WEST ADAMS : Galleries, Studios Aid Revitalization

The 5100 block of Adams Boulevard could be a Southern California version of New York's SoHo: a string of warehouse-size galleries, studios and artist haunts, most tucked behind worn facades and wrought-iron bars that do little to hint at the life within.

But Royce Tarleeb says it's high time for a coming-out party. The owner of the Black to Jupiter club and four other properties on Adams is working with neighboring merchants and the community to revitalize the street's western tip by nurturing an artistic scene as well as helping to develop small businesses.

"I see a collage here of theater, business, art, music--everything," said Tarleeb, 40, seated amid the bright coffeehouse-style decor in the Black to Jupiter lounge. "These are places where people can come, enjoy themselves and just hang."

Turning this section of Adams near Redondo Boulevard, with its quake-damaged corner lot and overabundance of graffiti, into a thriving thoroughfare might seem like a well-intentioned but impossible dream. But Tarleeb and others say they are already well on their way to turning it into reality.

Besides the lounge and club that feature live Caribbean music, Black to Jupiter, at 5170 Adams, boasts a gallery hung with works by such renowned artists as Nathaniel Bustion and Annie Toliver. Artists also work out of the many studio spaces and rambling courtyard, and Tarleeb plans to convert two upstairs apartments into office spaces.

Tarleeb's property between 5170 and 5178 Adams includes another art studio, a small food store and a vintage clothing and goods shop operated by friends--merchants who say they have been heartened enough by Tarleeb's efforts to invest their time and money into turning around the street once known as "stately Adams."

"I've been in L.A. since '58, and I've seen things around Adams go up and down," said J.B. Brown, who owns J.B.'s Store as well as a small trucking business. "When I first moved in here, it looked a house of horrors. There was nothing. But I decided to give this a try."

Brown says he took cues from Tarleeb. Once a full-time stockbroker and commercial property rehabilitator, Tarleeb bought buildings in January, 1994, that had been abandoned during the recession. A week later the Northridge earthquake devastated much of the surrounding property, including Lula Washington's Contemporary Dance Theatre. (Washington has since moved to a temporary location on Pico Boulevard, but plans to move back.)

Rather than an albatross, however, Tarleeb saw a potential swan, a row of places that could be the catalyst for more economic growth. Setting up living quarters in a loft, he set about rehabilitating the buildings, doing much of the work himself--"on my knees"--as he struggled to keep ahead of payments on the $165,000 property. "When I came, it was a dead block. The area seemed desolate," he said.

"But I saw, every morning, hundreds of people pack the street in front of my place, families going to work or school. They were witnessing a transformation, something coming out of the ruins. We've had hip-hop parties here attended by gang members, homeless people working here, people from all walks of life." He said there have been some isolated conflicts, some fights, but calm has largely prevailed.

"We're out to mend a lot of factions in this city and bring people together."

Tarleeb said he is seeking investors to help shoulder some of the financial burden and expedite the completion of his improvements, which includes a restaurant and library.

Steven Yablok, owner of Club Fais Do Do half a block west, said he's solidly part of Tarleeb's neighborhood coalition that is determined to do things themselves.

"We've got everyone right here--African Americans, Jews, Arabs, Latinos, Koreans," said Yablok, who also owns an adjacent photography studio and, like Tarleeb, lives above his property. "This is a great neighborhood, a great street. People just forgot about it. But it's really starting to be a happening place now. Once people feel comfortable in their own neighborhood, that's it."

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