By Stephen Oduntan
L.A. Focus Staff Writer
& & & & & For more than five decades, Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza has been a Los Angeles cultural/business icon and the place where African Americans shopped, evolving from an open-air retail hub to an indoor shopping complex.
Now facing the possibility of new ownership and plans proposed to redevelop the retail property for $100+ million could potentially jeopardize previous redevelopment ambitions that would have brought 551 new condominiums, 410 apartments, and a 400-room hotel to the neighborhood.
The CIM Group – a Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm – announced the restructuring plans last week to transform the area into a mix of stores, restaurants, and office space.
& & & & & “We would love to see this area redeveloped,” said Pastor William D. Smart Jr. “But it has to be developed right. CIM is not who we need. We already have an African American spearheading the development, and that’s Quintin E. Primo. Let us stick with them.”
& & & & & In a 2010 interview, Quintin Primo, CEO of Capri Investment Group, told reporters “Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza is more than just a simple mall on the southside of L.A.
& & & & & “And that is why it remains critically important that areas like these become more a part of mainstream America.”
The previously proposed renovation of the mall—presented in 2017—is supported by local residents because it includes workforce housing, affordable housing, dine-in restaurants, locally owned retail shops, and small and minority business participation.
& & & & & Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza – formerly called the Broadway-Crenshaw Center – was one of the first regional shopping centers built in the United States, specifically for the automobile. It was designed by Albert C. Martin and included a Vons supermarket, bank, and drugstore when it opened in 1947.
& & & & & The retail complex also opened its doors to the public as the first large department store to anchor smaller retail shops in a single development along the then Santa Barbara Avenue (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard) to the once whites-only enclave. The neighborhood saw a racial demographic shift after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1948 struck down restrictive covenants that allowed whites to benefit from government-sanctioned segregation.
& & & & & As a result, white families fled in masse, and blacks filled into the area that had once been strictly off-limits to them.
& & & & & And as African Americans moved to the area in droves, many of them found they could walk out onto the street to do their shopping. A shopping mall catered to this new, car-driving demographic, placing all consumer desires in one convenient location. The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza did precisely that for this black community.
& & & & & “This mall has been a great convenience,” said Michael Purnell, a barber at Hair Architects located on the upper level of the mall. “It’s a great place to have a business. There’s a [outdoor] Promenade there, and a movie theater. But I’d still like to see better stores.”
& & & & & In 1986, the mall complex underwent a massive renovation that saw much of the original inline store demolished.
& & & & & Two years later, a two-level, enclosed regional shopping mall structure was built that connected The Broadway and May Company stores via a bridge and included a new Sears as the mall’s third anchor.
& & & & & Then mall operators poured more money into redeveloping the existing property in early 2005 when global investors Capri Capital Partners purchased the shopping mall, and by 2010 the owners added new interior embellishments, as well as a new and larger food court on the first level.
& & & & & The big ambition of the Baldwin Hill Crenshaw Plaza is very much a reflection of the neighborhood which has seen an investment boom in recent years as commercial developers search for new frontiers of gentrification as previous inexpensive markets grew pricier.
& & & & & Residents and community leaders hearing of the offer from the CIM Group to re-imagine the mall space into upscale commercial office space are rallying to stop the sale.
& & & & & “We do not support this proposed sale to CIM to develop the Crenshaw Baldwin Hills mall,” said K.W. Tulloss, community activist and pastor of Weller Street Missionary Baptist Church.
& & & & & “[The] mall,” he added, “is a treasure in our community.”
& & & & & A website—www.SaveBaldwinHillsMall.com—has been set up and has already gathered nearly 2,500 signatures on a petition to stop the proposed purchase. Community and Crenshaw community activists maintain that this fight is far from over.
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