This is the latest in our series on underrated destinations, this world still big.
There is something very raw and special about Los Angeles. It is food (fusion). People (fusion). Architecture (Spanish Mission Revival, Mid-Century Modern, Art Deco, Artisan… AKA fusion). It’s the sunset and the way the sky bends to meet the deep ocean, green and blue as if they were the same. Vibrant, larger-than-life murals designed by Chicano and Mexican-American artists on Cesar Chavez Avenue and throughout the city. I can go on for days because I love Los Angeles, anyone who knows me, anyone who’s talked to me for five minutes really, really knows this.
So imagine my surprise—several years after visiting and then living in Los Angeles, having turned all those weeks into months just driving aimlessly, wasting gas and spewing little Polaroids in my mind of houses crumpled on hills and palm trees writhing skyward, wolves and coyotes in Street corners are like deer in headlights at dusk, and green parrots fly home every evening near Griffith Park—when I learned that West Adams is Los Angeles’ oldest suburb with a thriving art of coffee and cooking and a cultural scene to boot, and that I had never, ever spent time there .
Bounded by the Baldwin Hills to the south and a major highway to the north, Jefferson Park to the east and less than three miles from Culver City (to the west), development of what is now West Adams began at the end of the nineteenth century. The oldest suburb — developed by railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington and real estate investor and Pasadena-based Hulett C. Meritt of Millionaires — quickly became Los Angeles’ most affluent neighborhood, when filmmakers, movie stars, University of Southern California professors, DTLA entrepreneurs, and their families took root here.
During the Compton White Ride, there was a shift as white residents left the 1.5-square-mile neighborhood and black artists and artists moved into West Adams’ Victorian mansions and Craftsman-style bungalows. Actresses Louise Beavers and Hattie McDaniel, band leader Johnny Otis, and performers Pearl Bailey and Ethel Waters are just a few of the household names that have called West Adams Heights, or Sugar Hill, home. The neighborhood is known to have played a huge role in the civil rights movement in Los Angeles as well. The 1965 Northern Curfew Line at Watts Rebellion is here, and during the LA Riots events in 1992, First AME Church served as a safe haven for people victims or displaced by violence, looting, and fires.
Since the 1960s, it has endured great pressures starting with the construction of the Santa Monica Highway that cut West Adams in two. This was followed by house demolitions. Detailed by the West Adams Heritage Association (WAHA), West Adams lost its ornate streetlights and red-brick streets when the city paved over it in the 1970s. Despite this, the neighborhood has remained culturally diverse with approximately 38% of the black population and 56% of the Hispanic population. The affordability factor has attracted young people to the area over the past decade, along with its central location (just 15 minutes from LAX and 12 from DTLA). Even two years ago, it was still possible to buy a home here for less than $500,000.
In 2003, West Adams was recognized by the City of Los Angeles as an Overlay Historic Conservation District due to its early 20th century architecture and social and cultural heritage. Today, you’ll find the two oldest black churches in Los Angeles, and a neighborhood stroll will reveal Chinese food (mian), Israeli food (mizala), Salvadoran cocoons (es con sabor), and Kali soul food The place Jay Z and Diddy (Alta) visited , a wine shop specializing in women’s and BIPOC (Adams Wine Shop) wines, beauty salons, dog breeders, and an art gallery owned by blacks for rookies, mid-career and founded Contemporary Artists (Band of Vices), Old School Takoria and Lavandias, multiple collision hubs, a co-working space (YOUBE) and a cool new Tartine focused primarily on baking and pastry – all in one tall block. In short, it’s an ever-evolving melting pot, a cultural fusion in South Los Angeles.
One of the newest additions to the area and the reason I checked out in the first place is Alsace LA, a 48-room boutique hotel on Alsace Ave. It opened at the end of 2021. It’s beautiful, but not the Four Seasons, the Proper, or even the Ace Hotels type. Alsace has an open, breezy patio in pastel colors with tables, chairs and sofas for guests to rest and/or work; There’s a gym and swimming pool on site, and some rooms have garden patios, giving it a cozy, “homey”, apartment-style feel. It focuses on design. The mosaic tiles throughout the property are made by local artists, adding to the authenticity of the place. It fits into the neighborhood, unassuming and unassuming without making a fuss, while still feeling like a luxury place to recharge your batteries. At night, the front gates are closed and a guard is posted outside the entrance for added security. Ambient noise includes the occasional dog barking or muffler gurgling, but otherwise it is quiet.
A 1993 story in the LA Times mentioned a tour of West Adams that was taking place during Black History Month. It covered the Buddy Mason memorial (in honor of Bridget “Beddy” Mason, a former enslaved woman who founded the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles in the 1850s), and the home of Ralph Bunch (the United Nations mediator in the Palestinian conflict, Bunch was the first American of American origin African and Person of Color Wins Nobel Peace Prize), commercial and residential buildings designed by architect Paul R. Williams, the Dunbar Hotel, other notable homes, and of course the city’s oldest black churches. Alsace also offers monthly rides in association with hay on the x West Adams Bike Tour, owned by a local realtor. On the first Sunday of every month (paused in the summer and resuming in the fall), Jose Prats takes excited visitors on two wheels to show them the beauty and educate them about the history of the neighborhood he calls home. If you can’t do that or prefer to check it out on your own time, the hotel has maps for self-guided tours here as well as free bike rentals for guests.
Some of the places you’ll see if you join the tour: The house where Marvin Gaye belonged, and it’s also the house where he died. A new and vintage record store called High Fidelity (it goes out on a limb here and says it’s named after the movie of the same name from 2000). and the Peace Awareness Maze and Gardens, a spiritual center that offers weekly lessons and workshops on personal growth, practical spirituality, and more.
What I love most about West Adams and Los Angeles as a whole is the culture, diversity, and deeply rooted sense of community in an area where there are people who look like me, who speak like me, who speak a language I grew up hearing and other languages I’ve come to know over the years. I hope his magic is preserved and protected as it continues to grow because it would be a shame to loosen something that at the moment seems like a perfect balance.