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St. Elmo Village, established in 1969, Mid-City. Photo: Elizabeth Daniels. © J. Paul Getty Trust.

Getty Joins Forces With City of Los Angeles to Preserve Black Heritage Sites

Getty and the city of Los Angeles are to announce a three-year initiative aimed at identifying and preserving Black heritage landmarks throughout Los Angeles, where only 3 percent of such sites are linked to African American heritage, the Los Angeles Times reports. The African American Historic Places Project will be jointly overseen by the Getty Conservation Institute and the LA Department of City Planning’s Office of Historic Resources, and is meant to more accurately reflect the city’s history.

Ken Bernstein, chief city planner and manager of the Office of Historic Resources, acknowledged that the city’s landmarking program to date has not accurately mirrored what he characterized as “the diversity and richness of the African American experience” in the city. “There’s much work to be done to rectify that disparity and ensure that the heritage of African Americans in Los Angeles is fully woven into our historic designation, and recognition of historic places in Los Angeles,” he told the paper.

A search is to commence shortly for a project leader for the initiative, which represents yet another stage in the twenty-year collaboration on heritage programs between the Getty Conservation Institute and the city. Over the next three years, the African American Historic Places Project, working with local communities and cultural institutions, will identify landmarks deserving of official historic designation; the project also aims to broaden the definition of what qualifies as a landmark, moving beyond concerns relating only to architecture to “take in what might be considered more intangible heritage,” said Bernstein. He also noted that an additional ten sites relating to Black history will receive city historic-cultural monument status; at present, only 6 percent of city historic-cultural monuments, which number 1,200, are associated with communities of color.

“If [landmarks] don’t accurately reflect [a particular] history and past, then you’re getting an impoverished or a misreading of history so I think what identifying cultural heritage places does, it actually tells the true story,” said Susan Macdonald, head of the Buildings and Sites Department at the Getty Conservation Institute. “It can be used as a vehicle to rectify erasures of history.”

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