Redevelopment Hell: South LA Community Unites to Call Attention to Neglected Santa Barbara Plaza

Eddie North-Hager is a man with a mission, and he is not alone. The communities of Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills, West Adams, and surrounding areas have dedicated themselves to the redevelopment of The Santa Barbara Plaza, often referred to as "Marlton Square." The Plaza has become a blight in the center of a vibrant community. Just a block away jacaranda trees shade a picture-perfect neighborhood. As Eddie explains it,

Over the last two decades this failed redevelopment project has been a topic of conversation as first Magic Johnson then Keyshawn Johnson were part of the development team. Instead of a fancy new center, today there’s a dilapidated, boarded up ghost town filled with graffiti and the classic nightclub Jerry’s Flying Fox.

Eddie's website, The Leimert Park Beat, along with Emily Henry, editor of Intersections: The South LA Report, freelancer Brian Frank, and La Beez columnist and Leimert Park resident, Walter Melton, conducted three months of research on the abandoned shopping center and came to the conclusion "that bankruptcy and litigation may mean that any forward progress is still five years away."

According to the ensuing article, there have been a number of attempts to stop the degeneration of the center. Over the years, Tom Bradley, Ruth Galanter, and entrepreneur Chris Hammond have considered redevelopment.

Hammond held up the project for ten years because of lack of funds. Attempts by local government redevelopment to get involved were hampered by dissent between the remaining shopkeepers, and complex districting of the parking lot.

The Plaza lost Bradley's funding to its neighbor, Baldwin Park Crenshaw Plaza. Crenshaw Plaza was owned by a single entity with renters, which made decision-making and paperwork much simpler.

The Santa Barbara Shopping Center, which occupies 20 acres --the size of 20 football fields -- was once home to 230 thriving businesses, such as Boy's Supermarket, Barker Brothers, Lerners and The Boulevard Cafe. One local fondly remembers the area, "“I like walking through here. It feels nostalgic,” said Charles Garcia. “I can feel the old vibrations. You see a lot of the old people that were young, 60, 70 years old, that were here in the heyday.”

These days only a few shops and non-profits remain amongst the bombed-out looking Center. Charles Garcia's nostalgia fades as he thinks about the Center now, "“It has been like this 10 to 15 years,” Garcia said. “There’s a few shops, places to do your hair and a restaurant. Everything else is crack heads and bums.”

Tied up in red tape, litigation, and bankruptcy, the Center continues to languish. A timeline of the Center's history has been posted on dipity.

But don't underestimate the tenacity of grassroots movements and the power of the people. They have not given up yet.

Tonight Community Build will host a film festival and a call to action from 6 to 8 p.m. at Dorsey High School Auditorium.

"The filmmakers enlisted neighborhood kids to help create movies that show the promise of what could be at Santa Barbara Plaza". The project includes some well-known film-makers: Ben Caldwell from Kaos Network/Project Blowed, Julie Dash, whose film Daughters of Dust is one of a select group of American films preserved as National Treasures, documentarian Regina Kimball of My Nappy Roots: A Journey Through Black Hair-itage; And Khary Jones, named by indieWire as one of the "10 Exciting New Voices in Black Cinema."

Here is a short on the subject: