Ralph J. Bunche House | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy

Ralph J. Bunche House

This modest Victorian bungalow duplex on E. 40th Place is the boyhood home of Dr. Ralph J. Bunche, the first person of color to win the lauded Nobel Peace Prize. Typical of the houses in the area, it reflects the style and resources available to early neighborhood residents.

Bunch moved to South Los Angeles with his grandmother and sister in 1918. At that time, the neighborhood was primarily white, making them one of the few African American families in the community.

Though Bunche would go on to achieve international acclaim, he earned his first successes as a teenager and young adult in Los Angeles. 

The Ralph J. Bunche House was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1976 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

Yet the home did not fare so well over the years. Divided into a duplex, the house fell into severe decline, sat vacant for more than a decade, and was deemed a “nuisance property.”

In the mid-1990s, the Dunbar Economic Development Corporation acquired the home and embarked on a long struggle to bring this building back from the brink of destruction. Securing funding from various sources, the nonprofit carefully preserved the building’s remaining historic fabric and adapted the home into the Ralph Bunche Peace and Heritage Center.

The restored structure served for several years as a community meeting place, a museum commemorating the life of Dr. Bunche, and the site of a youth leadership academy. The project earned a Conservancy Preservation Award in 2006.

The nonprofit Coalition for Responsible Community Development (CRCD) leased the Bunche House until late 2015, when the building’s owner, the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles (CRA/LA), sold it to a private buyer.

We understand that the home is again for sale as of April 2016.

Born in 1904 in Detroit, Michigan, Bunche was orphaned before he was thirteen and raised by his grandmother. Prior to his mother's passing, he lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His family then moved to Los Angeles, where the young man attended Jefferson High School

Bunche graduated as valedictorian of Jefferson High School and earned an athletic scholarship to UCLA when its campus was on Vermont and Melrose Avenues.  At UCLA, he was a star basketball player, competed in track and field, and could only afford to pay for college by supplementing his scholarship with long, work hours.  Yet, he still managed to graduate Summa Cum Laude and as class valedictorian in 1927. 

He went on to a distinguished tenure at Harvard, where he won a Tappan Prize in 1934 for best doctoral dissertation in the social sciences and became the first African-American to attain a doctoral degree in government and international relations at Harvard. He credited Los Angeles’ African American community, including members of his own community in South Los Angeles, for putting together a scholarship fund for his graduate studies and his living expenses.

Bunche accepted teaching positions and post-doctoral research at Northwestern University, the London School of Economics, and the University of Cape Town in South Africa. After a distinguished academic career as the chair of the political science department at Howard University, Bunche came to international attention and acclaim through his association with the United Nations. He served as the United Nations Secretary-General’s representative in the Arab-Israeli crisis by 1948 and as the Under Secretary-General during the 1960s. 

His skillful mediation of the Arab-Israeli conflict won him the Spingarn Medal in 1949 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. In the early 1990s, his Rhodes Armistice, which he had drafted to suspend hostilities in the Middle East, was used to create a truce between the Crips and the Bloods gangs in South Central Los Angeles.

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