New project set to celebrate Black historic places

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Getty Institute teams with L.A. Planning on three-year plan studying historic sites

Wave Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — The Getty Foundation and Los Angeles city planning officials are teaming up for a project to identify, protect and celebrate African-American heritage within the city.

Over the next three years, the Los Angeles African American Historic Places Project will identify and help preserve the places that best represent the depth and breadth of African-American history here, and work with communities to develop creative approaches that meet their own aims for placemaking, identity and empowerment, museum officials said.

In citing the need for such a project, they noted that only about 3% of L.A.’s 1,200 designated local landmarks are linked to African-American heritage.

The project is led by the Getty Conservation Institute and the Office of Historic Resources within the Los Angeles Department of City Planning, which is responsible for the management of historic resources within the city.

Historic preservation is about the acknowledgment and elevation of places and stories,” said Tim Whalen, of the Getty Conservation Institute. “The point of this work is to make sure that the stories and places of African Americans in Los Angeles are more present and complete than previously.

“The work is also about making sure that preservation methods are examined for systemic bias. It’s ultimately about equity.”

Before embarking on the project, Getty and the city convened a virtual roundtable composed of a group of national and local thought leaders with experience in urban planning, historic preservation, African-American history, and/or grassroots and community organizing. Their discussions helped shape the initiative and its goals.

This project will illuminate overlooked narratives and historic places important to Los Angeles and our nation that deserve protection and recognition,” said Brent Leggs, executive director of the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and a member of the project’s initial roundtable meeting.

Through public and private partnership, the Getty and city of Los Angeles can model broader reform in the U.S. preservation field and can work proactively at the local government and city levels to grow pathways for equitable interpretation and community-driven preservation,” Leggs added.

The project will also examine how current historic preservation and planning processes and policies may be reinforcing systemic racism and will work to bring new processes that address injustices and bring greater inclusion and diversity to historic preservation practices.

The initial phase will provide a framework for identifying and evaluating properties relating to African-American history in Los Angeles. In 2018, the Office of Historic Resources completed a framework for identifying African-American heritage in the city, drawing upon nine themes that included civil rights, deed restriction and segregation, religion and spirituality, social clubs and organizations and visual arts.

As the largest planning department in the United States, [Los Angeles] City Planning is uniquely positioned to chart a course for a more fair, equitable, and just Los Angeles for future generations, in part, through cultural heritage and education,” Los Angeles Planning Director Vince Bertoni said. “We are excited to highlight this broader range of values and history that better represents our diverse city.”

Among the possible sites to be considered by the project are St. Elmo Village, an artist’s enclave in the Md-City area that was established in 1969; Holman United Methodist Church in Jefferson Park that was built in 1958; Magnificent Brothers Barbershop, which was established in the Crenshaw District in 1970; and the Brockman Gallery, a row of storefronts in Leimert Park from 1967 to 1990.

In addition to rethinking the preservation toolkit, the project will include official historic designation of a number of African-American historic places by the city. It also will provide opportunities for emerging history, preservation and planning professionals through dedicated paid internships.

“The history of Los Angeles is incomplete without recognition of the African-American individuals and institutions that shaped the economic, cultural and civic narrative of the region,” said Susan D. Anderson, history curator and program manager at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles and a member of the project’s initial advisory committee.

“This important project will expand how heritage is defined and will provide an opportunity to work with local communities and residents to unearth stories that are vital to our understanding of the place we call home.”

Getty and the Office of Historic Resources will soon launch a search for a consultant project leader.

The Getty Conservation Institute has worked with the city for nearly two decades on local heritage projects. Their joint efforts include SurveyLA, a citywide survey of historic places that was conducted from 2010-17. The data from that project was used to create HistoricPlacesLA, a website launched in 2015 that allows the public to explore these places.

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