* When I signed a lease on an apartment on Corning in 2018, I couldn’t believe my luck. The location couldn’t be beaten — 15 minutes from the beach, 20 from Downtown, a stone’s throw from Beverly Hills — yet I could afford it on a writer’s salary. Moreover, at a moment when I felt ambivalent about Orthodox Judaism, I could observe as I pleased. Most of the block’s residents were of Mexican descent, as was my new roommate, a stranger who had posted on Craigslist. But the neighborhood was adjacent to the heavily Orthodox Pico-Robertson area where I grew up, and I could walk to my parents’ for Shabbat dinner.
What I did not then understand was that the neighborhood, the very block, had changed a lot over the past 60-plus years. My good fortune had actually come at the tail end of a decades-long process of race-based discrimination. The Jewish revival of La Cienega Heights, as the neighborhood has been known since 2003, has not quite happened at the expense of Black life. But the trajectory of these 18 square blocks underscores the subtle ways in which American Jews, including myself, often benefit from structural anti-Black racism without realizing it.
* La Cienega Heights stayed predominantly white and Jewish through the 1950s.
Then, in 1967, came the first seeds of integration. That was the year the original cohort of Black students from South Los Angeles was bused to Alexander Hamilton High School, a mile from Corning Street. By 1972, half the school’s students were Black; by the 1980 census, 60% of La Cienega Heights residents were Black. Many of the area’s white residents, including most of its Jewish population, had moved out.
La Cienega Heights was not spared the introduction of rock cocaine into Black communities or the emergence of street gangs during the 1980s. Wrought-iron window bars and barbed wire went up around the neighborhood as a homegrown gang, the Playboy Gangster Crips, sold crack on Corning Street and controlled the surrounding blocks. The 1987 injunction developed to stop that gang, the first of its kind in the country, was the first of a series of crackdowns on crime in the neighborhood; what followed over the next 30 years was a gradual outflow of the neighborhood’s Black residents and an influx of Latino immigrants who took their place.
* La Cienega Heights — the area bound by Robertson and La Cienega boulevards, between Sawyer Street and Cadillac Avenue, and to be clear, a place with no heights to speak of — is now roughly 20% Black and 50% Latino.
* La Cienega Heights has sprouted a kollel (an institution that supports full-time Torah scholars), more sukkahs crop up every fall, and I see as many yarmulkes as pet dogs on the walk to shul. The Black community does not seem likely to return to its previous numbers.
* In her 2015 book “Police, Power, and the Production of Racial Boundaries,” which contains a historical ethnography of La Cienega Heights, Ana Muñiz, a professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California-Irvine, writes that one resident estimated the neighborhood was 80% Jewish in the 1950s. As they found professional success, those Jews sent their children to Hamilton, one of the top public high schools in the city. They got zoning laws changed so they could put up apartments in their backyards.
Then came busing.