West Adams is in an area stretching roughly from Figueroa Street on the east to West Boulevard on the west, and from Pico Boulevard on the north to Jefferson Boulevard on the south. From the Santa Monica freeway, exit at Crenshaw Blvd, Arlington Ave, Western Ave, Normandie Ave, Vermont Avenue or Hoover St.
The district includes many smaller neighborhoods: Adams-Normandie, Pico-Union, Angelus Vista, Arlington Heights, West Adams Heights aka Sugar Hill and Harvard Heights on the north, Victoria Park, Lafayette Square, and Wellington Square on the west, and Jefferson Park on the south. Its principal thoroughfares are Adams, Jefferson and Washington Boulevards, Western, Vermont and Normandie Avenues, and Hoover and Figueroa Streets. Major sub-districts include North University Park and Kinney Heights and the eastern portion of Mid-City.
ZIP codes for the district are 90007, 90018 and 90019.
West Adams is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, with most of its buildings erected between 1880 and 1925, including the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library. West Adams was developed by railroad magnate Henry E. Huntington and wealthy industrialist Hulett C. Merritt of Pasadena. It was once the wealthiest district in the city, with its Victorian mansions and sturdy Craftsman bungalows home to Downtown businessmen and professors and academics at USC. Several areas of West Adams, namely, Harvard Heights, Lafayette Square, Pico-Union, and West Adams Terrace, were designated as Historic Preservation Overlay Zones by the city of Los Angeles, in recognition of their outstanding architectural heritage. Menlo Avenue - West Twenty-ninth Street Historic District, North University Park Historic District, Twentieth Street Historic District, Van Buren Place Historic District and St. James Park Historic District, all with houses of architectural significance, are located in West Adams.
The development of the West Side, Beverly Hills and Hollywood, beginning in the 1910s, siphoned away much of West Adams' upper-class white population; upper-class blacks began to move in around this time, although the district was off limits to all but the very wealthiest African-Americans. One symbol of the area's emergence as a center of black wealth at this time is the 1948 headquarters of Golden State Mutual Life, a late-period Art Deco structure at Adams and Western designed by renowned black architect Paul Williams. It housed what is still the nation's largest black-owned insurer. West Adams' transformation into an affluent black area was sped by the Supreme Court's 1948 invalidation of segregationist covenants on property ownership. The area was a favorite among black celebrities in the 1940s and 1950s; notable residents included Hattie McDaniel, Joe Louis, Sweet Daddy Grace, Little Richard, and Ray Charles.
Ray Charles's business headquarters, including his RPM studio, is located at 2107 Washington Boulevard. The intersection of Washington Boulevard and Westmoreland Boulevard, at the studio, is named "Ray Charles Square" in his honor.
In the 1950s, the construction of the Harbor Freeway destroyed many large homes on the east side of West Adams, while the 1960s construction of the Santa Monica Freeway completely obliterated Berkeley Square, which held significant houses designed by Elmer Grey, and bisected West Adams Heights. Both subdivisions lost many large, beautiful homes.
The 1992 Los Angeles riots largely spared West Adams's historic buildings. Mirroring changes seen throughout Los Angeles, the district's Latino population has been growing. The area's architecture and proximity to USC have brought some upper-middle-class whites as well. Many of the neighborhoods are experiencing a renaissance of sorts with their historic homes being restored to their previous elegance.
In total, more than 70 sites in West Adams have received recognition as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, a California Historical Landmark, or listing on the National Register of Historic Places.