Place

Place explores archival repositories and examines local landmarks as they appear in the archival record.

This edition features Koreatown and South Los Angeles in 1992 during the Los Angeles Riots, and focuses on the destruction and chaos that stemmed from the event.

Words by Grace Danico

When one thinks of a disaster, images of natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, fires, and tornadoes often come to mind. The damage related to these events are considered “acts of God,” yet the destruction related to riots tell another story: one of social struggles, economic strife, race relations, and civil unrest.

A building is burning on a street near the intersection of Western Avenue on April 30, 1992, during civil unrest.
Photo: Gary Leonard, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

The 1992 Los Angeles Riots were a reaction to the acquittal of the Caucasian police officers involved in the March 3, 1991 beating of African American taxi driver Rodney King. The verdict was read at 3:15 p.m. on April 29, 1992, and protest demonstrations followed soon after near the intersection of Florence and Normandie in South Los Angeles. Tensions built up so much that by 8:45 p.m., Mayor Tom Bradley declared a state of emergency as there were fires, looting, and violence in the streets.

Events surrounding these disasters were captured through the lenses of photographers who were at the scene. Gary Leonard’s photographs from the Los Angeles Public Library’s photo collection and photographs from the Guy Crowder Collection at CSUN highlight the destruction in Koreatown and South Los Angeles related to the six-day event (April 29-May 4, 1992). Not only do they show the physical places where these disasters occurred, but they also show the inhabitants of those places and their relationships to one another. Most affected were ethnic communities of Korean Americans, African Americans, and Hispanics, and the relationships of these communities with local government and police officials were documented.

During this six day period, about 4,500 businesses were looted; 1,100 buildings were destroyed; 3,600 fires were set; and approximately 63 people died.

African American Teenager in the Streets: 1992 Los Angeles Uprising, while firefighters extinguish blaze. Photo: Guy Crowder, Guy Crowder Collection, California State University Northridge.

Looters taking merchandise from a plant store during the L.A. Riots as onlookers stand by.
Photo: Guy Crowder, Guy Crowder Collection, California State University Northridge.

A store was completely destroyed during the 1992 riots. The only remaining item is a sign regarding parking. Photo: Gary Leonard, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Fire fighters and law enforcement personnel have closed Vermont Avenue, which has numerous burning stores, on April 30, 1992. Photo: Gary Leonard, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

A $2 or Less store has been destroyed by fire during civil unrest on April 30, 1992. Photo: Gary Leonard, Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

This article is a part of LAAC’s series, PERSON/PLACE/THING, designed to explore archival culture through interviews with professionals, repositories, and by highlighting archival collections.

If you have suggestions or would like to contribute to PERSON/PLACE/THING, email us at hello@laacollective.org.

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