Observing Los Angeles

Christopher Hawthorne's latest enthusiasm: Crenshaw Boulevard

Sunday's new installment of LA Times architectural critic Christopher Hawthorne's series on boulevards cruises down Crenshaw, nodding to the full 23 miles between Wilshire Boulevard and Rancho Palos Verdes, but really focusing on the traditional African-American community of the Crenshaw district and Leimert Park. Like with Hawthorne's earlier pieces on Atlantic and Sunset, the theme isn't much deeper than him enthusing that some Angelenos are embracing a shifting style of boulevard and city defined by mass transit, bicycles and walkable neighborhoods. Sure, his boulevards are actually all still defined by cars, storefronts and malls just like for the last 70 years, but hey rail lines are being built and a guy can dream. And he did see some bikes:

More recently, African American teenagers, like teenagers across Southern California, have traded an obsession with cars for ones with smartphones and bicycles.

"Personally I don't really want to drive that much because I don't want to pay for gas," said Terry Monday, a 17-year-old high school student.

"Me and a couple of friends, we'd rather work on our fixies," he added, referring to customizable fixed-gear bikes that have become popular among L.A. teenagers, "or spend money on clothes or on our phones."

At dusk on a recent Sunday evening, it was easy to see evidence of the shift. At the corner of Crenshaw and Imperial Highway, a gleaming burgundy Chevrolet Impala convertible carrying three middle-aged African Americans idled at a red light.

Before the light could turn, a half-dozen African American and Latino teenagers passed by on their bikes, some of which were as carefully polished as the Impala. Three more teenagers on fully detailed bikes went by, then another four, laughing as they raced east into the darkness.

He agrees that Metro's ridership projections make a Leimert Park station on the coming Crenshaw light-rail line a low priority, but he argues that Leimert Park is just the kind of neighborhood that benefits most from a transit line.leimert-park-sign.jpg "Like many residential communities of its vintage in Los Angeles, Leimert Park was originally designed to take direct advantage of rail service," he writes. "It is hard to think of an area better positioned to benefit from the new vitality and foot traffic that a light-rail stop would bring. The neighborhood is compact, tree-lined and walkable and has a true public square at its heart: the 1-acre Leimert Park Plaza, designed between 1926 and '28 by the Olmsted Bros. firm, led by sons of the Central Park designer Frederick Law Olmsted."

Hawthorne narrates a video accompanying the piece, not available to embed.

LA Observed photos: Top, Crenshaw at Stocker looking north; Lower, the ceremonial entrance to Leimert Park on Leimert Boulevard.

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