The "Black-Palm Springs"
Once a Mexican mining town, Val Verde ("green valley") was opened up to LA's African-American population in the early 1900s by "a wealthy white woman in Pasadena" who was angered by the city's Jim Crow laws, and the area soon "became a 'weekend picnic spot' for Afro-Americans".
In 1924 the land was purchased by Sidney Dones, who partnered with Joe Bass on the project. The pair shared a vision for the area as a resort community for African-Americans who were not permitted to own land or gather for recreation elsewhere in the city. They marketed their town as "Eureka Villa" and began to sell parcels to interested parties. "In 1928 the development became an independent township and residents changed the name back to “Val Verde”. By the 1930s the area was wildly popular, mainly because "it was one of only a few places blacks could go for recreation, others being Lake Elsinore in Riverside County, a section of Venice Beach and a park in Pasadena that was open to blacks one day a year".
The thirties saw a whirl of activity in Val Verde because WPA funds were granted for development of a swimming pool, funded by a federal grant of thrity-nine thousand dollars and celebrated with a gala opening that brought out a veritable who's who of black Los Angeles, including film stars Louise Beavers and Hattie McDaniels, who was then shooting Gone With the Wind and would shortly make history by becoming the first African American to win an Oscar (Flamming 349). The town boasted picnic tables, fields for ball playing, barbecue spots, and theatres where all-black productions and performers took to the stages. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of people would go to Val Verde, particularly in the summer months.
The need for a community like Val Verde touches on a time in our city's past that was, to say the least, bittersweet for a portion of the population. "The first half of [the 20th] century was a sad time for many Angelenos," recalls Leon Worden, a local historian. "Black-owned businesses were torched. Blacks couldn't use most beaches or public swimming pools, let alone compete with whites for high-paying jobs. It wasn't until the mid-1950s that the courts struck down restrictive covenants that prevented blacks from owning real estate in certain areas of Los Angeles."
While Val Verde was a respite and a safe haven, it also represented the fact that not everyone was able to fully enjoy Los Angeles as the Eden-like land of plenty as it was advertised and reputed to be. Curiously enough, many of Val Verde's most prominent supporters were those who were the strongest voices in opposition of segregation, like Charlotta Bass and other leaders of the Race organization, who consistently denounced segregated projects but apparently viewed Val Verde as a matter of separation, not segregation.So what became of Val Verde? By the 1960s and 1970s, segregation laws were reversed and Afro-Angelenos filtered into the city itself and made homes and lives for themselves without restriction. The need for an escape and a separate community was gone, and with it went much of the town's legacy. Soon Val Verde was seeing an influx of non-black residents, namely Hispanics, who were happy to find a quiet place to settle and raise families. The town is now home to mostly working class Latinos, a bevy of CalArts
Photos at the Val Verde Historic Center