News And Politics

Four people, four stories: Tales of South L.A. history through their eyes

Jan. 20, 2012, 12:49 p.m.

Ramiro Delgado tells his story: He said his business, Delgado Brothers Picture Frames, changed the way picture frames were made in the United States.

From its incorporation in 1850 to the riots in 1992, Los Angeles has a rich, varied history. In South L.A. though, much of that history remains undocumented. Word-of-mouth is one method by which residents of the area preserve their community's history.

From demographic shifts to changes in community dynamics, these community members discuss a vast array of changes in the Southland over the last few decades. Here are their stories.

Terry Scott:

After being subject to abuse in her youth, Terry Scott began to turn her life around when she became a certified drug and alcohol counselor in 1995. Since she started counseling, she’s had thousands of clients from Southern California.

She is currently the head counselor at Stay Free counselor services, a non-profit that provides counseling services to youth and adults seeking treatment.

“I had a lot of issues that I had to work through,” she said. “So once I got my life together, I felt that I needed to give back.”

Scott says that there has been an influx of people from her own generation who are seeking treatment: the baby boomers. While growing up, several baby boomers in the area had parents who abused drugs, she said. This, in turn, promoted drug abuse among the boomers themselves.

“Now more of us are trying to get our lives back together,” she said.

Growing up in South Central, Scott has noticed a lot of changes in the types of drugs people are addicted to.

In the 1970s, most of the area's many addicts were using heroin and crack cocaine - and there was no shortage of supply with the mass amounts of drugs that were flooding the area,

“People got violent from heroin and cocaine addictions,” she said. “The robbed, they stole and they killed.”

She says that addiction has shifted from heroin and cocaine to marijuana in recent years. Fewer addictions to those harder drugs has resulted in less violence in the area, Scott said.

“There are more gangs now because there are more people,” Scott said. “But there is definitely less violence.”

Horace Penman:

Horace Penman is a retired community activist who has lived in South Central for more than 45 years.

He grew up in Ohio and moved to Los Angeles in his 20s to work and volunteer.

“I have had a lot of input on the development of the area,” he said.

He lived through the days of jazz and swing, race-restrictive zoning, “de facto” segregation and the L.A. riots.

During his time in South L.A., he noticed a series of demographic changes, including “white flight” in the middle of the century, the influx of African Americans and the growth of the Latino population in recent decades.

“The African-Americans became very strong on occupying the area,” he said.

And although most of the black population is moving out of the area, African-Americans are still working to preserve their culture in the community, Penman said.

He worked for the L.A. Unified School District for more than 20 years as an instructional coordinator for McKinley Avenue Elementary School. He also volunteered at the fire department and several community centers, and founded a neighborhood council in South Central.

“When you’ve lived here as long as I have, you look back, appreciate it and grow old gracefully,” he said.

Ramiro Delgado:

After working in the same area for 30 years, Ramiro Delgado has witnessed firsthand changes in South Central's economy, mostly through the sporadic closing of businesses in the area.

He said that about 20 years ago, there were more than 300 employees working at various businesses in the 59th and Avalon area. Now, most of the employees are gone.

“Angelicos, the laundry service, had the most employees in the area,” he said. “Now it’s all gone. I don’t know why.”

About 10 years ago, Delgado had approximately 180 employees at his own business, Delgado Brothers Picture Frames. There are only 20 left.

“We have had to start selling lumber in order to survive,” he said.

Delgado Brothers was founded in 1965 by two of Ramiro’s older brothers. Since its establishment, the business expanded and eventually acquired three buildings in the area. They have distributed picture frames all over the world - including the White House.

“We changed the way you make picture frames in the United States,” he said.

About a decade ago, Delgado Brothers distributed hundreds of thousands of frames across the world –- now the businesses distributes “a few thousand.” He describes his business as "thriving" up until a few years ago.

Kenya Curtis:

Kenya Curtis works at Word of Life Christian Bookstore, a family business that's been open since 1961.

Curtis grew up only a few blocks from the Main Street store. She said that at that time, the community looked after each other; neighbors would babysit each other's children and take turns taking them to school.

Today, that is no longer the case, she said.

“You had a lot more of the community to raise kids,” Curtis said. “Nowadays it’s like everyone is for themselves.”

She said her most beloved memory of the area is how she and her friends used to swim in the pool at Bethune Middle School during the summer.

“I wish I could go back to those days,” she said.

When it opened, Word of Life was a small mom-and-pop store with one room and about two customers a day. It has since expanded into two shops: one located on Broadway and the other on Main.

“I think the store has given people a positive outlet to express themselves,” she said. “We definitely have more people coming in who are trying to change their lives.”

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