FOCUS – The Dunbar Hotel

©USC Digital ArchiveSince a lot of people don’t know much about the history of the Central Avenue jazz scene that happened in Los Angeles, to accompany my last post noting Mama’s passing I decided to expand on it. The neighborhood played such a crucial and historic part not just in jazz history, but in African American history as well, it’s a worthy point to add.

The top jazz club on Central Avenue during its heyday was Club Alabam and *the* place to stay was the Dunbar Hotel, with a guest list that regularly included the likes of Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday and Lena Horne. Originally known as the Somerville Hotel, the structure was erected in 1928 entirely by black contractors, laborers and craftsmen and black community members helped John Somerville and his wife Vada to finance the entire project.

In 1907 Jamaican-born John Alexander Somerville became the first African American to graduate from the USC School of Dentistry. He earned the highest grade-point average in the class of 1907, and had passed the State Dental Board examination six months before graduation. His wife, Vada Watson Somerville, became the school’s first African-American woman graduate in 1918, going on to achieve distinction as the first black woman licensed to practice dentistry in California. Besides managing a successful practice, the Somervilles were instrumental in opening the Los Angeles chapter of the NAACP. John Somerville also contributed to the local landscape by developing upscale properties. He was the second African-American member of the Chamber of Commerce and served on the Los Angeles Police Commission from 1949 to 1953.” SOURCE

After the jump is a video discussing the important role the Dunbar played in American history and a vintage postcard of the hotel circa 1938 (according to the card, the room rates at the time were $1 per day and $5 a week).

The Dunbar Hotel still stands, however its current future is sadly uncertain.

YouTube Preview Image ©USC Digital Archive(Click on image for larger view.)

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4 Responses to “FOCUS – The Dunbar Hotel”

  1. a. says:

    thank you for these posts about the central avenue jazz scene. i grew up in LA and eventually studied jazz music but didn’t hear about central avenue until i’d left LA for college. i first read about it when reading about charles mingus’ life (he’s one of my favorite musicians) – he grew up in LA (in Watts), and is so emblematic of the diversity of our city too in that he’s of mixed heritage, African-American, Swedish, Chinese, and English.

  2. noe says:

    Great story about the hotel.
    Is there any information on the murals painted inside the hotel?
    artist, title?

  3. Molly Gray says:

    Does anyone know if the Dunbar Hotel is still standing? I want to do a photo project with it, but don’t want to make the trek if it is no longer standing!

  4. yvonne says:

    The Dunbar Hotel is still standing and is slated for a new housing project, possibly for low-income. It and the history of Los Angeles Jazz are both celebrated for 2 days every July during the Central Avenue Jazz Festival, which is free. For music lovers, there are few festivals of its kind, where the musicians walk around the crowd and just hang out.

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