Central Avenue (Los Angeles)

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Central Ave Saxophone Market celebrating Central's jazzy history in Los Angeles.

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[edit]

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.[1]

At 2300 Central is the now closed Lincoln Theatre, 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 insurance business companies the state of California.[2]

Front entrance to Jefferson High School.

Located just off of Central Ave on 1319 E 41st St, Thomas Jefferson High School is central to understanding the Jazz scene that the area was prominent for. Jefferson High School’s importance to Central Ave and its Jazz scene can be attributed to its jazz nurturing nature, its many prominent Jazz figures that it both produced and was associated with, and its serving as a pivotal structure to a newly established African-American enclave.This establishment contributed greatly to the development of West Coast Jazz. It was at Jefferson where Samuel Brown (1st African-American music teacher in the Los Angeles public school system) taught music and served as a major influence in birthing jazz musicians of Los Angeles. It is in fact because of Brown that Jefferson High School produced more jazz musicians and composers than any other high school west of the Mississippi.[3]

27th Street Bakery in December 2018

Located at 2700 Central Ave is 27th Street Bakery. Famous for its sweet potatoes pies.[4] The bakery was initially a restaurant that was established in the 1930s by Harry Patterson and his wife.[5] The couple catered to African American immigrants from the South who lived along Central Avenue.[4] It was in 1956 when it was converted into a bakery. The bakery is one of the few African American owned business left in Central Ave were the Latino presence continues to grow.[4] The bakery has been in the same family for 3 generations and is currently owned by Jeanette Pickens the granddaughter of Harry Patterson the founder of the bakery.[6] 27th Street Bakery is the largest manufacturer of sweet potatoes pies in the west coast.[4] You can now find them in retail stores such Ralphs, Albertsons, 7 Eleven, KFC and Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken.[5] The bakery was impacted during the 1992 LA Riots due to the damage that was occurring outside in the streets it decreased their clientele because the people were unable to get through to the bakery for about two weeks.[6] During the 1950s to the 1990s the bakery was catering towards the African American community but with the growing population of Hispanics in the area during the early 2000s they have branched out adding to their menu sweet bread such as conchas and empanadas to cater to the Hispanic community.[7] They have also translated their menu into Spanish.[7] The bakery added Internet services in order to adapt to the changing community.[7] The Bakery is part of Central Ave and the community and it continues to evolve along with it.[7]

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[edit]

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, Anthony Ortega, Onzy Matthews and Teddy Wilson. Commenting on its historical prominence, Wynton Marsalis once remarked that "Central Avenue was the 52nd Street of Los Angeles."[8] 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.

Leon Hefflin, Sr. produced the first largest outdoor jazz entertainment event of its kind, the “Cavalcade of Jazz,” held at Wrigley Field which was located on 42nd place in Los Angeles, part of the Central Ave Jazz Scene and showcased over 125 artist from 1945 to 1955[9]. The Cavalcade of Jazz concerts were the stepping stone to success for such stars as Toni Harper, Dinah Washington, Roy Milton, Frankie Lane and others.[10] He also hosted a beauty contest at the events. His first COJ show starred Count Basie, The Honey Drippers, Valaida Snow, Joe Turner, The Peters Sisters, Slime and Bam and more artists on September 23, 1945 with a crowd of 15,000.[11]

Etta James.

Jefferson High School, located south east of Downtown Los Angeles, served as a school to a community that not only was located at the heart of South Central’s jazz scene at the time (in the 1930s), but also one that nurtured Jazz affluent students. These students, who would later go on to establish themselves as either jazz/blues artists/singers, would follow robust music curriculum, which included courses in music theory, music appreciation, harmony, counterpoint, orchestra, band and choir.[12] Many of Central Avenue’s most accomplished jazz, blues, and bebop players were graduates of this public high school just off the Avenue.  The origin of jazz in Los Angeles has been attributed to a number of musicians who moved there from New Orleans.[12] Nightclubs became the physical manifestation of jazz music, and these were mainly located along Central Avenue from Little Tokyo to Watts. The school produced many prominent musicians, including Etta James, Curtis Williams, Big Jay McNeely, and Richard Berry.[13][14][15][16]

Jefferson High School served as a pivotal structure to a newly established African-American enclave after the turn of the 20th century.[17] The same way many know Harlem as a historically African-American enclave, the area in and around Central Ave was ironically referred to as “Little Harlem” due to its striking similarities. Harlem’s Apollo theatre and its importance to the neighborhood can be taken by the same token in referring to the many Jazz clubs on Central Ave. However, in this case, looking at the ethnographic nature of Central Ave and its establishing of a Jazz scene and culture, Jefferson High School’s contribution cannot be overstated. Such an institution served in nurturing students, musicians, and athletes—all the while sparking an inevitable culture of Jazz within the already affluent Jazz population.[18]

Central Ave paved way for many historic happenings in Los Angeles, most importantly being the many significant structures that contributed to both the creation of an African-American enclave and Jazz scene on the West Coast. It was in 1920, when the Jazz scene on Central began to swing, and from 1920 to 1955 it was the heart of the African-American community in Los Angeles.[12]

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. Lionel Hampton performed for the 2nd, 5th, 6th, 7th and the11th Cavalcade of Jazz concerts. The crowning of the first Cavalcade of Jazz Queen was postponed due to a showdown between Big Joe Turner and Lionel Hampton's band at the 5th concert. The crowd started throwing pillows, programs, and bottles into the field as the band parading back to the stage.[19]

Underground rapper Bones names a song "CentralAve" on album "Rotten" (2014).


  • 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.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Department of City Planning : Los Angeles". Cityplanning.lacity.org. Archived from the original on 2014-02-22. Retrieved 2014-05-21.
  2. ^ "Department of City Planning : Los Angeles". Cityplanning.lacity.org. Retrieved 2014-05-21.
  3. ^ "School History". jefferson-lausd-ca.schoolloop.com. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  4. ^ a b c d MITCHELL, JOHN L. (1995-11-23). "Slice of Tradition : Year After Year, Customers Flock to South-Central for Bakery's Acclaimed Sweet Potato Pie". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2018-12-07.
  5. ^ a b "27thstreetbakery.com: About Us". www.27thstreetbakery.com. Retrieved 2018-12-07.
  6. ^ a b LA THIS WEEK, Legacy of 27th Street Bakery, retrieved 2018-12-07
  7. ^ a b c d oncentral, 27th St Bakery, retrieved 2018-12-07
  8. ^ Robert L. Daniels (2006-02-26). "Los Angeles Central Avenue Breakdown". Variety. Retrieved 2014-05-21.
  9. ^ Citation error. See inline comment how to fix.[verification needed]
  10. ^ Cox, Bette Yarbrough. (1996). Central Avenue--its rise and fall, 1890-c. 1955 : including the musical renaissance of Black Los Angeles. Los Angeles: BEEM Publications. ISBN 0965078302. OCLC 35673638.
  11. ^ Moore, Lorrie. (1998). Birds of America : stories (1st ed.). New York: A. Knopf. ISBN 0679445978. OCLC 38542574.
  12. ^ a b c Meares, Hadley (2018-02-28). "The Central Avenue jazz clubs that made Los Angeles swing". Curbed LA. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  13. ^ "Etta James", Wikipedia, 2019-10-26, retrieved 2019-10-30
  14. ^ "Richard Berry (musician)", Wikipedia, 2019-09-30, retrieved 2019-10-30
  15. ^ "The Penguins", Wikipedia, 2019-10-06, retrieved 2019-10-30
  16. ^ "Big Jay McNeely", Wikipedia, 2019-10-16, retrieved 2019-10-30
  17. ^ Meares, Hadley (2015-02-17). "When Central Avenue Swung: The Dunbar Hotel and the Golden Age of L.A.'s 'Little Harlem'". KCET. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  18. ^ "Historic Central Avenue Los Angeles: A Brief History of Central Avenue". Historic Central Avenue Los Angeles. Retrieved 2019-10-30.
  19. ^ Central Avenue sounds : jazz in Los Angeles. Bryant, Clora, 1927-. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1998. ISBN 0520211898. OCLC 37361632.CS1 maint: others (link)

External links[edit]