Tribute to Estelle Van Meter, 2014

Estelle Van Meter Multipurpose Center – 7600 South Avalon Boulevard · Los Angeles, CA 90001 · 11.5’ x 9’, Steel and mixed media

This artwork was inspired by Mrs. Van Meter’s devotion to her community. It is based on a map of the neighborhood with the location of the center marked with a heart. All representations of buildings in the piece are taken from actual buildings in the neighborhood. The painted flowers are inspired by the artwork of Mrs. Danley and Mr. Shimizu’s 4th and 5th grade students from McKinley Avenue Elementary School, class of 2011. Mrs. Van Meter was a frequent volunteer at this school around the corner from her house. Text for the framed thank you letter was inspired by letters written by senior patrons of the Estelle Van Meter Multipurpose Center.

Many thanks to the artists who contributed to this project with their expertise: John David O’Brien, lead fabricator and project manager, Cecelia Davidson, painting, Abbey Horowitz, lettering and calligraphy, Mary Jane Mitchell, illustration, Tami Outterbridge, writing, Jason Younis, tin repoussage. Special thanks to Mrs. Gorrell and Mrs. Vernon of the Estelle Van Meter Multipurpose Center for their help and advice in conceiving this project.

This biography of Mrs. Van Meter, written by Tami Outerbridge is featured on the artwork:

Mrs. Estelle Wilhelmina Van Meter (November 8, 1907 – December 9, 1998) was an activist known for her tireless efforts to improve life in South Los Angeles. She’s described as “an unrelenting force” and “a great voice of South Central L.A.


Born in Woodville, Mississippi, Mrs. Van Meter first worked as a domestic.  In the 1930s, like many African Americans, she migrated west seeking better opportunities. Arriving in the City of Angels, she was struck by the beauty and aura of safety. She worked in catering at the Hollywood Bowl, but fixed her eyes on higher things, later becoming a successful real estate broker.

 Eventually, the neighborhood that had felt so safe changed. Debris and liquor stores littered the community. Gang violence, drugs and prostitution reigned. Instead of shutting in, she reached out, boldly prodding city leadership into action.  Politicians, school officials, mayors, fire captains, police chiefs and clergy regularly strolled across her flower-potted porch for lunches of fine food and fresh ideas. Her home became a hybrid hospitality center and war room where leaders broke bread and strategized. She pushed, but she also praised, founding the 77th Street Dames, an active police support group. She became famous as “the lady no one wanted to say no to.” As a result, school conditions improved, patrols increased, neighborhood watches formed, trash disappeared and drug havens folded.

 In 1983, the Estelle Van Meter Multi-Purpose Center opened, offering many a home away from home. Reflecting her life of service, her final request was that the Center continue, and it has; providing meals, classes and services to the multi-cultural community. Her motto was: Everyone must feel comfortable here. On her behalf, Welcome.