The Dunbar Hotel and Club Alabam were once the crown jewels of the thriving Jazz Corridor of Central Avenue beginning in the 1920s. These cultural and racial safe havens, where patrons found both connection and entertainment, represented a flourishing center of African American life in Los Angeles. Today, life on Central Avenue is markedly different both from its heyday in the 1920s-1940s, and its years marked by disinvestment beginning in the 1960s. Despite decades of change and strife, the physical building, and the sense of community that the Dunbar and Alabam created, live on today.
Imagine for a moment some quintessential images of any noir film or novel—an unsolved murder; cops with questionable motives; starry-eyed Hollywood hopefuls on the wrong path; the moonlight shining through horizontal blinds and a puff of cigarette smoke; the dull humming of a glowing neon sign outside; and of course, a dark, seedy motel at the center of it all. While these images could easily be straight out of a Raymond Chandler novel, in Hollywood, where the line between fiction and reality is so frequently blurred, there’s a place where all of these scenes played out at one time or another: the Hollywood Center Motel. Today, the tired motor court sits like an old movie prop along Sunset Boulevard, cast aside after playing a part in movies like L.A. Confidential. But the history of this decaying motel, tucked away behind a worn breezeblock wall, is no less interesting.