Duly noted

Marilyn and Bill Ezell, in front of their house, which reportedly was once owned by Ella Fitzgerald. (Stephen Osman / LAT)

Beginnings


Developed in 1927 by the Walter H. Leimert Co., a Los Angeles-based real estate firm that's still in business, this neighborhood began as a self-contained complex of homes, apartments and businesses, complete with a plaza-like park on the southwestern boundary.

Insider's viewpoint

Although predominantly African American, Leimert (rhymes with alert) Park is also home to Asian retirees, an increasing number of Latinos and a sprinkling of whites.

The neighborhood straddles Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, and is roughly bounded by Roxton Avenue on the east, Crenshaw Boulevard on the west, Rodeo Road on the north and Vernon Avenue on the south.

It is known for Leimert Park Village, the cultural heartbeat of black Los Angeles — and home to the annual Kwanzaa Heritage Festival, being held next weekend.

What's it about?

"When the black community wants to speak out or send a message about something, quite often they come to Leimert Park to make that statement," said bassist and businessman Trevor Ware, while savoring a cup of chai tea at 5th Street Dick's Coffeehouse.

News conferences are often held at the Lucy Florence Coffeehouse on West 43rd Street or in triangular Leimert Plaza Park, with the backdrop of a fountain, benches and, on some weekends, African drummers.

A candlelight vigil for condemned murderer Stanley Tookie Williams was recently held in the park on the eve of his execution. When Rosa Parks, considered the mother of the civil rights movement, died in October, mourners gathered there to honor her memory.

And then there is the music. Jazz at the World Stage. Blues at Babe's and Ricky's Inn.

"I learned to play bass here, right here in this neighborhood, from Billy Higgins and Horace Tapscott, some of the fathers of this artistic community. You can walk down the street and see poets standing next to musicians," Ware said, describing Degnan Boulevard.

A community activist, Ware founded a nonprofit group that with the city's help is renovating the Vision Theater, the village's original movie theater.

Ware lives in a Leimert Park duplex with his wife, Velma, and 7-year-old son, Brandon. He also owns a triplex nearby and has called the community home for nearly two decades.

Good news, bad news

"Everything we need is here," said 34-year resident Marilyn Ezell. "I would think this is how Harlem was in the old days. We have jazz clubs, art galleries and museums. My church, West Angeles Church of God in Christ, is less than a mile away."

Ezell is a retired facilities design manager; her husband, Bill, is a retired banker.

In 1995, they paid $248,000 for their two-story house, which belonged to singer Ella Fitzgerald, according to her biography, when Ray Charles lived across the street. Comparable homes in the neighborhood today are selling for three times the amount the Ezells paid.

Trevor Ware longs for a Trader Joe's and a Carl's Jr., but he also applauds the new development along Leimert's Crenshaw boundary, which will include, among other shops, a Starbucks, a Big 5 Sporting Goods and a Denny's.