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UCLA Magazine Summer 2004
Of God and Blue-Footed Boobies
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Of the Community, By the Community, For the Community
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Summer 2004
Of the Community, By the Community,
For the Community
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Linda Wong of CDTech
Linda Wong, business and workforce- development director of CDTech in the Vernon-Central district of Los Angeles

The Vernon-Central district in South Los Angeles has a vibrant history. Once peppered with such famed establishments as Club Alabam, the Memo Club and the Elks Lodge, the area pulsated with jazz in the 1920s and '30s. Among the district's habitués were jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Count Basie, who performed in the area's clubs and stayed in its Dunbar Hotel, a luxurious haven for black visitors in racially segregated Los Angeles. During this lively era, Vernon-Central's economy was robust and its merchants thrived.

The years after World War II saw the downturn of the Vernon-Central district, as soldiers stationed in the area began to return to their homes and other residents moved to different parts of Los Angeles. The area's decline was further accelerated by the end of mass transit into the district, rising unemployment, crime, violence and a growing drug trade. Over time, the neighborhood welcomed new residents, mostly immigrants from Latin America. Like the area's residents and merchants before them, these new inhabitants saw hope for bright futures for themselves and their families in the once-thriving district.

Past revitalization efforts did little to improve the area. But now, a partnership between Community Development Technologies Center (CDTech), a nonprofit training, applied-research and technical-assistance organization, and the School of Public Policy and Social Research's North American Integration & Development Center, under the direction of Associate Professor Leo Estrada — aided by a $23,000 community-partnership grant — aims to turn the long-held hopes of residents into reality.

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