By Mike Dickerson
In late June, we were alerted to a campaign by the Hancock Park Homeowners Association Est. 1948, urging local residents to “bury” Eric Garcetti in calls opposing AB 1197, a bill that would exempt supportive housing projects from CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act. This law allows private individuals and groups like the Homeowners Association to bring actions against developments of all kinds, including, in this case, permanent supportive housing for unhoused people. The goal of AB 1197 is to streamline the City of Los Angeles’s efforts to build shelter and permanent housing for unhoused Angelenos.
The year of their establishment, 1948, was significant in Hancock Park for two big reasons:
1) The Supreme Court’s landmark Shelley v. Kraemer ruling outlawed racially restrictive covenants, a key legal underpinning of de jure residential segregation. These covenants forbid the selling of property to non-white residents, and attached the restriction to each subsequent owner, insuring that properties would remain in white hands even as it sold, under penalty of forfeiting the property.
2) Nat King Cole, a world-famous singer, moved to Hancock Park. His family was the first non-white family in Hancock Park in the post Shelley v. Kraemer era.
In Hadley Meares’ “When Nat King Cole Moved In,” she describes what happened:
The elegantly understated neighborhood of tasteful mansions and rolling green lawns was filled with old Los Angeles money, families who had made their fortune in oil, banking, and real estate… This most correct of neighborhoods, the home of governors and CEOs, had a dark side. At an unnamed mansion in the neighborhood, residents formed the Hancock Park Property Owners Association. Attorney Andrew J. Copp Jr. was elected as its chair, and according to Epstein, tasked to “seek a solution to the problem.”
Hancock Park was established in the 1920’s with a 50-year racial covenant requiring that land pass between white hands. When the Coles moved in, the newly formed Property Owners Association first attempted to bribe them to move out. When that was turned down, they resorted to legal threats and harassment. While the famously charming Nat King Cole attempted to calm down his neighbors, the situation in the area became more and more heated. Verbal arguments escalated to violence as the family had racist signs posted on their lawn, their dog was poisoned, and a gun shot was fired through the Cole’s window. The family fought through it, and eventually found a measure of acceptance in the neighborhood.
In 1962, the Property Owners Association changed its name to the Homeowners Association. In 2006, it changed its name again, adding “est. 1948.”
At a time when countless other institutions throughout our country have sought to more honestly reckon with their history, the Hancock Park Homeowners Association chose to honor the specific history of their founding in their name. It’s likely that they did not mean their new name to point directly at the organization’s racist past. I suspect this because their website describes Nat King Cole as a “prominent resident” of the neighborhood. Shortly afterwards, they describe their own early history this way:
The Hancock Park Homeowners Association was founded in 1948, and the Board met on a purely social basis. By the late 1950’s and early 1960’s the Association had become more organized and focused on neighborhood quality of life issues.
By acknowledging Nat King Cole as a prominent resident but failing to acknowledge that their own organization opposed him moving into the neighborhood, they effectively erase this chapter of their history while simultaneously using Nat King Cole as a way to advertise the history and character of their neighborhood.
Who are Hancock Park residents today? The Hancock Park Homeowners Association est. 1948 represents a neighborhood where the median listed home price is currently $2.3 million. While they are very wealthy, they are not particularly right-wing in their voting: in 2016, 65% of Hancock Park residents voted for Hillary Clinton. Just a stone’s throw down Wilshire from Koreatown, Hancock Park is much whiter than the neighborhoods that surround it. In short, if you were looking to fundraise for mainstream liberal causes, this seems like a great neighborhood to solicit.
The people opposed to affordable housing, permanent supportive housing, homeless shelters, and other needed projects are not people who appear monstrous. They don’t broadcast their goals in a language of exclusion. Many likely vehemently oppose the human rights abuses at the US/Mexico border. However, institutions like the Hancock Park Homeowners Association often work to protect the class interests of communities that are among the most wealthy and privileged in the city.
The Hancock Park Homeowners Association est. 1948 has fought hard to maintain “neighborhood character” through a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, which they achieved in 2007. According to the Association:
This designation has helped protect not only our historic character and setting but also our R-1 zoned (single family residence) neighborhood from over development and up zoning which would forever change the historic character of the neighborhood.
We could discuss how this zoning is a massive subsidy that benefits extremely wealthy homeowners at the expense of renters who would likely occupy denser buildings, but that’s a bigger topic than this post can cover. The point is, the historic preservation has worked: an institution founded to support residential segregation now finds itself leading a campaign to oppose housing for homeless Angelenos. It seems that Hancock Park has truly maintained the character of the neighborhood.
P.S. Below is our letter supporting AB 1197, which will streamline the process of building permanent supportive housing, avoiding delays and additional costs imposed by frivolous lawsuits. Please contact your state and local representatives and let them know you support this small but important change.