael Okamura — president of the Little Tokyo Historical Society — and he agreed to lead a free, public exploration of neighborhood on which we were joined by about two dozen other folks, who in some cases contributed their own information and memories.

Bronzeville, Little Tokyo.png

The timing of our exploration corresponds with that of the annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, presented every year since 1983 by Visual Communications (VC). The dates of the 33rd edition are 27 April – 4 May. As part of that event, Form follows Function and Visual Communications are co-presenting a multimedia, site-specific “activation” of First Street in Little Tokyo, inspired by the under-documented and overlooked community of Bronzeville and titled Bronzeville, Little Tokyo. The original project is a follow-up to FfF and VC’s 2016 collaboration, Interactive Little Tokyo! The project is funded by California Arts Council and supported by Little Tokyo Service Center‘s +LABThat two day event will take place 29 and 30 April 2017.


Los Angeles’s Bronzeville wasn’t the only neighborhood of that name. There were or are Bronzevilles in ColumbusMilwaukee, and most famously, Chicago. Neither was Bronzeville Los Angeles’s first black enclave, although it arose in pretty much exactly the same corner of the city as did its predecessor.

Bridget Mason
Bridget “Biddy” Mason

California became a state and 1850. There were just 1,610 people living in the pueblo of Los Angeles then. Although a free state, a slave named Bridget “Biddy” Mason was illegally brought into town in 1851. She successfully sued for her freedom in a Los Angeles court and afterward moved into the home of livery stable owner Robert Owens and his wife, Winnie. Biddy Mason soon established herself as a powerful presence in real estate. In 1866 she bought a home at 311 Spring Street, then near the edge of the city. Mason owned several properties by then but she wasn’t the only black businessperson in the area. Also around 1888, Frank Blackburn opened his Coffee and Chop House at the corner of East 1st Street and Los Angeles Street. The neighborhood reportedly came to colloquially be known as the Brick Block, possibly named after a brick building constructed by Mason in 1884. Other black-owned businesses in the neighborhood included a market, a couple of furniture stores, a barbershop, and a restaurant owned by J.R. Walker. In 1903, A.J. Jones opened a two story hotel and restaurant at the corner of East 1st and San Pedro Street.

In 1904, a writer at the Los Angeles Times referred to the area as Los Angeles’s “negro tenderloin.” Within the same piece, the author referred to a “Japanese dive,” suggesting that it the Brick Block was somewhat multicultural. Indeed, ex-seaman Hamanosuke “Charles Hama” Shigeta had opened the city’s first Japanese eatery, Kame Restaurant, at 304 East 1st Street in 1884. Japanese had recently attained status as the preferred Asian immigrant. The Chinese Massacre of 1871, which took place nearby, remains the nation’s deadliest mass lynching and racism against the Chinese culminated in the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

By the early 1900s, the area was not just home to an emerging black merchant class, but also maintained gambling houses, drinking dens, and brothels. The black middle class urged City Hall to crack down on vice but local government turned a blind eye. Eager to distance themselves from disreputability, much of the black community relocated south of “the Nickel” (the term “skid row” had yet to be applied to 5th Street), centered around the intersection of 6th Street and South Central Avenue. As the population of the city and community grew, the heart of the black community moved south, to 8th Street, 20th Street, and by the 1928 opening of Hotel Somerville (later renamed the Dunbar and now Dunbar Village), all the way over to 41st — but always along South Central. By then, the area beyond of South Central Avenue’s northern terminus had been known for at least 20 years as “Little Tokio” (then the preferred spelling).

Temple
Michael Okamura addresses the group in front of the original Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple (during Bronzeville the Providence Baptist Association).

On 7 December 7 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service bombed the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, in the Territory of Hawaii. On 18 March of 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9102, creating the War Relocation Authority (WRA), which forcibly relocated 120,000 Americans in concentration camps on the basis of their ancestry. Till then there had been roughly 37,000 Japanese living in Los Angeles County and with them suddenly removed, many of Los Angeles’s white property owners found themselves with a lot of vacancies on their hands. 

Batman frame
A frame from Batman (released in 1943), in which the narrator intones, “This was part of a foreign land transplanted bodily to America and known as Little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs it has become virtually a ghost street…”

In July 1942, the Los Angeles Times mentioned that local business owners were floating the idea of turning Little Tokyo into a “Latin American section.” Before long, a tidal wave of laborers would crowd into the neighborhood. Whilst some were Latino, the vast majority were black migrants from either Louisiana or Texas. They came answering the call for war workers but at the same time, found themselves barred from living (or even being in after sundown) most neighborhoods and communities of this free state.

By then there were a handful of neighborhoods in Los Angeles in which blacks could live. “Ghost Town” (Oakwood) came with the annexation of Venice. Watts had been annexed by Los Angeles in part to prevent the existence of a black municipality at the city’s edge. South Central was Los Angeles’s middle class “Harlem of the West” and people were calling Jefferson ParkSugar Hill,” after Harlem’s wealthy black enclave. South Central was probably the most appealing. It was home to half a dozen black cinemas, numerous restaurants, and clubs which hosted swing and bop‘s finest. Still, it strained under the arrival of so many during the 1940s, the decade in which the black population increased 269%. Priority was given to migrants with family ties in the neighborhood but there was a degree of classism from the established community. Many in South Central looked down on these country arrivals and column space of black newspapers complained of the newcomers’ supposedly lack of manners, loud voices, and louder fashions.

The mostly vacant Bronzeville remained the port-of-entry of choice for many, then, and remained so even after it quickly overfilled past the bursting point. If South Central was the Los Angeles’s Harlem, Bronzeville seems to have more resembled New Orleans‘s Storyville, Kansas City‘s 18th & Vine, and Ellis Island rolled into one.  The rambunctious and anarchic scene played out almost literally in the shadow of City Hall. Unlike South Central, which catered almost entirely to blacks, Bronzeville attracted whites — sometimes famous ones like Gene Kelly and Judy Garland — and one suspects that this rubbed some folks the wrong way.

There were also Breakfast Clubs, which skirted the laws regarding last call by selling ice cubes and mixers to patrons already in possession of alcohol and providing live entertainment until 6 in the morning. Additionally, several shoeshine parlors reportedly served as fronts for brothels. There was also cannabis, or as it was referred to in the Poison Act which made its cultivation a crime, “loco weed.” Harry Anslinger, who remained commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics until 1962, warned that most cannabis smokers were “Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers” and he warned that “their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others.”

Sadly, little of this “Satanic music” was recorded, as the years of Bronzeville’s existence largely overlap those of the longest musician strike in American history, which lasted from 1942 until 1944. At least two Bronzeville clubs broadcast performances live. Likewise, I was unable to find any film footage made in the venues of Bronzeville.  In New England, many an innkeeper makes the claim that George Washington slept in their establishment. If Bronzeville had an equivalent, it probably would be groundbreaking saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker.

The first black business in the Bronzeville era was a hotel, in fact, the Digby Hotel. Its existence pre-dated Bronzeville, but it was purchased by Leonard Christmas in 1943, who in August helped organize the Bronzeville Chamber of Commerce. Christmas bought the hotel when he saw the growing need for housing. By the spring of 1944, Bronzeville has overfull. At the behest of the mayor, Fletcher Bowron,  Deputy Mayor Orville Caldwell toured the neighborhood and incredulously claimed that within four short blocks he’d counted 47 liquor stores and numerous brothels. Although it seems like it must’ve been an exaggeration and despite neighborhoods targeted for redevelopment being labeled “slums,” many Bronzevillians were inarguably living in substandard conditions. Tuberculosis, venereal diseases, bedbugs, cockroaches, rats, and scabies all flourished in the unsanitary, cramped neighborhood.

Jackson Street
Behind 1st Street and the Union Center for the Arts — which was the Pilgrim House during the Bronzeville era — now mostly a large parking lot.

The Los Angeles City Health Department (LACHD) and several community organizations made efforts to address the problem. The LACHD claimed that there were nearly 80,000 people living in Bronzeville, sleeping in churches, garages, temples, vacant storefronts, and often taking rotating sleeping shifts on shared “hot beds.” City Health Office inspectors served 140 abatement notices but with racial housing covenants, the newly arrived had few places to go. There would’ve been no health and housing crisis if not for racial housing covenants, which excluded blacks from 95% of the city and remained in place until 1948. At the same time, there was relentless opposition to building new housing for city’s growing population.

Old Buildings
A trio of buildings which during the Bronzeville era, one of which housed the Indigo Breakfast Club and the second location of the Finale Club

A survey revealed that 85% of Bronzeville residents had arrived in Los Angeles within the past year. Housing projects Jordan Downs and Hacienda Village had been built to accommodate war workers in Watts but with an estimated 5,000 migrants arriving every month, far more housing was desperately needed. In late 1943, the Federal Housing Authority proposed building temporary housing for war-workers in the Willowbrook area but hostile residents of then-white communities like Compton objected vociferously to the construction of even a mere 300-unit project. In many cases they claimed that although they themselves weren’t racists, an influx of blacks into mostly white communities might ignite racial violence and would surely drive down their property values. 

On 3 June, an influx of white American military personnel went on a rampage against Mexicans, Filipinos, blacks, and other minorities in East Los Angeles and Downtown. The targets of their hatred were youth whose baggy clothing, it was claimed, was an unpatriotic affront to wartime austerity. More than 150 civilians were injured in the attacks, known as the Zoot Suit Riots. Los Angeles Police were instructed not to arrest the rioting servicemen and instead arrested about 500 victims of violence on charges like vagrancy. In the aftermath, Los Angeles City Council approved a resolution criminalizing the wearing of zoot suits within Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Times proclaimed “Zoot Suiters Learn Lesson in Fight with Servicemen.”

Bronzeville emerged from the violence relatively unscathed and business seems to have boomed that summer. Tommy Lewis opened a popular breakfast club, Creole Palace. The club featured Avery Parish and the Four Tones, Helen Andrews,  Roy Milton and His Solid Senders, and other entertainers. In September, just up the street, a cooperative of nineteen black women headed by Clara W. Brown opened the Crown Point Department Store. Brown had moved to Los Angeles from New Orleans and had been an agent for the Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Company

The opening of the Cielito Lindo was followed by the August establishment of the Cobra Room (or Cobra Lounge). Its host, Earl Griffin, had earlier that year run for the position of Los Angeles County Supervisor and was known colloquially as the “Mayor of First Street.” Entertainers who performed there include the Flennoy Trio, the Red Callender Trio (and Red Callender’s Quartette), Mabel Scott, and Zutty Singleton. In the fall, the Finale Club opened at 230 1/2 East 1st Street. A fundraiser was held there to raise money for the purchase of equipment for a Bronzeville playground. The club’s live shows were broadcast live on KXLA.

That fall, black entrepreneurs formed Consolidated Hotels Inc., which oversaw seven hotels, including the Civic (formerly the Miyako), the Alan, the Rossmore, the Regal, the Royal, and the U.S. Before the year’s end, the Bronzeville News Publishing Company began printing the weekly Bronzeville News. The prevailing view seems to have been that Bronzeville was here to stay.

Shepp's
Among the best known Bronzeville breakfast club’s was Shepp’s Playhouse. (image from bronzeville-la.ltsc.org)

Bronzeville’s most famous club, Shepp’s Playhouse, opened on 12 September 1944. Its owner, Gordon H. Sheppard, had been a cameraman in Hollywood before he entered the nightclub business. The MC at Shepp’s was Leonard Reed, a veteran of Harlem’s famed Cotton Club. He was married to one of the club’s dancers — until their divorce the following year. Live entertainers who performed at Shepp’s included the Bardu Ali Band, Bettie Davis, Chaulier and Smythe, Coleman Hawkins, Dandridge and Ware, Eddie Heywood, Effie Smith, Ernie Morris, the Four Mellotones, Gerald Wilson’s Orchestra, the Harris Brothers, Herb JeffriesJoe Bell, Joe Liggins and his Honeydrippers, June YoungaeoLeroy Williams, Marie Bryant, Marva Louis, Neave Peoples, Peg Leg Bates, Pha Terrel, Rae Pearl and Yo-Yo, Sammy Montgomery, Saxie Williams, the Sepia Tones, Sneeks and Amy, T-Bone Walker, the Three Charms, the Three Cubans, Toni Anthony, the Two Esquires, the Two Hot Shots, Valaida Snow, and Willie Lewis. Live shows from Shepp’s were broadcast live on KPAS.

linda-lea
Advertisement for the Linda Lea (image from bronzeville-la.ltsc.org)

Two of the last clubs to open in Bronzeville were Club Rendezvous, which opened in February 1945, and the Linda Lea Theatre, which took over the former Fuji-Kan Theatre. Club Rendezvous was run by the mother-son management team of Beatrice and Edgar Reeves. Earl Griffin served as the host of the club which held a dance in honor of Charlotta Bass, editor and publisher of the California Eagle and then running for Los Angeles City Council. The house band was Barney Bigard and his Rascals of Rhythm and other featured entertainers included Charles Waterford, Clarence Williams Rhythm Quintet, Happy Johnson’s Swing Quartet, and Roy Milton and His Solid Senders. In May 1945 it extended its hours into breakfast club territory. The kitchen served both American and American Chinese cuisine. 

The Linda Lea featured both live entertainment and films like the Tito Guízar vehicle, Brazil, and a blackface drama, Minstrel Man. The house band at the latter was Sammy Yates and his Linda Lea Orchestra. Other featured entertainers included Bill Kay’s Kayettes, Cannibal White and Co., and “futuristic tapsters” Spike and Mike. In March 1945, the Reverend A. A. Jenkins hosted a fundraiser at the theater to raise money for a new church and community center.

In June, dancers Foster Johnson and Prince Spencer opened a dance studio at the Theater Arts Building. In July, the California Eagle and the USO Caravan Service co-sponsored a performance by Peg Leg Bates, so known because he danced with one wooden leg. Although his disability was the result of a childhood accident in a cotton gin, he frequently entertained soldiers wounded in the war. The war, however, wrapped up in August. On 6 August, the US dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. On 8 August, the USSR declared war on Japan. On 9 August the US dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki. On 10 August, the Empire of Japan surrendered. By the end of the year, nine of the WRA’s ten concentration camps were shut down and most of the 120,000 or so Japanese-Americans interned within were allowed to return to their neighborhoods, if not their homes.

The end of the war spelled the beginning of the end for Bronzeville, albeit not immediately. The International Theatrical Agency moved into the Theater Arts Building in August. On 27 September, the Veterans of Foreign Wars auxiliary No. 2651 hosted a “Bathing Beauty” contest at the Elks Lodge — and the winner was sponsored by the Digby Hotel. 

In December 1945, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and company came to Hollywood to play at Billy Berg’s. The gig ended the following February, at which point Gillespie duly doled out return plane tickets to New York City to the members of the combo. Parker, however, chose to sell his ticket. On 21 March 1946, Parker headlined at the Finale Club (then re-opened by Foster Johnson and Taylor H. Cooper at 115 South San Pedro Street. In July 1946, after a performance at the Finale, Parker retired to the Civic Hotel, where in the early morning, wearing only socks, he stumbled into the lobby to make a phone call. Shortly afterward a hotel guest smelled smoke and Parker’s bed was discovered to be on fire. Parker was removed from the hotel in handcuffs by the police, knocked unconscious, and sent to Camarillo State Mental Hospital where he spent the next seven months. There will be a 360° virtual reality animation at Bronzeville, Little Tokyo called Bronze, Brass, Jazz, inspired by Parker’s fateful stay at the hotel.

Walking toward 1st & San Pedro...
Walking toward 1st & San Pedro… (Image: Form follows Function)

In peacetime, war industry jobs evaporated and much of Bronzeville’s population found itself unemployed and disempowered. Additionally, with Japanese free to return to Little Tokyo, many white property owners simply chose not to renew the leases of black business owners, preferring to rent to Japanese tenants. There were examples of returning Japanese sued black business owners in order to regain their properties but empathy between the two minorities seems to have been more common. Black Reverend Hamilton T. Boswell condemned the internment of the Japanese as “the greatest disgrace of Democracy since slavery.” The Nisei Progressives organization helped black Bronzevillians secure new homes. Kiichiro Uyeda, the first Japanese businessperson to return to Little Tokyo, took over the lease of the Bronzeville 5-10-25-Cent Store but made a point of hiring black employees. Samuel Evans, proprietor of the Bamboo Room, hired Japanese staff to work at his club. Hisaye Yamamoto was one of three Japanese reporters hired by black newspaperwoman Almena Lomax‘s Los Angeles Tribune. If there was a new soundtrack, it might’ve been the jazz performed by Japanese-Filipino saxophonist Gabriel Ruiz Hiroshi Baltazar, Jr., drummer Paul Togawa, bassist Ben Tucker, and pianist Dick Johnston.

5-10-25-Cent Store
Kichi Uyeda (right), the first returnee to Little Tokyo opens the Bronzevill 5-10-25-Cent Store (5/14/45) Image courtesy The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley

 

On 3 May 1948, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the enforcement of racial covenants was unconstitutional, which led to a great outflowing of black Angelenos from their overcrowded confines and most residents of Bronzeville moved elsewhere. Some remained, however, until the destruction of their homes to make way for the expansion of the Civic Center, beginning in 1952. The centerpiece, the Welton Becket-designed Police Administration Building (later renamed Parker Center), was completed in 1955 on the site formerly occupied by the Olympic Hotel, and is itself now targeted for demolition.

In 1956, California voters decide to repeal all Alien Land Laws, finally allowing Japanese, Chinese, Indians, and Koreans the right to own property. After that, many Japanese bought homes in suburbs like Crenshaw, Gardena, Monterey Park, and Torrance, rather than rent in Little Tokyo. On 24 February 1970, the Little Tokyo Redevelopment Project was adopted by Los Angeles City Council which targeted 67 acres (27 hectares) of the neighborhood with redevelopment. That round of rebuilding brought about the destruction of the Alan Hotel, then still home to a few Bronzeville old timers. The longest running Bronzeville business, however, was a newsstand operated by James Hodge, located at the intersection of South San Pedro and East 1st, which existed into the early 1980s. In a photo you can make out issues of both Ebony and Rafu Shimpo.

The demographics of Little Tokyo continue to change. Korean-Americans have for some time now invested heavily in the community. The Japanese Village Plaza, built in the late 1970s, was designed by Korean-American architect David Hyun. In 2008, Korean-American Dae Young Lee merchant bought the Little Tokyo Galleria. In 2010, the Korean Cultural Center, Los Angeles and Japanese American Cultural & Community Center jointly presented the Little Tokyo Korea Japan Festival

Seismic shifts, both geologic and demographic, practically define the constant change of Los Angeles. Though the rise and fall of Bronzeville was especially dramatic, it’s still possible to imagine a neighborhood obliterated by widened streets, parking lots, and time.

Bronzeville Art
Sheila Levrant de Bretteville and Sonya Ishii’s Omoide No Shotokyo (Image: Form follows Function)

BRONZEVILLE BUSINESS DIRECTORY

  • ALAN HOTEL (236 East 2nd Street) — The Alan Hotel opened in 1942. It was demolished in 1986.
  • AVON HOTEL (405 South Hewitt Street)
  • BABY HOUSE CLEANERS (341 1/2 East 1st Street) — Taken over by Jenyemon and Mumeno Azeka after the end of Bronzeville.
  • BAMBOO CLUB (East 1st & San Pedro streets) — Owned by Samuel Evans.
  • broady, charles summer — host at coopert rrom
  • BRONZEVILLE ARCADE (316 East 1st Street)
  • BRONZEVILLE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE (111 South San Pedro Street)
  • Casablanca 2801 s san pedro
  • CHERRY LAND CAFE/CHERRYLAND COCKTAIL LOUNGE (725 East 5th Street) — Operated by Walter H. Hawkins, who also operated Bronzeville’s International Theatrical Agency. Boasted “Bronzeville’s longest bar” and “cozy booths for ladies.” Jimmy McCottry and Freddie Heron were credited as ace bartitions.” The kitchen was overseen by Wylie and Bernice Lyons.
  • CIELITO LINDO (131 North San Pedro Street) — A breakfast club open from 10 pm – 5 am that opened in the fall of 1943. 
  • CIVIC HOTEL (258 East 1st Street) — Formerly the Miyako Hotel. It was here that Charlie Parker infamously set his mattress on fire and walked almost naked into the lobby. More cooperative guests included Billy Strayhorn, Coleman Hawkins, Herb Jeffries, and Scatman Crothers.
  • CLUB RENDEZVOUS (251 East First Street) — Club Rendezvous opened in February 1945. In May 1945 it extended its hours into breakfast club territory.
  • COBRA ROOM/COBRA LOUNGE  (300 East 1st Street) — The Cobra opened in August 1944. Its host was Earl Griffin, the “Mayor of First Street.” Chef William Murphy’s speciality was roast beef. 
  • THE COPPER ROOM (117-119 N San Pedro) — A cocktail lounge and restaurant located at 117-119 N San Pedro, opened c. 1944. The Copper Room was located in the Downtown Hotel.
  • CREOLE PALACE (105 North San Pedro) — Creole Palace was a breakfast club run by Tommy (or Tommie) Lewis which opened in the summer of 1943. In November 1943, the lower level was remodeled as a cocktail lounge.
  • CROWN POINT DEPARTMENT STORE (East 1st and Los Angeles streets) — A retail shop run by nineteen women selling groceries, dry goods, medication, and clothes. 
  • DIGBY HOTEL (506 1/2 East First Street) — First black-owned business in the Bronzeville era. 515 E 1ST ST
  • DOWNTOWN HOTEL/DOWN TOWN HOUSE (117 North San Pedro Street) Formerly known as the New Olympic Hotel, the Downtown Hotel housed Charlie Parker on at least one occasion. After the return of the Japanese to the neighborhood, the Downtown Hotel was again renamed, this time the Olympic Hotel. Its nightclub was known as the Copper Room.
  • ELITE CAFÉ  (114 Weller Street)
  • HARRY’S PLACE (300 East 1st St) — “Best steaks – chops and chicken.”
  • INDIGO BREAKFAST CLUB (228 East 1st Street) — The house band was Jack McVea’s Kings of Rhythm.
  • FELLOWSHIP ADVENTIST CHURCH (East 1st Street) — Established in 1945.
  • FINALE CLUB (115 South San Pedro Street and 230 1/2 East 1st Street ) — The Finale club opened in the fall of 1944. The club closed and re-opened IN 1946 with new owners on SAN.
  • LILY OF THE VALLEY BAPTIST CHURCH (121 Weller Street) — Founded in 1943 and led Rev. H. Dillard and co-founded by his wife, O. L. Dillard.
  • LINDA LEA THEATRE (324 East First Street) — On 10 February 1945, the Fuji-Kan Theatre became the Linda Lea Theatre. Entertainment included both live performance and film screenings. The house band was Sammy Yates and his Linda Lea Orchestra. After the Japanese returned to Little Tokyo, it resumed showing Japanese films. The theater relocated to the former Arrow Theatre (251 South Main Street) around 1955. Parts of the structure were incorporated into the ImaginAsian Center (now the Downtown Independent).
  • OUTSKIRTS CLUB (address unknown) — A club owned by William “Honey” Murphy.
  • OWL CAFE (623 East 5th Street) — The cafe owner’s brother owned the Ringold Cafe
  • THE PALMS BREAKFAST CLUB (131 North San Pedro Street) — The Palms was owned by M. C. Kennedy. Live entertainers included Dick Barrow, Norman Bowden’s Quintette, Queda, and Tomago.
  • PILGRIM HOUSE (120 North San Pedro) — Originally the Japanese Union Church and later used by the WRA to round up Japanese-Americans. During Bronzeville it became the Pilgrim House. The Pilgrim House provided social services including education, employment referrals, healthcare, housing aid, and more. 
  • PROVIDENCE BAPTIST ASSOCIATION (East 2nd Street and South Central Avenue) — Took over the location of the original Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple (later the original home to the Japanese American National Museum).
  • RINGOLD CAFE (243 East 2nd Street)
  • RITZ CLUB (East 5th Street and South Central Avenue)
  • RED FRONT (address unknown) — Owned by Jack Keeling.
  • RINGOLD CAFÉ (243 East 2nd Street) — The owner’s brother owned the Owl Cafe.
  • ROSE ROOM (5th and Central)
  • SAM MARK CAFE (208 North San Pedro Street) — Owned by J. Spencer and E. Lewis. Sometimes spelled “San Mark Cafe” in the press, I believe that “Sam Mark” is the correct spelling, based on advertisements made by the café.
  • SAMBA THEATRE-CAFÉ/SAMBA CLUB (707 East 5th Street)
  • SHEPP’S PLAYHOUSE (204 1/2 East 1st Street) — Gordon HENRY Sheppard’s club, was the most well-known club in Bronzeville. It opened on 12 September 1944. In 1946, Sheppard successfully fought an entrapment charge after an LAPD officer posing as a serviceman convinced a bartender to sell him a drink after midnight. That same year, Billy Berg bought half interest in the club.
  • THEATRE ARTS BUILDING (313 1/2 East First Street) — The Theatre Arts Building was home to several entertainment-related businesses, including the dance studio of Howard McGhee Foster, the dance studio of Johnson and Prince Spencer, and the acting studio of Rex Ingram.
  • ZOMBIE  (address unknown) — Owned by J. P. Brown.
The following businesses may or may not have operated within the community. More information is needed about them before they’re included on the map or directory. They include Anderson Café, Gertrude’s Café, Golden Slipper Café, Harry’s Place, J.E. York Barber Shop, Jackson Hotel, Johnnie’s Shine Parlor, King’s Café, Modernistic Café, Mr. Willie Dean Shine Parlor, Paradise Café, Shadowland, 20th Century Grill, US Hotel, Wagon Wheel Shine Parlor, and York Hotel. If you have any information about any of the businesses, or any memories of Bronzeville to share, you are encouraged to do so. And special thanks to independent researcher Johann Hassan for her research and help.

FOR MORE ON BRONZEVILLE…


Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in generating advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LAAmoeblogBoom: A Journal of CaliforniadiaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm 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 MagazineLAistEastsider 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? and at Emerson College. Art prints of Brightwell’s maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on various products from Cal31He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.
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