The historic Dunbar Hotel in South LA used to echo with the voices of Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald. It was the place to hear the legendary jazz of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. In the 85 years since it was built, it has seen vibrant and troubled times. Now the hotel has been renovated, and that is music the ears of low income seniors who will live there. Conan Nolan reports from South LA for the NBC4 News at 6 p.m. on June 25, 2013.
For decades, the Dunbar Hotel was the place to stay for jazz legends, from Louis Armstrong and Dizzie Gelespie to Lena Horn and Ray Charles.
"NAACP had many important meetings here, so this was the hub of African-American culture and political life,” City Councilwoman Jan Perry said about the hotel.
But the hotel eventually fell into decline and stayed that way until developer Thomas Safran & Associates, convinced by Perry, came in and turned things around.
Before its recent restoration, the hotel had turned into a crime den, said Jordan Paynes, the company's president.
"We had to be escorted by the local police just to come here," he said. "Drug dealers controlled the front door.”
The developer spent millions restoring the hotel to its past glory. In the process, murals, chandeliers, and an atrium were rediscovered or rebuilt.
When asked if he ever thought this renovation would happen, LAPD officer Antonio Diaz responded, “Not in my wildest dreams.”
Today, the jazz greats are gone but their memory lives on. The legendary hotel at 43rd and Central is now a home for low-income seniors. Rent starts at about $430 a month.
One resident, London Carter, now lives in the glow of the hotel that was a neon landmark of his childhood.
“That’s part of history. Dunbar and jazz - they both go together,” said the 59-year-old disabled veteran. And for Carter, this new community founded on the land of all that history is a jewel, recovered and restored.
“I wasn’t here when Lena Horn and others stayed here, but I’m here now” said Carter. And in response to the possibility of the ghosts of the greats still roaming the halls, Carter chuckled.
“I hope I run into some of them,” he said.