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Is Push to Join the National Register Just an Excuse For Whiteification in LA's Black Beverly Hills?

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Some residents of South LA's predominantly black View Park neighborhood—one of several in the area commonly referred to as the Black Beverly Hills—are campaigning to get the neighborhood added to the National Register of Historic Places, in the hopes that the distinction will help raise property values among the housing stock (which is large and fancy and features killer views). "Why shouldn't the Black Beverly Hills have housing prices more like those in the actual Beverly Hills?" goes the thinking, but other residents are questioning the motives behind this push for preservation, accusing the campaign's boosters of supporting "a ploy to lure in white buyers who can no longer afford to turn up their noses at black neighborhoods."

1,700-home View Park has long been an affluent neighborhood, but its history as THE place of choice for wealthy black Angelenos starts around the 1960s, when a Supreme Court ruling meant that black people could no longer be kept out of certain neighborhoods through racist housing covenants. Black professionals moved in and white people hit the road to avoid them, which just made more space for more wealthy black people to move into the existing housing: "2,500- to 5,000-square-foot homes, some with maid's quarters, pools and backyard views of downtown, Hollywood and the Pacific."

Celebrities bought here: Ray Charles and Ike and Tina Turner at one time called View Park home. By the 1980s, African-Americans outnumbered whites in the unincorporated area 9 to 1. (Because it's not part of LA proper, it's not eligible for a historic preservation overlay zone, which would blanket the whole area with preservation guidelines.) Today, View Park is 84 percent black. But residents say they've started to notice wealthy white people, priced out of other neighborhoods, coming to View Park, where places still sell for "hundreds of thousands" less than similar houses in nearby, comparable neighborhoods (for instance, those on the wealthy, white Westside).

That concerns View-Parkers who worry about what a decreasing black population and an increasing white population might mean in the neighborhood, which along with surrounding Windsor Hills, Baldwin Hills, and Ladera Heights makes up "the West Coast's highest concentration of black affluence," and which have long represented black success. (According to the 2010 Census, the majority of the neighborhood was bringing in an average household income of $90,000.)

Most locals would likely agree that View Park is an important symbol for the increasingly shrinking black community in LA, but the rift seems to center on how best to protect that legacy. Opponents of the move to get the neighborhood on the National Register feel that there's a plan to really ramp the trickle of whiteification into a flood, and that View Park's inclusion on the list will simply be used as "a marketing tool to attract a new — and largely white — crop of buyers to View Park's historic homes." As one resident in opposition explains, the people pushing for a spot on the register "are only interested in the real estate. They are not looking at the people."

But many who back the National Register listing say that they're definitely thinking about the people—their idea is that the designation will help property values and that higher property values help homeowners. Plus, the status that comes from being on the list will signal the importance of the neighborhood's history. Leading the charge for the historic designation is the View Park Conservancy, which raised $100,000 in less than a year, part of which will go toward paying a firm to do the prep work and documentation that's needed to apply for a spot on the list. The organization has 476 members supporting its efforts, and one of the cofounders says that number shows that there's significant community strength behind the move to get View Park officially, nationally recognized.
· 'Black Beverly Hills' debates historic status vs. white gentrification [LAT]
· View Park Conservancy [Official site]