2.15.2009

Central Avenue - Who Knew?



In the cinematic masterpiece known in layman's terms simply as Clueless, Cher hit the nail on the head when describing her Beverly Hills home, "The columns date all the way back to 1972."

It's true; L.A. has a shabby sense of history. Aside from a few enclaves downtown and in old Hollywood, we are largely without gargoyles, Victorians and baroque architecture. Everything is razed and replaced with a giant stucco box painted in neutral or pastel colors. Just look at the Westside.

I was blissfully slapped with a dose of history when I took in the play Blues for Central Avenue. These days, Central Avenue is not so...central. The faded streets are controlled by gangs and is but a bleak strip of liquor stores and-run down apartment buildings. Metal bars are strapped to everything. Little did I know that Count Basie, Duke Ellington and other jazz legends played in clubs all along The Stem - as Central Avenue was once called.

During WWII blacks were given jobs that once belonged to soldiers, and the thriving community had money to spend. They opened banks, newspapers and restaurants. The cutting-edge jazz movement rivaled Bourbon Street and attracted the white Hollywood crowds. Blues for Central Avenue brought this heyday back to life, with top-notch swing dancing, jazz music and comedic actors bursting with sentiment.

In a perfect world, this play would not only show in Hollywood, but on Central Avenue itself. It may be a catalyst in putting a sense of community back in the neighborhood. Not only was Blues for Central Avenue a great show, but it infused a bit of history and romance into a town ridden with strip malls.

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