Central Avenue (Los Angeles)
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Central Avenue is a major north-south thoroughfare in the central portion of the Los Angeles, California metropolitan area. Located just to the west of the Alameda Corridor, it runs from the eastern end of the Los Angeles Civic Center south, ending at Del Amo Boulevard in Carson. From north to south, Central Avenue passes through Downtown Los Angeles, South Los Angeles (including Watts, Florence-Graham, and Willowbrook), Compton, and Carson (where it runs through California State University, Dominguez Hills).
Landmarks and major attractions
Near its northern end, Central Avenue passes through Little Tokyo, Los Angeles' oldest Japanese neighborhood and now a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On Central Avenue just north of First Street is the former Hompa Hongwangi Buddhist Temple. It was declared Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No.313 in 1986. Across Central Avenue from the Temple is the Japanese American National Museum, and north of that is the original (and largest) branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, now known as the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.
In the 1200 block of Central Avenue is the 1930s era Streamline Modern Los Angeles bottling plant of the Coca-Cola company, designed to resemble an ocean liner, complete with porthole windows and metal-railed catwalks. It was declared Los Angeles Historic-cultural Monument #138 in 1975.
At 2300 Central is the Lincoln Theatre (now closed), opened in 1926 and long the leading venue in the city for African-American entertainment. It was declared Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument # 744 in 2003. At 4233 Central Avenue is the Dunbar Hotel, Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #131 since 1974. During the era of segregation, when they were barred from the city's major hotels, the Dunbar was the hotel at which visiting black celebrities were most likely to stay. The Hotel is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At 4261 Central Avenue is Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #580, the 1928 Golden State Mutual Life Insurance Building, original headquarters of one of the leading African-American owned businesses in California.
The Central Avenue Jazz Festival is a yearly free music festival held the last weekend of July along a stretch of Central Avenue which includes the Dunbar Hotel. The festival features jazz, blues, and Latin jazz performed by well-known and upcoming artists from the area.
Central Avenue provides bus service along Metro Local line 53.
Significance in music history
From approximately 1920 to 1955, Central Avenue was the heart of the African-American community in Los Angeles, with active rhythm and blues and jazz music scenes. Local luminaries included Eric Dolphy, Art Pepper, Chico Hamilton, and Charles Mingus. Other jazz and R&B musicians associated with Central Avenue in LA include Benny Carter, Buddy Collette, Dexter Gordon, Lionel Hampton, Hampton Hawes, Big Jay McNeely, Johnny Otis, Shifty Henry, Charlie Parker (briefly), Gerald Wilson, Onzy Matthews and Teddy Wilson. Commenting on its historical prominence, Wynton Marsalis once remarked that "Central Avenue was the 52nd Street of Los Angeles." Although Central Avenue is no longer the thriving jazz center it was, its legacy is preserved by the Central Avenue Jazz Festival and a small number of jazz clubs, including Bluewhale in Little Tokyo.
Lionel Hampton composed and performed a tune called "Central Avenue Breakdown". Dave Alvin's tribute to Big Joe Turner, "The Boss of the Blues", describes a drive down Central Avenue and Turner's reminiscences about the scene.
- Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles (Roth Family Foundation Book in American Music), Clora Bryant et al., ISBN 978-0-520-22098-0
- Central Avenue: Its Rise and Fall, 1890-C1955, Including the Musical Renaissance of Black LA, Bette Yarbrough Cox, ISBN 978-0-9650783-1-3
- The Great Black Way: L.A.’s Central Avenue in the 1940s And the Rise of African-American Pop Culture, R.J. Smith, ISBN 978-1-58648-295-4
- Upside Your Head! Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue (Music/Culture), Johnny Otis, ISBN 978-0-8195-6287-6
Fourteen albums contain the name "Central Avenue" in their titles, including CDs by Pete Johnson, Nat King Cole, Big Jay McNeely, Jack McVea, Big Joe Turner, Teddy Wilson and Savoy Records.
- History of Jazz on Central Avenue
- Central Avenue Sounds Oral History Project, Center for Oral History Research, UCLA Library Special Collections, University of California, Los Angeles.