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Your guide to Leimert Park, the 2016 Neighborhood of the Year

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Two neighbors gush about their neighborhood—“it doesn’t get better than this!”

The People's Guide offers tours of Los Angeles neighborhoods led by loyal readers, favorite bloggers, and other luminaries of our choosing. Have a piece to say? We'll be happy to hand over the megaphone.

This time, we welcome two guides to Leimert Park, the historic South Los Angeles neighborhood that won the 2016 Curbed Cup. They are friends and neighbors Ann Willmott and Lena Hobson. Ann, a resident since 2013, is a newcomer to the neighborhood, and Hobson has lived there since 1997.

What brought you to the neighborhood?

Lena: Leimert is very close to the neighborhood where I grew up.

My earliest memories of Leimert are driving through it, westbound on 39th Street, with my great-grandparents as we headed to Fedco (now Target at Rodeo and La Cienega). I loved how the Jacaranda trees, outstretched over the road, the sun rays beaming between their purple blooms, seemed to gaze down at me as I looked up from the car window.

Blooming jacaranda trees are one of the prettiest parts of LA’s streetscape.
Samuel / Flickr creative commons

For as long as I've known, the neighborhood has always been beautiful! I find the Spanish architecture and lushness of the area to be romantic in a way. I was also drawn to the expression of black culture, through art and music that permeates throughout the Village and the neighborhood as a whole.

Ann: Lived in an apartment building in West Hollywood with a lot of small barky dogs. The barking pushed us out of the house every weekend to visit neighborhoods all over the city. One day we took a walk in Leimert Park and saw many neighbors out greeting each other, walking their dogs, getting home from work. Everyone was really friendly, and we loved it right away. And the tree-lined streets!

What do you like most about Leimert Park?

Ann: Hands down, it’s the community. We really enjoy social time and being involved with the neighborhood. We have a gathering on the third Thursday of every month where we visit different places in the area—restaurants and galleries but also local non-profits like Lula Washington Dance Theater. Our neighborhood has a lot of pride, and is quite diverse. I call it “urban suburban.” It’s a city neighborhood, but you still come home and find a bag of lemons from your neighbor’s tree on the doorstep.

Lena: Neighbors, neighbors, neighbors!

No neighborhood is perfect. What could be improved?

Ann: As the neighborhood gentrifies, it’s essential that some of the money and benefit be directed to the poorest parts of the community, to the homeless (because these people are part of our community too), to youth, and to helping long-time residents stay—they made the community great and there should always be a place for them. We need more jobs and more job training, always.

Lena: More amenities that include improved options for fresh, organic produce, and sit down restaurants and cafes.

Tell us something we don't know about Leimert Park.

Lena: The multi-unit buildings are just as stunning as the single family homes. Many of the buildings, including my very first apartment, have hand painted murals in the foyer or stairwell landing. Because so many of the properties are older, many of the buildings and homes have their original fixtures (classic rosette crystal door knobs, sconces, hardwood floors, stained glass windows and interior skylights). I can appreciate just how well things were constructed in the past and to see that it's lasted for so many years is wonderful.

What's the neighborhood housing stock like?

Ann: Inventory is low and competition is fierce, but there are always a few things for sale, it seems. There are fixers and flips, but I think the best deals are houses that are in good condition but haven’t been updated recently. Leimert Park’s homes, from the late 30s and early 40s, have “good bones.”

Better for buyers or renters?

Ann: It’s great for buyers, but I wish we had known about this neighborhood when we were renters! Compared to other parts of the city, you can get a lot for your dollar.

Do you need a car to get around?

Ann: I’ve used the Expo line to go to Santa Monica, downtown, and to the Coliseum. People, do not drive to a Rams game. Can walk to Starbuck’s on Crenshaw. Still use a car to get to work, grocery shopping and other errands. When the new Metro line opens in 2019, that will open up the area even further.

Local customs of note?

Lena: All the festivals and events in Leimert Park Village, notably the drum circle on Sundays.

More recently, Third Thursday is very popular. The first event was in April 2015 at the local Starbucks on Crenshaw and Coliseum. Since then, we've been hosted by Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Post & Beam restaurant, Regency West, the Junior Blind Foundation, the Vision Theater, and Simply Wholesome health food store and restaurant, just to name a few! It's been a great way for folks to talk face-to-face, versus behind a computer screen.

Beloved neighborhood joint?

Ann: Everyone will have a different one! I love Post & Beam, which we started coming to before we moved here. It’s cozy and has great food. I also love Brooklyn Deli on Crenshaw; it is run by a wonderful family and all the sandwiches are named after a family member. I like the “Hakeem” but I modify it to be a little less spicy than Hakeem usually makes it.

Lena: Right now, it seems to be Ann's house! A bunch of us neighbors, 30 or so, got together impromptu to celebrate winning best neighborhood at her digs the night the polls closed! We ate, drank, and bragged. It was so much fun! Aside from Ann's, neighborhood treasures would definitely be Kaos, Eso Won Book Store, and The World Stage.

Best-kept secret?

Ann: It’s not a secret, but more people should visit Leimert Park Village near Crenshaw and Vernon, a center of African American culture. You don’t have to be African American to recognize this as a great treasure in Los Angeles. The World Stage, the Vision Theatre, Eso Won Book Store—these are a few of the places to experience and celebrate art, literature, and music. There’s also the Leimert Park art walk, the last Sunday of every month. I get a pineapple ginger smoothie at Adassa’s, and they are not afraid of ginger.

Lena: My hair stylist at Ms. Pearl's Beauty Salon in the Crenshaw Square development. She does not overbook, so there is no waiting!

Who would be happy living here?

Ann: Urban suburbans. You like fine dining, but also have a lawn mower. But seriously, anyone who wants a nice place to live and wants to contribute to making it nice for others will enjoy it. LA history buffs will find it fascinating too.

Lena: Anybody who likes socializing with neighbors, because we do a lot of that here! Also, if you're drawn to tree-lined streets and beautiful architecture that is centrally located in the city with quick access to major freeways and light rail, it doesn't get better than this!

Who wouldn't be happy living here?

Ann: If you have no sense of adventure, and feel most comfortable where everyone looks and acts the same, you probably need to look elsewhere!

Lena: If you're not into people, this isn't the place for you. Neighbors greet one another when out and about, and we love visiting one another, to share a glass of wine, watch a movie, and just yap about what's going on in the world.

Any last thoughts?

Ann: The pronunciation! Leimert rhymes with “alert.” But how to pronounce Rodeo Road? Everyone has their own take on that.