Baldwin Hills. There is so much more to Baldwin Hills than meets the eye. Home to the largest middle and upper middle-class African American community in Los Angeles, this hillside neighborhood ties together one of the most important strongholds of black culture in town, forming the residential nexus of the Crenshaw area. Long a destination of doctors (hence the early moniker “Pill Hill”), large numbers of African Americans began arriving in Baldwin Hills in the early 1960s. However, unlike the working class who settled in communities like Watts and Compton, Baldwin Hills drew a disproportionate number of black musicians and actors, many of whom were frozen out of affluent westside neighborhoods.
Thus, “the Black Beverly Hills” was born, with celebs including Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner, Loretta Devine, Nancy Wilson, James Cleveland and former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley settling into the lovely hillside homes. Other communities like Leimert Park and Country Club Park were also havens for black entertainers during this time, but none took on quite the same mystique as Baldwin Hills
The end of segregation meant many of the black celebrities that once called the neighborhood home moved into the more traditional enclaves of the rich and famous, such as Brentwood and Beverly Hills. However, rather than fall into disrepair, most of Baldwin Hills retained an affluent air thanks to the influx of the new black middle class. According to 2000 census numbers, the neighborhood remains 78.5 percent black, though a small community of Latinos, Asians and whites have settled in the area in recent years.
The Black Beverly Hills might be a thing of the past, but that hasn’t stopped some crappy television (“Baldwin Hills, BET) shows from going out of their way to perpetuate the “spoiled rich people dipped in chocolate” cliche. Pity, since the reality of Baldwin Hills today is so much more interesting, with the area’s many business professionals, doctors, lawyers and artists maintaining their hillside abodes in much the same pristine condition as when they were first constructed, and fostering a sense of community that would be admirable to most neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
House styles range from modest bungalows to pretty sizeable mansions, particularly in the affluent Baldwin Hills Estates and View Park sections. However, even the biggest of the homes aren’t as over-the-top and gaudy as what one would find in other affluent neighborhoods.
Despite having two of the largest urban wildernesses in the world (Griffith Park and Topanga Canyon) within its borders, Los Angeles is still critically underserved when it comes to public parks. Baldwin Hills is a revelation among Los Angeles neighborhoods in that more than a third of its land is taken up by public park, making it one of the city’s greenest nieghborhoods.
Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area built on the site of a defunct oil field, forms one of the most diverse and pleasant greenbelts Los Angeles has to offer, perfectly combining the landscaped comfort of an east coast park with the trails and occasional wilderness feel of a southern California park.
The parks department stocks the lake with catfish in the summer and trout in the fall, making it one of the best places in the city to do some freshwater angling.
There’s plenty going on once you come down out of the hills. Crenshaw Blvd is the main business thoroughfare, and there’s a variety of specialty stores and barber shops lining both sides of the street. One of the most eye-catching features of the street is this neighborhood mural.
As beautiful as the hills look in the distance, the sad fact is that having a predominantly African American population means many Angelenos never bother to explore the area, dismissing it as just more of “the ‘hood”. Never has a such a generalization been more unfair than here, in a community so economically and socially diverse as to defy classification.