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Beat City Downtown - A Downtown Los Angeles Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 15, 2011 11:00am | Post a Comment
Downtown Los Angeles at Night

As regular (and probably irregular) readers of Eric's Blog know, I'm a bit of a Southern California wonk and a big part of my focus is writing about the culture, character and history of the many diverse communities of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Although so far there have been around 800 votes from readers I thought it would be fun (and hopefully entertaining) to focus on the regions and provide a brief summary of the districts within with the hope of encouraging informed voting. First I'd like to focus on the center of the southland, Downtown Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Downtown Aerial View

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES

Before I moved to Los Angeles, a Chicagoan told me that LA had no downtown. I could see the cluster of buildings although it wasn't that much different from the many others that rise above the sprawl. Having visited it in the late '90s I disagreed with my acquaintance but could see her point. During the day the western portion was a commotion of be-suited bankers and accountants. The middle was absolutely bustling with Latino businesses and I found a great source for white denim and pupusas. The eastern portion was covered with tents and I saw people performing acts in exchange for crack that should only be done in private... and not for crack. When the sun set, metal doors and gates closed and it was desolate. I was occasionally threatened although I never was robbed or assaulted and to me it seemed that most visitors were from safe middle or upper class backgrounds who needed a bit of danger and prescribed, structured, punk rock rebellion to feel alive.  
 

Map of Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhoods
Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Downtown Los Angeles 
 

A decade later it's greatly changed, with a large influx of residents and businesses returning to the city's core. Downtown Los Angeles is home to 21 (or 22) distinct districts and now home to around 64,000 Angelenos. It's a highly diverse region with a 44% Asian (mainly Chinese, Korean and Japanese with large numbers of Cambodian, Vietnamese and Thai) plurality with the remainder breaking down as 31% Latino (mostly Mexican), 13% black and 10% white (based on 2008 estimates by the L.A. Department of City Planning).
 
 
LA in the Future LA streetcars
 

None of this is meant to suggest that all is now well and functioning at its peak potential. Downtown is still the epicenter of homelessness, has a lack of sufficient green space (why aren't green roofs more popular?) and I probably wouldn't suggest raising children there just yet. It is, however, coming up, with LA Live bringing entertainment, abandoned buildings being repurposed as beautiful lofts and the imminent return of trolleys all drawing visitors and new residents. Here's a short history.
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El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles was founded by the Spanish in 1781 in a small neighborhood colloquially known as "El Pueblo," between Chinatown and the Civic Center. In the 19th Century the area around it evolved into Sonoratown and later Little Italy, Dogtown and (old) Chinatown