Where Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Count Basie stayed and played: Tour L.A.'s Dunbar Hotel

During the 1930s and '40s, when most Los Angeles hotels were segregated, the luxurious Dunbar Hotel on Central Avenue served as a vital center for the African American community in South Los Angeles.

“It was the heart and soul of jazz and blues on the West Coast in a time when the country was polarized and divided -- and a place African American performers could stay because no one else would let them,” City Councilwoman Jan Perry told The Times in 2012.

Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Joe Louis and Thurgood Marshall all performed or stayed there.

But over the years, the Dunbar fell into debt and disrepair and closed in 1974. In 1990, it reopened as low-income housing and, after experiencing further financial trouble, fell into foreclosure in 2008.

Today, following a $30-million renovation, the property, now called Dunbar Village, features 83 units of affordable housing, 41 of which are specifically for seniors, and a restored art deco atrium that serves as a gathering place for residents. 

With the recent addition of two new, full-service grocery stores and a neighborhood city hall, the hope is that the renovated housing project, which received a preservation award from the Los Angeles Conservancy in 2014, will boost community engagement and civic pride. 

In honor of Black History Month, the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects is hosting a tour of the hotel, at 4225 S. Central Ave., at 11 a.m. on Feb. 21. Tickets are $35 for chapter members and $50 for the general public. Purchase three tickets and receive a fourth ticket free. 

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