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Reporting on health and quality of life in South LA

Historic Dunbar Hotel set to reopen as part of $30 million apartment complex

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What was once the epicenter of South L.A.'s prolific jazz scene is now a multi-unit housing complex for seniors and low-income families slated to open June 26.

The $30 million renovation of the Dunbar Hotel and surrounding buildings – dubbed Somerville I and Somerville II (a nod to the hotel's original name) – has transformed the South Los Angeles area into the new Dunbar Village. The complex has a total of 83 apartments with rents ranging from $437 to $875 per month.

“Central Avenue and the Dunbar Hotel have long been an important part of our Los Angeles history. It is wonderful to see the Avenue come alive again and know that this historic landmark has been restored,” said area Councilwoman Jan Perry in a statement.

Each apartment unit is described as having new carpeting, vinyl flooring and a modern kitchens equipped with appliances. Apartments range in size from studios to four-bedroom units. The Dunbar Hotel is designated for seniors 55 and older, while the Somerville complexes are reserved for families and Section 8 housing.

The Dunbar was built in 1928 and was one of the first upscale hotels for black people. This at a time when many other places wouldn't accommodate them. The hotel was the site of the first national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the western United States. And in the 1930s, the hotel became a nightclub, with performances from jazz greats including Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

Through the 1950s, the Dunbar was at the apex of black culture in Los Angeles, with guests such as Ray Charles and Thurgood Marshall. Author and activist W.E.B. Du Bois was said to have described the hotel as: “a jewel done with loving hands...a beautiful inn with soul.”

But most recently, the Dunbar was known for its run-down, low-income units. In 2008, the Los Angeles Times described the Dunbar as having failing elevators, faulty plumbing and holes in the walls.

The multimillion dollar renovation of the Dunbar began in 2011 through a collaboration of public, private and government agencies, including: Thomas Safran & Associates, Jan Perry, the Coalition for Responsible Community Development, the Los Angeles Housing Department and the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles.

And for a day at least, the Dunbar will once again echo with the sound of jazz trumpets, as musicians and political leaders help ring in the complex's grand opening this week. Wednesday's celebration is set to begin at noon.

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