[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Photo by Michael Juliani

Dunbar Hotel: Relic of African-American and Los Angeles Culture

The Dunbar Hotel (originally known as the Hotel Somerville, named after the first black graduate of USC), located on the ratty corner of Central Avenue, served as the focal point of African-American culture of the 1940s. 

Named after poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first black poet to gain national prominence, the Hotel housed many of the most revolutionary names in jazz and civil rights.

Under the ownership of well-known gangster Lucius Lomax, the Dunbar attracted names such as Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Thurgood Marshall, W.E.B. Du Bois and Langston Hughes.

Central Avenue in the 30s and 40s became the carnival of black expression.  Every famous and genius black musician played in the Hotel’s club.

Now the area around the Dunbar has receded from its former self.  No longer an African-American community, South Central Avenue’s part of South Central Los Angeles has few relics from its thriving times.

The Dunbar remains, though a shell of what it once was.  Among the Latino population of the area, the Dunbar’s front door bears a sign that says “Museum in Black,” indicating sarcastically the former culture of the building, which looks rundown and stagnant, more like a flophouse than a cultural hub.

You’re more likely to find a chicken in someone’s front yard or a crack deal in the park across the street than you are of hearing some good jazz any time before July, when there’s a black party and a festival commemorating the area’s roots.

Despite its descent the Dunbar can still claim the power of posterity, as many other more important buildings have fallen to their fates and been turned into bars or more expensive hotels.  Architects and businessmen have been angling to turn South L.A. into a world of luxury condos, as they’ve already done with Downtown, giving rich people a place to live but nowhere else to go, much like a suburb. 

So for this fact, the Dunbar is amazing, still standing in the shape and form that represents in old sketches and pictures dating back to the original times of flourish and excitement.

It stands as a testament to a black culture that surmounted inhuman oppression with artistic fire and proof of a self-righteous intelligence.  It’s a building of ghosts, but ghosts that carry an immortal salt. 


[an error occurred while processing this directive]