Member Spotlight: Juliet Drinkard
By Liz Leshin
Juliet Drinkard has always loved history, so much so that at the age of 16, she entered an essay-writing competition to highlight a significant African American in history. She chose mathematician and surveyor Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), won the contest, and was crowned Queen of Los Angeles’ “Miss Negro History Week” in 1969.
Then there’s the tour she organized and scripted for a family reunion in 1986 large enough to fill two tour buses that caravanned through many of Los Angeles’ historic areas, starting at Watts Towers, ending in Hollywood, and of course allowing for a shopping stop at Santee Alley.
And although she moved out for years-long stretches, she still lives in the huge South Central house she was raised in, purchased by her parents in 1955, which she describes as “looking like a big ship.” Although living in the home can be bittersweet now that her folks are gone, she has special memories of eating family meals looking out of the picture windows at her father’s lush garden, which she says was “like being in a professional nursery.”
Juliet’s family home was built in 1910, like many of the other houses in the neighborhood. She describes her parents trying to modernize the house, painting the dark wood white, removing the coffered ceilings and some of the built-ins. Juliet tried to convince her parents not to make these renovations. She says that “Even at 11, I liked looking at older buildings,” both her own house and those of her relatives.
Her parents both moved to Los Angeles from the south, her mother from Louisiana her father from Alabama. Her father and his brother lived with their uncle, who “bought a tiny house on a street called “Success” in Compton,” notes Juliet. Her parents met through an uncle on her mother’s side; they dated for a year and got married, spending their honeymoon night at the Clark Hotel on Central Avenue. Juliet describes the special experience of being able to visit the Clark Hotel in the 1980s.
Juliet’s commitment to historic preservation intensified when she started working in downtown Los Angeles in the 1970s. “I went over to see Bunker Hill, and learned that the homes had been bulldozed. I felt sick. That area should have been preserved… something should have been done,” she says, adding “It’s important – that’s the history of Los Angeles.”
With her passion for Los Angeles history, it was inevitable that Juliet would find her way to the Los Angeles Conservancy as a member and volunteer (her first assignment was the 2014 special tour We Heart Garden Apartments). She supports the organization “to make a difference in preserving Los Angeles’ history.” She loves to explore Los Angeles, and take friends and visitors to many places around town, with a special affection for historic locations. She observes, “there’s so much to do and see in our own hometown!”
Two of her favorite historic locations in L.A. are Union Station and the Farmers Market, both formative places in her childhood that she still loves to visit. She describes going to the Farmers Market in the early 1960s as an 11 year old. Her mother “worked for a lady whose apartment overlooked the Farmers Market,” and her mom would give her five dollars and let her explore the shops on her own. She remembers how exciting that was. “I bought a little box of pastel chalks for $4.95,” which she says she still has to this day.
She describes going to Union Station frequently with her parents when she was young, “starting in the 1950s; relatives were always coming and going.” As a child she would look through the window at the Fred Harvey restaurant – she wanted to go in, but never did. It was a real pleasure for her to volunteer when the L.A. Conservancy held an event to celebrate the grand opening of the Imperial Western Brewing Company in 2018 in the former Fred Harvey restaurant space, which had sat empty for decades. She says, “My dream came true. Over 60 years later, I’m walking through the door, sitting and eating inside.”
Our sincere thanks to Juliet for sharing so many wonderful memories and family photos.
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