Storied History: Sugar Hill, Los Angeles

MY LATEST, now up online at Preservation magazine, explores the  deep history of  the Wilfandel Club in the Los Angeles’s West Adams district.

The club, for more than seven decades, has been a integral meeting-spot in Los Angeles for many generations of African American Angelenos. As West Adams undergoes the same shifts in gentrification as some of the older, established yet “under-the-radar”  neighborhoods in L.A,  the Wilfandel women are gearing up to ready to protect what was hard won.


The Wilfandel Clubhouse is a Mediterranean Revival house was built in 1912 via Preservation  



From the piece:

Founded in 1945 by Della Williams and Fannie Williams (the two were not related), the Wilfandel Club House offered a singular experience: an elegant gathering place for black Angelenos to meet or celebrate in style. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently awarded the club a $75,000 grant through its African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund (AACHAF) to assist the women of the Wilfandel with essential infrastructure upkeep. Preserving this property is a way to honor all that’s come before—that struggle to acquire and protect one’s place in an ever-evolving Los Angeles.

You can read more here.



landscapes, soundscapes, dreamscapes


“Arden” — Image Courtesy John S. Reynolds

I HAVE been so buried in duty that I’m late in posting this piece that was up over at Artbound last month, but it’s an evergreen.

There is a particular L.A. that resides in native Angelenos’ minds. They are personal Los Angeles-es — of different moods, eras, compositions.  John Reynold’s work taps into that thread of memory.  He retains it so we don’t have to work as hard.

I profiled Reynolds, a musician  and painter,  whose era of speciality, as he’d say himself,
is “the period of time between the two big wars — First and Second.”

This piece was reported over a long period of time, mostly  because I wanted to be in both of Reynolds’ worlds — the music and the art — and really understand how they both occupied his imagaination. That meant I drove to Disneyland and California Adventure where he has a regular gig as part of several of the “atmosphere” bands. As well he plays clubs and bars, theaters and back rooms across the city and country for huge swing dance followings.

But the art is something that he’s been working on quietly over the years and it evokes, visually, the music that he finds himself most happy sailing around in. It’s also a powerful trigger of memory for those of us who have watched Los Angeles move away from us.

From the piece:

Reynolds knows it can be treacherous business dealing in nostalgia. There are all manner of trick wires, trap doors and uncomfortable — “Whose nostalgia?” — truths to confront. But as a musician and painter who firmly situates himself in the landscape of history and memory, conveying a sense of home, especially in a constantly remade Los Angeles, is its own tight-wire act. The things that both located and grounded you are sometimes gone before you can make full sense of them: “You look up one day and there’s just an empty lot and a tractor.”

For Reynolds, a fifth-generation Southern Californian, history has a heavy presence. It’s palpable at every turn. It’s often a past that most people can no longer discern: It’s been bulldozed, retrofitted, rethought or stuccoed-over. That’s why his creative output, for as long as he can remember, has been dedicated to bringing those stories to the surface and rekindling unfinished conversations about place: “I guess you can say I’m haunted —  in a positive and negative way,” he reflects. “I’m sorry that so much of it — that feeling is gone — but I am glad that I can remember it.” And there’s legacy to protect.

Months ago, I visited his home studio in Glendale and got a sense of his history (he’s the grandson old-Hollywood actress ZaSu Pitts) and over the last four decades has worked in music ensembles that specialize in playing early-20th Century popular music. The mosaic of images below are from that afternoon visit (before our walk around the “ghost” houses of Pasadena).

You can read the piece here at Artbound.  And check John’s page here for info about  upcoming shows.




John S. Reynolds at The Brand Library Art Center – Photo by Lynell George

new year, new journey

IMG_9224IN THE last few hours of 2015, I made my way up a familiar winding hill into Altadena. The main road up to Zorthian Ranch is lined with single-family homes with sumptuous and busy gardens set back from the road. Suddenly though, as the rise gets steeper, your ears pop and you realize that you’ve attained some very real altitude. You are now  out of gentle, rustic suburbia and are now snaking up into the wilds.

I turned onto the cut-out and drug across the dirt path and parked my car. In the distance, I could see the profile of the NOMAD and I realized that this would most likely be the last time I’d get this beautiful view of Dominique Moody‘s  mobile workshop in the form of a residence.

I’ve been following her process for a few years now. I’ve watched the NOMAD go from a blueprints, to conceptual model, to a beautifully appointed residence which will now allow her to move through the world and interact with her surroundings.

We had a light brunch and talked about what awaited her on the open road.

Her first stop is Joshua Tree, where she will continue to tie up lose ends,  but most important, will make a visit she’d been intending to for years. The artist Noah Purifoy has been one of her important influences. An assemblage artist as well, he worked with found objects that also (like Moody’s work), force the viewer think twice about what we define as “throw-away.”

What’s in store for her, she doesn’t know just yet. And that’s the goal. This first step  however was a necessary “conversation” she had to have. This first pilgrimage is a way to connect with the impulse and memory of an important “spirit guide.”

I’ll be checking in on Moody in the coming weeks to see how this trial run is going and where serendipity leads her creatively.


-all images by Lynell George

Rojas’ Eastside

James Rojas - Urban Planner & Community Activist

James Rojas – Urban Planner & Community Activist (photo by Lynell George)

GREAT URBAN walkabout on Saturday with James Rojas who led about a dozen of us through Boyle Heights into East L.A. Rojas, an urban planner and community activist, gave us generous samples of Latino Urbanism — a specific refashioning of built landscape.

Writes Rojas:

“Street vendors, plazas, and benches are all part of the Latin American streetscape. Traditional Latin American homes extend to the property line, and the street is often used as a semi-public, semi-private space where residents set up small businesses, socialize, watch children at play, and otherwise engage the community.

To create a similar sense of belonging within an Anglo-American context, Latinos use their bodies to reinvent the street.”

We looked at how people refashion and mark place and make it their own. We wandered by front yards turned into plazas. We explored upon gardens, shrines, murals and garage-adjacent altars. Christmas is still in full bloom; it’s just tucked away off the main drag. I was most taken by the thread of improvisation winding through block by block. Streets that are made for walking with goods and signage at eye-level. Re-purposed gas stations, vacant lots and front porches transformed into impromptu meeting places.

Community in this sense truly feels like community — lives linked together, shaped by one another.

Big thanks to wonderful Victoria for letting me know about it. I’m always re-energized seeing L.A. through a different set of eyes.

So grateful to you to James Rojas!

(mosaic images by Lynell George)

Every Street, Every Block

West Adams Terrace. Photo by Larry Underhill via L.A. Conservancy

… has a story …

This weekend, the Los Angeles Conservancy is offering a series of tours featuring historic neighborhoods in Los Angeles: Windsor Village, County Club Park, Wilshire Park are among them. As well the day-long event will offer sessions and workshops on sustainability, greening your home and balancing redevelopment and preservation.

And even if you can make it in the flesh, all of Los Angeles has been invited to participate in the discussion by using the hashtag, #LAStoryhood, to document the uniqueness of their own neighborhood in photographs via Twitter and Instagram… Looking forward to these personal virtual tours.

For more info on the project click here.