INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Greg and Terry Dulan cannot wait for the Super Bowl.
They believe it will be a windfall for Inglewood and a boon to their small business, Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen, which opened in 1999 and has been a beloved beacon in the city ever since.
“With the big game coming, we’re expecting business to be great,” said Greg Dulan, sitting next to Terry, his brother, in a new wing of the restaurant they plan to open in time for a rush of customers on Super Bowl weekend. “But I joked with my brother that: ‘Hey, maybe we should just sell spots to fans who want to use our parking lot that day. We could make so much money we wouldn’t have to open up, and we could actually watch the game.’”
That kind of optimism was palpable as I talked to residents who have been jolted by the arrival of SoFi Stadium, completed in 2020 at a cost of nearly $5 billion. It rises like an arcing metallic spaceship next to the still-standing Forum, home to the Lakers of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson and to Wayne Gretzky’s Kings before both teams moved to downtown Los Angeles in 1999.
Along with the stadium came the N.F.L.’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers. Next up: the N.B.A.’s Clippers, who are constructing a neighboring arena of their own, set to be completed in 2024. Professional sports have sparked an evolution and anxiety.
“Inglewood is a dynamic city, on the move,” Greg Dulan, 63, told me.
He admits to a worry, though, that hovers over all the talk about Inglewood’s change: gentrification.
“With the big game coming, we’re expecting business to be great.”
Over the 20th century, Inglewood went from a nearly all-white bastion of the Ku Klux Klan during the 1920s to a town grappling with desegregation during the 1970s to a majority Black population by the 1990s. Inglewood came to represent a Black mecca through its depiction in popular culture, via coming-of-age movies like “The Wood,” and “Dope” or as the home of the main character in HBO’s “Insecure,” though Latinos now make up just over 50 percent of the population.
But it wasn’t so long ago that this city of nearly 110,000, hard by Los Angeles International Airport, was so strapped that it struggled to provide basic services. In 2012, the State of California took over its school system. Save for a few struggling shops and longtime gems like Dulan’s — where customers wait outside in long lines for staples like fried chicken, candied yams and slow-cooked oxtail — downtown felt like a ghost town.
“Over the next couple of years,” Greg Dulan said, “I don’t know what is going to happen.”
Terry Dulan holding a photograph of Adolf Dulan, who started Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen. His family carried on the business after he died.
I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Inglewood, having reported for years on the area, but before I walked the streets again last week, I hadn’t been back since 2015. The growth felt eye-popping: not just the stadium, but the soon to be completed light rail line, the Frank Gehry-designed youth philharmonic building, the newly built apartments and the hip cafes and restaurants dotting the downtown corridor alongside plenty of shuttered business.
Here is some of what I heard from residents who balanced their optimism over the Super Bowl with valid concern:
Jennifer and Madison Tyler
Educator and student, 54 and 20. Inglewood residents since 2008.
“Back in 2008, 2009, 2010, if I saw somebody walking the streets who was not Black or brown I said, ‘Hmm, they must be lost.’”
“Back in 2008, 2009, 2010, if I saw somebody walking the streets who was not Black or brown I said, ‘Hmm, they must be lost,’” said Jennifer Tyler, a longtime educator who sat next to her daughter Madison, 20, at a swank new downtown cafe, Hilltop Coffee + Kitchen.
“But it’s not like that anymore. It’s a lot more diverse, which is great, but also, well, it’s pretty interesting to see. My neighbor downstairs, he was doing an Airbnb, and all of a sudden new people are using it, and we’re seeing a white couple with their baby and a stroller walking down the street, taking a walk, and I’m like, people don’t do that on Crenshaw Boulevard!”
She voiced a complaint I heard often about the way SoFi changed her city: the rise of molasses-slow, bumper-to-bumper traffic that spills into residential neighborhoods. On the other hand, she also noted a recent boost in amenities — new shopping options, multiple Starbucks — along with street beautification.
“I’m kind of torn,” she said, “because, yeah, it’s great that we have all this stuff now in our neighborhood, but it makes me mad that we couldn’t have it anyway without the specter of gentrification.”
James T. Butts Jr.
Mayor of Inglewood, 68.
“People said nobody would come back to Inglewood,” noted James T. Butts Jr., a former Santa Monica police chief who became Inglewood’s mayor in 2011. He added: “We were down to our last $10 million, and by September of my first term we would have not made payroll, we would have been insolvent.”
I ran into Butts, regarded as a driving force in helping bring in the new arenas, teams and other development, as he walked a street near City Hall.
“It’s the new Inglewood, but with the same people.”
“It’s different now,” he said. “The Rams came, quickly joined by the Chargers. Now the Clippers are coming.”
He looked around, beaming as he flashed a kind of unfettered surety I didn’t quite hear from anybody else: “What you see is the beginning of a rebirth of Market Street!” he said, speaking of one of downtown’s centerpiece boulevards. “And a city changing for the better.
“We say two things: The only thing that has changed in Inglewood is everything, and it’s the new Inglewood but with the same people.”
Retired, 65. Inglewood resident since 1980.
When he moved into his four-bedroom, two-story home in 2007, Carlton Futch did not know he would soon live next door to a massive stadium.
There’s no escaping it now. Futch’s home is so close to SoFi, he said, that during the Super Bowl it will sound like he’s inside the stadium — a bitter pill to swallow for a hard-core Raiders fan.
“I think that the city and N.F.L. could have done a better job of providing care and comfort and relief for business owners, as well as residents.”
A retired real estate agent, Futch said he was happy with the way SoFi helped raise his property value and helped the city, but not with the disruption he and many others have endured along the way.
Rising rents and displacement. More nightmare traffic than ever. A toll on longtime businesses and residences. They’re the “underbelly to Inglewood’s story,” he said. “I think that the city and N.F.L. could have done a better job of providing care and comfort and relief for business owners, as well as residents.”
During the stadium’s lengthy construction, Futch put up with clamoring jackhammers, trucks and clouds of dust so thick he couldn’t comfortably use his backyard. Developers constructed a nearly 50-foot wall to mitigate the dust and noise enveloping his neighborhood that now abuts his backyard. The colossus of steel beams, covered by a thick beige fabric, has the foreboding feel of a prison wall.
“It’s confining,” Futch said. “I need a view that a resident can enjoy as opposed to something like this. It needs to be removed.”
He is not sure when, or if, that will happen.
Business owner, 42.
“I pray for God’s Holy Spirit to help me keep going,” said Joan Ty, owner of Joan La Fashion. Ty immigrated to the United States from the Philippines 17 years ago, and is a big part of the community: a shop owner willing to give away some of her store’s clothing to the down and out.
“When I started my business, nobody was talking about the Rams or the Chargers or a stadium,” she said. “We’re glad they’re here, but there’s worry.”
“When I started my business, nobody was talking about the Rams or the Chargers or a stadium.”
She said she’s doing all she can to hold on through the pandemic, and hoping against hope that the rent for her small shop does not rise.
Like many locals, Ty also took advantage of the soaring housing values. She recently sold her Inglewood home, and moved to faraway but more affordable Riverside County, pocketing the savings even though that means she now spends up to four hours driving to and from work.
Ty said the move has been great for her, but losing a cherished resident does not bode well for a city trying to carefully navigate change.
“I know a few people who have also sold their homes” to make a nice profit, she told me. “They’re moving away. One of my friends, she’s moving to Arizona.”