Community seeks to own Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza
LOS ANGELES – The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza was one of the first regional shopping centers in the United States.
It is also known as the South LA Mall.
Over time, the landmark has had multiple owners, it is now up for sale again, and residents of southern LA are worried about gentrification displacing black businesses.
Since 1994, Malik Muhammad has operated Malik Books at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, a store he opened to showcase black literature.
“We deserve to have literature, books and cultural and diverse materials that speak to our voice and our people,” Muhammad said.
Over the decades, Malik Books has resisted the evolution of the mall.
The stores have come and gone, and so have the owners, but what Muhammad said has remained consistent is the value of the mall to the community.
“It’s more than just a shopping center. It’s a cultural center,” he said. “In this place here we have a voice.”
Now that the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza is back on the market, it has brought Muhammad and his business tremendous uncertainty this time around.
So much so that he took proactive steps by opening a second location in the Westfield Culver City Mall.
Niki Okuk and Damien Goodmon, who run Downtown Crenshaw Rising, or DCR, are also taking proactive steps.
DCR is a group of longtime South Los Angeles residents who are leading an effort to purchase the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza and retain community ownership.
Okuk and Goodman both share timeless memories associated with the monument.
Most of Okuk’s childhood was spent there, and Goodmon’s family legacy in the community of Crenshaw dates back over a hundred years.
“It’s really about dealing with gentrification,” Goodmon said. “We come together to affirm that Crenshaw will be a black space.”
DCR said it has more than $ 75 million in donations and collaborative and philanthropic investments and believes it has made the highest bid to DWS – Deutsche Bank, the current owners of the mall.
However, DCR said its offer was rejected and claimed DWS accepted a lower offer from a Century City-based Harridge development group.
In response, DCR protested on the ground outside Harridge’s office with messages discouraging them from buying the mall.
Okuk and Goodmon believe the agreement between Harridge and DWS was a racially motivated plan to turn the 40-acre mall into luxury housing and displace the black community.
“It’s incredibly dismissive that we come with a professional and well-capitalized team, not to mention the thousands of community members and organizations that come to support us,” Okuk said. “And yet, DWS did not accept our appeal or our offer.”
DWS – Deutsche Bank responded to these claims in a statement saying, “DWS conducted a full and fair bidding process and engaged diligently and constructively with community leaders about the purchase of Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.
Based on Muhammad’s experience, he said business owners like him are usually the last to know when the mall is sold.
“Whoever ends up owning this mall, Malik Book wants to be a part of the new development,” Muhammad said.
That way he can leave a legacy to contribute to the next generation.