As the Supreme Court prepares to render a decision on the equality of marriage, I was reminded yesterday that it wasn’t that long ago, when equality in housing did not exist.
I was at a new listing I have coming out, checking up on the painter’s progress, when the daughter of the elderly owner popped in. As we looked around the home, she noticed some items stacked on one of the beds. Amongst the things was a wonderful architectural rendering of a midcentury modern home. “This shouldn’t be here” she said. Intrigued by the lovely watercolor I asked her about it. It was a home designed by the architecture firm Wong and Wong, the architects of the Occidental building in downtown Los Angeles which was at one time, the tallest building in LA. The rendering had a distinctly Asian bent to it, with a deck that wrapped around two sides of the home and concrete square steps surrounded by a reflecting pool leading to the front doorstep. It really was incredible. My client told me it was her childhood home. She said it was the early 1960’s and that the home was almost never built. When I asked why, she said that her father, being of Asian descent, was told that he couldn’t buy in that neighborhood. It was in the Crenshaw District and apparently only whites were allowed. Being a WWII veteran and a successful dentist, her father was not to be deterred. He used a 3rd party proxy to buy the land so as to build a home for his family. He stay in that home until he passed away in the mid 1980’s.
It wasn’t that long ago that being of color or of certain religious faiths or ethnicities meant you were not allowed to purchase real estate in certain neighborhoods.
As we spoke I was reminded of another similar story I heard a few years back about a neighborhood in Studio City that had written in their C, C & R’s that no Jews, Blacks or Asians could live there. It was actually a deed restriction. Sometime in the late 1950’s a successful African American judge, also using a 3rd party, purchased a home and then sued the association for the right to live there. He won. Despite his legal victory, the association documents remained unchanged. Since it would take a majority vote of the entire community to amend the C, C& R’s and would cost money, it was decided the documents containing the offensive language should be left alone. In fact they still probably read the same. It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that the California State Legislature passed a law allowing subsequent home owners to have prejudicial language removed from deeds and documents without a vote of the association.
My father in law sold home back in the sixties. He told me it was common practice for some agents to tell a prospective buyer that “this is not the right neighborhood for you.” Real estate professionals would sometimes even take out a red pen and circle certain communities and then tell their client they couldn’t or shouldn’t look in there. It was called “Redlining” and it is now illegal to do. Another practice was called “Blockbusting” where a real estate agent would come into a community using scare tactics to get home owners to sell. “You better sell now, because those people are moving in, in droves.” It’s hard to imagine this was the way our country was, affecting entire groups of people; where they could live; where they could go to school; what bathroom they could use. That was less than 50 years ago.
In 1996 I was working for a new home builder when my partner at the time was selling a new home to a local fisherman. Out of the blue he asked her, who would be living next door. When she asked what he meant he replied, “Listen, it’s bad enough I’m buying from a Jew, but I don’t want a towel head living next door.” Prejudice and discrimination is incredibly ugly.
The real estate industry has come a long way since the days of redlining and blockbusting; when good people were forced out of one neighborhood and into another. So has our nation. As we think about the Supreme Court and the life changing decisions they are charged to make, let’s try to remember the discrimination that was once considered acceptable, not all that long ago.