Rail station celebration in Leimert Park

Pastor William Smart cheers on during a celebration of the MTA board approval of funding for a Leimert Park Village Station on the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times / May 24, 2013)

South Los Angeles residents gathered Friday to celebrate a future that many thought would never happen.

At a park in tree-lined Leimert Park Village, dozens of community members cheered their victory: approval for a light-rail station on the Crenshaw Line that in five years will connect the historic neighborhood with an ever-expanding network of rail lines across Los Angeles.

"You united, you organized, you demanded, and the voice of government heard you," Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson told the crowd to thunderous cheers.

The site of the celebration was near where the station will be built at Crenshaw Boulevard and Vernon Avenue.

In 2011, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority voted to allow the Leimert Park station — but only if bidders on the Crenshaw Line contract could fit it into the proposed $1.7-billion budget. Advocates called that unlikely at best. For two years, little changed.

Then, this week, officials approved $120 million in funding for the station: $40 million from the Los Angeles City Council and $80 million from Metro, marking what some called a dramatic reversal from their reluctance to fund the station two years ago.

Leading the celebration Friday were some of the politicians who helped sponsor the motions: Wesson, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Councilwoman Jan Perry, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Metro board member Mel Wilson.

Each thanked the community members and activists, including members of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, for continuing to push for what they thought was right.

"It takes a village to get a train to stop in Leimert Park," Ridley-Thomas said. "In other words, we did it together."

The Leimert Park station has been called South L.A.'s answer to Gold Line stations in Chinatown, Little Tokyo and Mariachi Plaza.

The connectivity the light rail will bring could change the future of Leimert Park Village, considered the hub of African American business and culture in Southern California, residents said. The neighborhood's main street is lined with shops and cafes, as well as one of the last black-centric bookstores in the region.

"This is going to connect us to the world," said Jackie Ryan, who owns Degnan Boulevard's Zambezi Bazaar, a boutique that sells African merchandise. "This will enhance our history, our culture."

But activists did not rest on their laurels. "It's not over till it's under!" some shouted, referring to a one-mile line of rail along the Park Mesa Heights neighborhood that residents hope will be converted to a tunnel.

Wilson, one of Villaraigosa's appointees to the Metro board, told The Times that the tunnel won't happen.

"It doesn't make any sense," Wilson said, adding that the Crenshaw Boulevard corridor was wide enough to accommodate a train at street level. He also expressed doubts that the Metro board could pull off another "difficult lift" of a vote, as they did Thursday.

Metro will vote on a Crenshaw Line contractor at the June meeting, Villaraigosa's last before leaving office. Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti will become a Metro director July 1.

At the end of the ceremony, Pastor Kevil Saults delivered a benediction: "Oh neighbor, get ready. There's a train a-comin'."

ALSO:

Crenshaw Boulevard comes to a crossroads

Metro urged to add a Leimert Park stop on the Crenshaw Line

MTA approves $1.7-billion rail line along Crenshaw Boulevard

Twitter: @laura_nelson

laura.nelson@latimes.com