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As South LA changes, Destination Crenshaw is ‘absolutely necessary’

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The open-air museum will celebrate black Los Angeles amid “so many concerns about gentrification,” says City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson

A rendering shows “a potential treatment” of the existing Crenshaw Wall.
Courtesy of Destination Crenshaw

Hundreds of people danced and cheered as the R&B group Dru Hill performed their throwback “Beauty” on a balmy Saturday afternoon at the Taste of Soul street festival. Food vendors lined up along Crenshaw Boulevard in South LA, selling everything from alligator to Jamaican patties to grilled oysters.

Taste of Soul is one of the largest street festivals in the country, attracting more than 350,000 visitors annually. Founder Danny J. Bakewell Sr., publisher of the LA Sentinel, has said “the evolution of Taste of Soul has simply been about the care for black people and wanting the best for our community.”

A celebration of food, art, and black culture in Los Angeles, the festival presented the perfect opportunity for Los Angeles City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson to tell residents about a project coming to the neighborhood: Destination Crenshaw.

South LA resident Andrea Wilson, 28, learned about the project—an open-air museum that will bring trees, small parks, and public art to a 1.3-mile stretch of Crenshaw, from 48th and 60th streets—for the first time on Saturday.

“I’m happy that they’re trying to change the face of this area,” says Wilson. “The streets weren’t always walkable ... [and] I don’t have anything nice to see.”

The project, she predicts, will allow community members to feel like they can safely walk in the neighborhood.

VR experience of Destination Crenshaw at Taste of Soul.

Among the hundreds of tents lined up on Crenshaw Boulevard on Saturday, Harris-Dawson’s tent was one of the largest, and it included a VR set-up for visitors to experience what Destination Crenshaw will look like.

“[Taste of Soul] is where you engage a conversation with the black community in Southern California,” says Harris-Dawson. “Because even if you live in Altadena, San Bernardino, Long Beach or Calabasas, Crenshaw is still important to you, if you’ve got history as an African American in this community.”

Considered the main street of black Los Angeles, Crenshaw Boulevard runs through historic neighborhoods, including Leimert Park, and is lined by some of the region’s essential businesses, including Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall and the Los Angeles Sentinel.

Cassandra Withers, 59, visits Taste of Soul every year from Long Beach. Having grown up in South LA, she says she enjoys stopping by the festival every year to learn what’s new in the community.

As for Destination Crenshaw, Withers says she’s old school and everything is moving a little too fast for her, but says she likes the project and is happy that the younger generation will get to enjoy it.

The idea was created in response to Metro building the Crenshaw/LAX Line on ground level instead of underground. Community members feared that it would harm businesses along the Crenshaw corridor.

Destination Crenshaw will have community gathering spaces—including an outdoor gallery amphitheater with an overlook of city views—parks, and hundreds of new trees. Designed by Perkins + Will and Studio-MLA, it will also feature art by local and renowned artists.

The Wall of Crenshaw, a roughly 800-foot-long mural featuring black activists and performers along Crenshaw Boulevard, will be folded into the project too, which is slated to get underway next year.

Harris-Dawson says community members are excited about the project, and some feel like it’s long overdue.

“It’s something that is absolutely necessary during this time when there’s so much change in our city and so many concerns about gentrification,” he says.

But some South LA residents are worried that Destination Crenshaw isn’t enough when it comes to concerns of housing and small businesses staying open.

“There isn’t so much people feeling like Destination Crenshaw shouldn’t happen,” says Harris-Dawson. “They feel like it should be the companion of many other important things.”