By Sue Favor
SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Dexter McLeod came across a copy of the 2020 version of the “Los Angeles Official Visitor’s Guide” shortly after it came out, just prior to the start of the year.
He kept flipping pages, looking for mention of South Los Angeles. About halfway through the book, there was a map that highlighted the parts of town referenced in the guide. The six-year president of the Los Angeles South Chamber of Commerce couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Almost all of the area that is South L.A. was a white blank — there was nothing there,” he said. “Like we don’t exist.”
Then and there, McLeod decided that the chamber would create its own visitor’s guide. And after a lot of work that didn’t slow even through the COVID-19 pandemic, the final project made its debut Sept. 4 at the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center in Leimert Park.
Almost 200 people passed through during the multi-hour event, which featured live music, hors d’oeuvres from South L.A. chefs, raffle prizes from local business owners and guest speakers. It was the first of what is to be many more launching parties in the communities represented in the guide.
“‘The South Los Angeles Destination Guide’ highlights our stories, our businesses, our communities and our heritage that makes up South Los Angeles,” McLeod said. “Many tourists come to L.A. to visit our most popular destinations, like Hollywood, Universal Studios and Venice Beach, which is fine. But we invite them to also experience the wonderful destinations in South L.A. that they might not be aware of.”
The 52-page guide features tourist attractions in Baldwin Hills, Compton, Inglewood, Leimert Park, Long Beach, South Bay, University Park, Watts and West Adams. In addition to providing sightseeing, shopping and restaurant recommendations, the guide also showcases creative murals, community art, parks, natural settings and famous movies filmed in South L.A.
The last section of the guide features historical vignettes, including stories of some of the women who paved the way in L.A.
McLeod said the chamber’s mission has always been to tell the stories, highlight the community and showcase the businesses in the South L.A. community. But the guide extends that vision further.
“We are changing the narrative and perspective of our community,” he said.
The “Official Visitor’s Guide” that spurned the South L.A. Chamber is published annually by the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. Chamber communications director Arnetta Mack said she found past editions of the guide after McLeod discovered the omission of South L.A., save for a section of Leimert Park and Exposition Park.
“I found that the issue wasn’t just a one-off — it was consistent over the years,” Mack said.
Mack and other marketing team members Ardena Brooks and Ernesto Comodo designed the book and solicited advertisements from dozens of entrepreneurs. Volunteer writers described attractions and points of interest, and wrote the history pieces.
Brooks, who also runs Designs by Ardena, said she and the team were on a mission.
“[We wanted] to make known some of the popular, interesting and historical places, small businesses, eateries, resources and unique shopping opportunities here in South L.A., and to change the stigma that there’s nothing worthy to experience in South L.A.,” Brooks said.
“Especially for tourists, those who may be just visiting with family or even thinking of moving to Southern California. South L.A. has much more to offer than we are given credit for, if any credit at all.”
Janet Denise Kelly, executive director of Sanctuary of Hope, said “I can tell you that I am ecstatic about the South L.A. Destinations Guide,” Kelly said. “It broadens our reach to let people know that South L.A. has thriving small businesses, historical iconic sites and points of interests as any other parts of Los Angeles.
“This eye-catching guide give us and others an opportunity to showcase everything right culturally and economically with South L.A., to advance cooperative economics and tourism.”
For Cheryl Tate of Nurturing Chefs LA, Inc., the guide is personal. The entrepreneur, who has a prominent advertisement in the booklet and catered the launch party, grew up in the Willowbrook area.
“I’m proud to be a part of this inaugural edition of the destination guide,” Tate said. There is so much history in South L.A. … When [tourists] come to visit Los Angeles, these areas are sought out because of their popular culture.”
“We want to highlight the talent the no one knows about, the hidden gems that have come forth, as well as the plethora of talent we currently know. This guide highlights the richness of this, in my opinion, the best part of the city, the south side. We have so much to offer in our part of town.”
The chamber will host other launching events in other South L.A. communities, as part of a plan to distribute thousands of copies of the guide to local businesses. It also plans to put up a digital version of the guide on its website, www.lasouthchamber.com.
Sue Favor is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers, who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.