I've recently enjoyed two pieces of writing on the local Creole community spurred by the Feb. 21 passing of restaurateur Harold Legaux, proprietor of Harold & Belle’s on West Jefferson Boulevard, and the serious turnout for his service at St. Bernadette Church in Baldwin Hills. First, Erin Aubry Kaplan on the KCET website. Excerpt:
Seems like every Creole left standing in L.A. was at the funeral this past Monday for Harold Legaux....I ate at Harold & Belle's fairly regularly, like virtually everyone else who came to pay their respects.
The ambience and cuisine at H & B have been legendary for the nearly forty years it's been around, though it was Harold who turned what was originally a pool-hall, down-home hangout into the white-tablecloth establishment it got famous for. Harold and Belle's is the Dooky Chase's of the west coast, the must-stop for out-of-towners and for all serious fans of Creole cooking. It was remarkable also for surviving and even thriving in its locale on Jefferson Boulevard and 10th Avenue, which used to be the heart of the Creole corridor, but over the years has receded into the general hollowed-out drabness of South Central. But black folks remain fiercely loyal to it for that reason. On a landscape that doesn't offer much to the middle class that must come if the landscape is to change, Harold & Belle's is a beacon. It makes the argument for quality, consistency and even black solidarity that very few places in the neighborhood can make anymore.
Roger Guenveur Smith and Mark Broyard have performed "Inside the Creole Mafia” for two decades, and Broyard sang at Legaux's funeral. Writing at LA FWD, they titled their post A Mardi Gras Tribute to an L.A. Creole Icon. Excerpt:
Any L.A. Creole worth his étouffée knows where to go—aside from his own kitchen—whenever he’s craving for a taste of New Orleans. Harold & Belle’s Restaurant, located in the old Jefferson Park neighborhood east of Crenshaw Blvd., is the place. Anytime you go there you are bound to run into someone who knew you from back home and, up until a few years ago owner, proprietor and four-star restaurateur Harold Legaux was always at the helm.....
The roots of Creole Los Angeles have their origins in the Tremé and Seventh Ward neighborhoods of New Orleans....L.A.’s Creole community is truly unique. Hidden from view, rarely discussed in print or broadcast media, there is no designation marking the borders of the neighborhood, no sign on the freeway indicating motorists are passing through. Yet it exists as surely as does any other unique cultural community, complete with its own restaurants and markets, social centers and houses of worship, clubs and organizations. But Creole Los Angeles is a hidden world located within a part of the city wrongly designated South-Central Los Angeles, which is often synonymous with low-income, marginalized peoples living in an urban minority ghetto. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Legaux died of pancreatic cancer.