LEIMERT PARK — Like a jolt from the caffeine it serves in its drinks, the Hot & Cool Café is having an impact on its surroundings.
The coffee shop opened in this historic southwest Los Angeles neighborhood in April and is trying to bring back the vibe that was felt when Leimert Park was the artistic center for black Los Angeles.
The 100-year-old neighborhood is gearing up with its eye toward the future when a light rail station, set to open by 2021, starts bringing more people to the area.
Leimert Park is filled with black-owned restaurants, shops and plenty of street vendors.
The Leimert Park Plaza, a landmark that has been featured in movies and television shows, is temporarily closed for renovations. So is the Art Deco Vision Center.
But that didn’t stop Tony Jolly from opening his coffee shop.
“I have only been here for two years and being here, as we were building the shop, there was a lot of homelessness,” he said. “At night, even now around 7, it just dies. There’s no energy.
“I’m for anything that’s going to be active and movement towards people coming to Leimert Park. We support any growth so I’d rather see something growing than having it be dead as it was since I’ve been here for the last two years.”
“They said there was going to be a change,” Jolly added. “They were going under development, gentrification, or whatever word you want to call it. We thought we needed to get in at the grassroots of it and establish a black-owned business in this historic black-owned area.”
Jazz singer Barbara Morrison, the owner of the Barbara Morrison Arts Center, loves Leimert Park’s energy and thinks it’s fantastic.
“I think it’s growing and growing and growing,” Morrison said. “People are getting into the groove of helping each other. People are getting in the groove of seeing what each other needs and not being selfish and spreading the love.
“It’s almost magnetic how the people are coming together to make our area the center for our tourists to come and get some of this energy. We got the harmony kids from age 5 to 15, 2,200 of them all over the city, and we have maybe in our building 200 or 250. These kids are playing. They went to the Super Bowl. They play on television. They’re playing in other concerts around town and it’s just bringing it all back here to Leimert Park,” Morrison said.
Chris Breckinridge, co-owner of black-owned clothing store Rosstein, feels hopeful for Leimert Park’s future.
“I think the energy is still new and upcoming, but it has the potential to be great with all the growing businesses around like ourselves and Taco Mell and Billionaireboys burgers who help throw the Leimert Park block party once a month. We have a lot of growing, eager businesses so I think energy is great and youthful.
“Leimert Park is one of the most notable historically black neighborhoods,” Breckinridge added. “It was very successful back in the days and a majority of black people still live in the area. Our clothes are for everyone but it is mainly for our people, plus it feels good to have something in the area.”
Residents of Leimert Park have expressed their opinions on the community’s aura. There are some residents that feel Leimert Park has more work to be done, such as John Jackson, who is concerned about the cost of living.
“I appreciate the development in the area and the forthcoming train to the airport,” Jackson said. “I’m inspired that residents, black people in particular, are opening new businesses in Leimert Park Village. However, I am concerned about the rising cost of living and how that will affect people who live here as well as those who want to move here but cannot for economic reasons.”
Cynthia Moore, a View Park resident, adores Leimert Park and has a lot of family that lives there. Moore feels that Leimert Park is at a crucial point in time where support from black residents needs to be more vocal and present.
“And I would say to those residents that would just prefer to sit back and let the newer residents take the wheel, to get a grip. I feel that Leimert will ultimately be the first to lose everything that we have worked so hard for: murals, businesses, parades, mall. There’s always going to be some to complain to city council that all the mall music should be in English and Spanish, there’s always going to be someone to complain that ‘A Taste of Soul’ is too loudMoore said.
Deepti Gupta-Pontius says Leimert’s energy is building slowly.
“This is going to be an awesome neighborhood in five years,” he said.