The Dunbar Hotel: The Gem of Black Los Angeles in the 1920s

Written by Jae Jones

The was dubbed as the “gem” of the community in Los Angeles during the 1920s. The Great Migration was the reason many people moved to the area. For many years, one of the most popular locations in the city for Black entertainers, athletes, and actors to stay was the Dunbar Hotel. The hotel was established in 1928 as a place to give blacks who were discriminated in white hotels a welcoming environment to stay.

Dr. John Somerville established the hotel. He was a Jamaican born businessman, and the first African American to graduate from the University of Southern California’s School of Dentistry. Somerville hired all-black laborers to help with the project of building the hotel. The Dunbar was the first hotel that a Black person actually had designed and built. Most often buildings were purchased from white owners and renovated.

Big name guests who stayed at the hotel were Billie Holliday, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and many more. The hotel was originally known as the , and was located on 41st street and South Central Avenue. It also became the place where African American political and intellectual leaders and writers, including Langston Hughes, W. E. B. Du Bois, Ralph Bunche, Thurgood Marshall and James Weldon Johnson, held meetings.

When the Stock Market crashed in 1929, Somerville sold the hotel to lawyer Lucius Lomax, who renamed it after poet Paul Laurence Dunbar.  It continued to be the leading black hotel on the west coast in the 1930s and 1940s. The Dunbar became known as “the hub of Los Angeles black culture.  In the 1950s, however, as housing covenants were abolished, the Dunbar Hotel’s business declined as well.  The Watts Riots in 1965 exacerbated the exodus from South Central Avenue and by 1974 the hotel closed its doors.



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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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