Friday, April 13, 2007

Paid A Bill, Walked Into Some History

The gas bill at work didn't get paid.

Our last accountant was incompetent, so the gas bill didn't get paid and they were going to shut the gas off as of 5:00 Friday if they didn't get payment. Since I was not about to allow that - it would mean our kids going hungry - I decided to walk the check to the nearest gas company office and make the payment in person. This required a decent walk south on Central Avenue and I was up for it.

In another era, Central Avenue around here was the west coast jazz mecca. I walked by an awning that looked very much like an entrance to a club, and it bore letters spelling out "Club Alabam." I had no idea what this was. I also walked by a rather grand looking building on the other side of 42nd and Central that said something about a man named Summerville.

Later that day, I decided to go out again, venture into the neighborhood a bit, and eat lunch someplace walking distance from work. This meant a burrito for lunch, which I enjoyed. As I ate said burrito I looked at the wall and noticed a photograph of an old show poster from the "Club Alabam" and a picture of a chorus line, apparently from this same "Club Alabam." The awning was still there across the street. I went and looked again. The awning may once have led to a club, but not it leads to a space between two newer buildings. The awning neatly frames an electric meter. I sensed that in this blank space there was some history.

Well, I had no idea. Club Alabam was THE place. Basie played here. Ellington. All the greats. The house band itself was legend. That building next door, the one with Summerville's name on it, is the Hotel Dunbar: a hotel built in the 1920's specifically to provide a first-class hotel that would serve blacks in L.A. It was built at a time when some of the streets in Watts were still unpaved. The jazz greats slept there, and played at the Alabam. There is a legend that W.C. Fields accidentally integrated the hotel by getting so drunk he passed out there and spent the night.

There is also a grand old theatre building, further north on Central, that was another major, major jazz hall. It is now a gigantic, Spanish-speaking church.

I have nothing to say about this. I just want to put on some Lester Young and listen to it with you.

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