Leimert Park, Los Angeles–Around 4:30 a.m this morning the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a call of a burning structure in Leimert Park.
Although it was widely circulated on social media that the historic Vision Theatre was on fire, an abandoned building next to the Art+ Practice gallery actually burned when a homeless encampment was set ablaze.
According to Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson, firefighters were able to put out the fire before the Vision Theatre burned, which is directly connected to the structure that was on fire.
“The city of L.A will repair any and all damages to the Vision Theatre. As you can see, we had some marquee damage and there may be a small amount of smoke damage but we should consider ourselves blessed.”
According to community members who patrol the community of Leimert Park, there was a growing encampment set up in front of the building that was burned.
Sources at the scene say the encampment was set ablaze after an altercation that possibly included a stabbing.
The homeless person who built the encampment is said to have left due to rising tensions between two parties which led to the fire being set.
Leimert Park is a cultural hub representing Black arts, business and culture and is one of the last Black enclaves in Los Angeles. Within the slow but steady renaissance of Black businesses in Leimert Park, Black homeless people from the community with no place to go, are also known to sleep in the area.
The Park in Leimert has a large blue gate that was built around two years ago to limit homeless people sleeping in the area.
The gate to the park has been closed due to coronavirus restrictions and the stay at home orders set for the entire state of California.
Many criticize the city of Los Angeles and say they are not doing enough to help the homeless in L.A before and during the coronavirus pandemic. Black people in L.A continue to represent staggering and disproportionate rates of homeless rates.
Although only 8% of the overall population Black people represent over 40% of the homeless population in Los Angeles.
Community members took to social media and shared their disbelief that a homeless person was responsible for the fire after news broke this morning.
Many of the feelings are rooted in Black residents history with racism and state sanctioned violence and oppression, especially in the city of L.A.
The Vision Theatre was built in 1931 and was purchased by actress Marla Gibbs in 1990 who gave the Vision Theatre its name. The theatre has been undergoing construction since 2018 by the city of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department.
Gibbs is best known for her role on The Jefferson’s as George Jefferson’s maid, Florence Johnston.
Gibbs also owned and operated a nightclub in South Central on King Blvd near Arlington, named Marla’s Memory Lane Jazz and Supper Club, which operated from 1981-1999. The recently opened LGBTQ center now replaces the former night club.
Gibbs lost the theatre in 1997 and it was bought by the city of L.A who resolved to renovate the building almost 20 years ago, which finally began renovations in 2018.
“Marla Gibbs [is] being honored for having kept the Vision Theatre going as its owner-operator from 1990 to 199. As she lost the theater to foreclosure, Gibbs told the Los Angeles Times that she’d poured $2.5 million into the effort. “I had a vision and I just wasn’t able to complete it,” she said at the time. “This is a sore, an open sore.”
But after Gibbs lost the building, then-City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas led the city’s effort to buy and renovate it,” (Los Angeles Times).