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$120-Million Overhaul at Crenshaw Plaza : Mall Reopens After a 4-Year Struggle

Times Staff Writer

On a pleasant sunny day that mirrored the upbeat mood of participants, about 1,500 people gathered at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza on Friday to mark the official opening of what officials say is the nation’s first major enclosed mall to open in a mostly black urban community.

The $120-million overhaul of the 100-store complex at Crenshaw and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards came after a four-year struggle to arrange financing as well as to convince developers, retailers and even nearby residents that the black middle class Crenshaw community would support a regional shopping mall, Mayor Tom Bradley told the crowd.

The mall stands “as a symbol of perseverance,” said Bradley, who spoke outside on the mall parking lot, surrounded by mall developer Alexander Haagen, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter and other politicians and business leaders. “This is the finest shoping mall anywhere in this nation,” Bradley said. But “it took courage and tenacity to make it happen. We fought the doubts and fears of the community.”

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The Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency poured $24 million into the redevelopment project, which was established by the city council in 1984 to revitalize what was Los Angeles’ first regional shopping center. The remaining money came from private investors and Haagen, whose company spent more than $50 million on the project.

Retailing experts say business and local political officials around the country will be closely watching the plaza, whose success will turn on its ability to lure back disgruntled shoppers. Many shoppers in the area have defected to other malls such as Fox Hills, and even further to the South Bay and Westside, since the original Crenshaw shopping center first opened in 1948.

“We need a nice place to shop,” said Leroy Brown, a retired teacher who drove to the ceremony from his home in nearby Leimert Park. “It would help even more if they could get a grocery store in here.”

Although only about 30 of the 100-odd stores in Crenshaw Plaza are now open, aesthetically the two-level complex invites comparisons to Southern California’s fanciest malls.

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In addition to the enclosed plaza, the project includes free-standing banks, restaurants, a police substation and a separate shopping strip that is seeking a grocery store tenant. The enclosed mall already includes three major department stores--Sears, the Broadway and May Co.

The stores have been redecorated to reflect the mall’s art deco theme. The complex also sports etched glass railings, skylights, a pastel paint scheme and towering, mature palm trees that dominate the inside and outside.

Still, despite the new sheen and fanfare Friday, officials say they will need to work hard at getting the word out to the surrounding community that times have changed in Crenshaw.

“Some people who came here to shop when the center opened in 1948 have moved to other places,” Bradley noted. “Don’t be going 10 or 15 miles away to go shopping,” the Mayor implored the crowd. “Spend your money right here.”


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