There’s something growing in the Athens and Westmont neighborhoods. Take a look at a new greening initiative that’s taking root, one tree at a time.
Environment, Parks, Libraries
View Park, a neighborhood that has come to be known as the “black Beverly Hills,” has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
With about 1,800 homes near the stretch of La Brea Avenue to Crenshaw Boulevard in unincorporated Los Angeles County, View Park is the largest National Historic District in the United States based on African American history.
That distinction is particularly significant, considering the developer who built View Park starting in the 1920’s intended its architecturally distinctive homes with sweeping views of downtown LA for sale to white homeowners only. According to the 1930 Census, View Park had only one Japanese and two black residents, and all three were servants.
It took a U.S. Supreme Court battle to lift the racist restrictions on home ownership and open doors for minorities. In a landmark ruling in 1948, Justices held racial covenants on real estate to be unconstitutional. Prominent members of the African American community, mostly business owners, doctors, lawyers, entertainers, athletes and civil rights activists, began moving into View Park in 1950’s.
“The cohesive View Park neighborhood would eventually begin a fairly rapid, if sometimes uncertain, transition into an affluent African American neighborhood in the postwar period,” National Register historian Paul Lusignan wrote in his evaluation of View Park.
“Often facing intimidation and violence, View Parks’ new African American homeowners broke down significant barriers and paved the way for the creation of a vibrant integrated neighborhood that would earn it the nickname ‘the black Beverly Hills,’” he added.
Among View Park’s most famous residents were the legendary Ray Charles and Ike and Tina Turner. It remains one of the wealthiest African American neighborhoods in the country, an enduring symbol of African American success.
In 2014, residents Andre Gaines and Ben Kahle co-founded View Park Conservancy, the volunteer nonprofit neighborhood organization that led the initiative to nominate View Park for the National Register. Along with seven other longtime and new residents, they hosted more than 25 community meetings to build awareness and raise funds to preserve the history and legacy of their neighborhood. About 670 View Park residents made a donation to pay for the complicated process of seeking a Historic designation.
“Listing View Park on the National Register is the culmination of over two and half years of hard work and dedication to our mission,” Gaines said. “It was truly a community effort and, without the overwhelming support from our neighbors, this day would have never been possible.”
Kahle lives in the Doumakes House in View Park, the County’s first historic landmark. He said the National Register designation “will create additional community pride and awareness for what makes View Park such a prestigious and special neighborhood.”
“Several studies have also proven that property values in Historic neighborhoods are 10 to 30 percent higher than in non-historic neighborhoods,” Kahle added.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes View Park, also celebrated the National Register designation. He authored the motion that enabled residents of the County’s unincorporated areas to benefit from the Mills Act, a 1972 state law that provides tax incentives to preserve historic homes and property.
“View Park’s inclusion into the National Register of Historic Places underscores its historic, social, cultural and architectural significance, not only locally but across the country,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “This designation helps in preserving the community’s noteworthy legacy, while at the same time, charting its path forward.”
From its newly-launched Urban Nature Research Center (UNRC), the museum is conducting the largest urban biodiversity study in the world, dubbed SuperProject. The objective is to extend scientific research and investigation beyond its Exposition Park location and, with the help of local residents, inventory the myriad species of animals and insects that live throughout Los Angeles.
Mark Ridley-Thomas lauded the museum’s efforts to engage the community in its groundbreaking research. “This urban biodiversity research is a new frontier for all of us, and I look forward to children, teachers, and librarians across Los Angeles County joining the museum’s army of citizen scientists,” he said.
Hundreds of citizen scientists have been trained to collect data and submit it to the museum’s scientists via iNaturalist, a free app for reporting personal observations of any plant or animal species. Already, UNRC’s SuperProject has led to many exciting discoveries about the regional environment.
“There’s often a misconception that Los Angeles is a concrete jungle, when in reality the city is home to one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world,” NHM Curator of Entomology and UNRC Co-Director Dr. Brian Brown said. “At NHM, we’re committed to learning more about the extraordinary plants and animals around us, and to making L.A. a better place for wildlife — and, by extension, humans —to thrive.”
The biggest challenge to studying urban biodiversity is that a significant portion of the habitat exists in backyards and other areas inaccessible to scientists for research. “We are excited to partner with volunteers across the region to establish citizen science as one of today’s foremost scientific research methods,” said Dr. Greg Pauly, Associate Curator of Herpetology at NHM and UNRC Co-Director.
At the launch of UNRC, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas presented NHM President and Director Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga with a scroll declaring April 16 as Citizen Science Day, and she talked about envisioning the museum as “a hub for the investigation of urban nature, shaped not only by scientists and experts, but by user, visitor and educator interests.”
“It’s a new approach to science: using the expansive and diverse Los Angeles landscape as a field site to look at things in a less compartmentalized way, and conducting research in the urban matrix — with the help of the public,” Dr. Bettison-Varga said.
With human populations worldwide increasingly concentrated in cities, urban biodiversity is quickly becoming a central part of the future of plants and wildlife on Earth. However, much of it remains a mystery. NHM Research and Collections Vice President Dr. Luis Chiappe hopes that by analyzing historical data and gathering new data through the SuperProject, NHM can become “a major think tank for urban issues relating to climate change, pollution, urban habitats, and ecological resource management.”
The Board of Supervisors is looking into tightening regulations for oil and gas facilities in Los Angeles County’s unincorporated areas.
Acting on a motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis, the Board unanimously called for being proactive in ensuring that existing oil and facilities operate safely, as well as for enhancing the regulatory process for future well sites. The motion incorporated slight amendments by Supervisors Michael Antonovich, Don Knabe and Sheila Kuehl.
“We have spent far too much time reacting to environmental catastrophe after catastrophe – from the former Athens Tank Farm, to the Aliso Canyon methane leak, to the Exide Battery Recycling Facility in Vernon,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “These incidents highlight the dire environmental, economic and public health repercussions when industrial facilities are not properly operated.”
“The significant community disruption, coupled with consequential environmental impacts, provides ample justification for a proactive approach,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas added.
More than half of the 1,687 oil and gas facilities in unincorporated areas already operate under strict regulatory requirements created by the Baldwin Hills Community Standards District. At the Inglewood Oil Field, for example, the District restricts the amount of drilling allowed; monitors air quality, groundwater, noise and seismic activity; and requires emergency response protocols and monthly meetings with members of the community.
An estimated 800 facilities in unincorporated areas, however, operate with a lack of consistency in permit conditions, and under regulations that vary from project to project. The motion calls for creating a “strike team” to inventory those facilities and conduct on-site inspections and safety audits. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, “The objective is to ensure that these facilities are appropriately monitored and are operating in a manner that protects the health and safety of surrounding communities.”
The motion also sought to update zoning and other regulations to ensure that future well sites minimize environmental impacts and pose no danger to surrounding populations.
An initial report is expected this fall.
“The Stocker Trailhead provides a long-awaited and much needed amenity,” he said. “Now the residents of View Park and Windsor Hills will have a safe and efficient connection to the rest of the Baldwin Hills Parklands.”
“It is just a part of our plan to bring a variety of new recreational amenities – ranging from trails to community and nature centers – to the surrounding community,” he added.
Key improvements include a public fruit tree orchard designed by civic art partner Fallen Fruit, a direct connection to adjacent Reuben Ingold Park via a pedestrian walkway that can also accommodate wheelchairs and strollers, and a new parking lot.
Other features include California native trees and shrubs, water-smart irrigation, and formal entrances at Valley Ridge and Presidio.
Also present at the dedication ceremony were officials from the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, California State Parks and the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority.
The Stocker Trailhead is part of the 13-mile Park to Playa (P2P) trail that will create a direct link from the communities of View Park, Windsor Hills and Baldwin Hills all the way to the coast. P2P is anticipated to be 90 percent complete by the summer.