TikTalk: On Historic West Adams and urban development

If you ever want to feel like the main character of a coming-of-age movie, go on a late night bike ride. My roommate and I have been going on them a lot so we can savor the chill air blowing through our hair and a quietness that seems too good to be true in an urban city like Los Angeles. 

As we ride down the cross streets along 29th Street we are greeted by signs that read “Menlo,” “Ellendale” and “Orchard.” Truthfully I never really pay attention to them; I’ve passed them a million times and can name them without the help of Google Maps. However, there is one sign that I never fail to notice, even though I have also passed it too many times to count. 

It reads “Historic West Adams.”

I always read it to myself in my head, but I have never thought to look up the significance of the sign. Not until one day, the “Historic West Adams” that I have been living in for the past three years came up on my for you page in a TikTok by creator Jake Gotta (@jake_gotta). 

Jake Gotta’s bio puts it best when it says his TikTok account is a “crash course in housing and urban development.” In his video about West Adams, he gives a little history lesson on the famous residents that lived in the area as well as the racism that occurs in city planning. 

West Adams spans from Figueroa Street to Western Boulevard and is composed of many smaller neighborhoods. For instance, USC is a part of the University Park neighborhood.

While there is a lot of history to unpack about the Historic West Adams District, Gotta’s TikTok explains the history of the neighborhood where Hattie McDaniel, the first Black person to win an Academy Award for her supporting role in “Gone With The Wind,” settled in the 1940s. 

Gotta said, “[This neighborhood] became the center of Black Hollywood. Actors, musicians and business men and women alike flocked to West Adams and renamed this area ‘Sugarhill.’”

McDaniel was a trendsetter in moving to this area. She created an area where Black creators in the industry had a community filled with like-minded individuals. To no surprise, however, many of the white neighbors weren’t too happy about this. 

“When their white neighbors sued to evict them,” Gotta explained. “They hired civil rights lawyer and activist Bayard Rustin to defend them. He successfully argued in court that racial housing covenants violated the 14th Amendment.”

This isn’t the only racism that the residents of Sugarhill would face. As Gotta shares, even these wealthy individuals could not prevent the construction of the I-10 freeway right through their neighborhood. 

In a previous TikTok, Gotta told his viewers about how the white residents of South Pasadena were able to prevent the construction of the 710 freeway into their neighborhood — a luxury that is often not afforded to neighborhoods where people of color predominantly reside. 

Freeways serve as a way to separate white neighborhoods from their non-white counterparts. They are most often constructed in areas where there is existing housing, thus forcing families to be evicted from their homes. Last, but certainly not least, they are hot spots for horrible air pollution. 

While the wealthy, white population of South Pasadena was able to prevent a freeway from evicting residents and businesses from their homes, the wealthy, Black population of Sugarhill couldn’t prevent a freeway from being built near theirs. 

As Gotta explains, this exemplifies perfectly how these projects of urban development have nothing to do with wealth and everything to do with race. 

Simply put, city planning and development have always been used as subtle forms of racism and segregation, especially in L.A. 

As an institution, USC has played its part in gentrifying and urban planning that has similarly created a separating line between the university and its surrounding communities. Thus, as students coming from all over the world to USC, we must recognize that we are visitors in this West Adams community and do our part to foster a relationship with the community that has made it historic. 

Trinity Gomez is a junior writing about TikTok and popular culture. Her column, “TikTalk,” ran every other Tuesday.