The historic Dunbar Hotel, for decades a crumbling shell, is now being renovated and returned to its former glory. The development, spearheaded by Thomas Safran & Associates, will create 83-unit mixed-use, inter-generational community housing for seniors and families, and create over 150 construction jobs. The renovations of the Dunbar Hotel will feature 41 one-bedroom units for seniors in the Dunbar Hotel and 42 two, three, and four bedroom units for families. Dunbar Village features approximately 8,000 square feet of retail space, including PACE Early Childhood Education and CD Techlink computer school. Built in 1928, the Dunbar Hotel, originally named the Somerville Hotel, was the focal point of the Central Avenue African-American community during the 1930s and 1940s. The Hotel was built and operated by the Somervilles, a family of black pioneers in dentistry and business. After the stock market crash in 1929, Somerville was forced to sell the hotel, and in 1930, the hotel was renamed in honor of the seminal poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. It became the most prestigious hotel in L.A.’s African-American community, hosting legends such as Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr., Lena Horne and many others. At that time, it was known as the West Coast Waldorf-Astoria. It was also the gathering place for African-American literary, political and intellectual leaders, including Langston Hughes, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ralph Bunche, Thurgood Marshall and James Weldon Johnson.
In the 1950s, as rules and customs against segregation weakened, Dunbar clients began staying in other public lodgings. For example, Duke Ellington, who had previously kept a suite at the Dunbar, began staying at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood. The Dunbar was again sold in 1968, but the hotel continued to lose money, and closed its doors in 1974. That same year, the Dunbar was designated as a Historic-Cultural Landmark by the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission. Nonetheless, for most of the years between 1974 and 1987, the building was vacant and in poor condition, covered with graffiti, its window broken and its famous suites the residence of homeless people seeking shelter.
Developer Tom Safran has produced many of the finest senior and affordable housing developments in the Second District and is adept at creating affordable, attractive, and culturally significant developments. “This may be his most important project yet,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.
The project is set for completion in February of 2013.