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California Fool's Gold -- A Downtown Los Angeles Primer

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 15, 2011 11:00am | Post a Comment
BEAT CITY DOWNTOWN 


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.


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.  
 


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).
 
 
 
 

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

In 1894, architect John Parkinson moved to Los Angeles and opened an architecture office on Sprint Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets. In 1896 he began designing many of the buildings in what's now known as the Historic Core. In 1904 he designed the city's first skyscraper, the Braly Block. In 1905 his new firm, Parkinson and Bergstrom, became the dominant architectural firm in the city. In 1920 he was joined by his son, Donald B. Parkinson and Parkinson & Parkinson designed many of the structures of the era. Numerous banking institutions moved into the new digs around Spring which came to be known as the "Wall Street of the West." At the same time, many grand hotels also sprang up, as did the entertainment districts along Main and then Broadway. Just a little east, nearer the LA River, several railroads encouraged the development of Downtown's industrial core.

By 1920, Los Angeles's extensive rail lines encouraged early suburban flight, connecting at the time four counties with over 1,100 miles of track. By 1925 Los Angeles had the highest rate of car ownership, further encouraging outward sprawl from the old Victorian Downtown suburbs like Angeleno Heights, Boyle Heights, Bunker HillCrown Hill, Lincoln Heights, and Victor Heights. Although marginalized by the WASP establishment, Jewish Angelenos owned and operated many department stores and businesses in the Jewelry District. When Hollywood, Midtown and the Westside opened their doors to their dollars, many of them took their business, culture and clout with them and Downtown went into a steep decline. 

Efforts were made by the downtown establishment to bring life back to the region. In 1930 Olvera Street in El Pueblo was redeveloped as a sort of Mexican theme park. A similarly touristy Chinatown opened in 1938. Where Chinatown had been, Union Station opened in 1939. Many of the older, increasingly non-white neighborhoods like Dogtown and Bunker Hill were razed in the name of slum clearance and the latter was redeveloped with skyscrapers to entice financial institutions to return (height restrictions were lifted in 1957). Partially successful, the "New Downtown" became home to a new Bunker Hill and Financial District. Meanwhile in the rest of downtown, the region evolved more organically. Broadway became a bustling Latino shopping and theater district. The gay scene found a degree of sanctuary around main and east of Skid Row, artists squatted in then-empty warehouses in what came to be known as The Artists' District.

In the 1960s, several high culture institutions were added to downtown. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion was completed in 1964. The Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum both opened in 1967. MOCA's new home on Grand was built in 1986. The helped make Grand Avenue a somewhere that visitors would head after work. The Los Angeles Mall and Triforium, installed nearby in 1975, were less successful in attracting tourists. 

It wasn't really until 1999, when the Los Angeles City Council passed an adaptive reuse ordinance which allowed for empty commercial and office buildings to be repurposed as luxury lofts and condo complexes, that Downtown really began to feel truly alive again. Staples Center opened the same year. Construction of the Walt Disney Concert Hall also began in 1999. The first lofts in the Old Bank District opened in 2000 and were followed by many more. The first phase of LA Live opened in 2005. Yuppie gentrifiers poured in and although many cranky old haters still characterize downtown as a no man's land full of pimps and crackheads, the reality today is -- for better or for worse -- almost completely unlike their dated characterizations suggest. 
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Now for the neighborhoods:

ARTS DISTRICT


The Downtown Los Angeles Arts District was previously just another corner of the large, old Warehouse District. After much of the industry left the area, in the 1970s it began to attract artists and became known as the Artists District. Venues like the now-gone Al's Bar and parties held in abandoned buildings coexisted with drug abuse, homelessness and prostitution. Around the turn of the 21st century, real estate developers began to convert many of the old buildings to attractive (and expensive) residences that commodified a slightly gritty, artist lifestyle whilst pricing out many of the area's resident artists. To read more about The Arts District, click here.


BROADWAY THEATER DISTRICT


The Broadway Theater and Commercial District is located in downtown's Historic Core region. Within six blocks there are twelve former nickelodeons, vaudeville theaters and picture palaces, making it the first and largest historic theater district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today most of old theaters operate as churches, swap meets and flea markets, although several of the theaters participate in special movie programs and are open to the public as part of LA Conservancy's walking tours.


BUNKER HILL


Bunker Hill is a small hill that was originally covered with lavish Victorian homes in the 19th century. After most of the neighborhood's wealthy moved further from LA's center, the homes were subdivided and rented by large numbers of Native Americans, Filipinos and other disenfranchised Angelenos. In the 1940s the hillside slum was a frequent setting for many film noirs. In 1955, the neighborhood was demolished and replaced with skyscrapers. Today it's an important center of LA's fine arts scene, home to the Ahmanson Theatre, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, LA Opera, Los Angeles Philharmonic, MOCA, Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County, Walt Disney Concert Hall and Redcat.


CHINATOWN


Modern Day Chinatown is located at the former site of LA's Little Italy. The first Chinatown was demolished to allow for the construction of Union Station and the new one opened in 1938. Although most of LA's Chinese-Americans now live in the sprawling San Gabriel Valley, Chinatown is still the cultural heart of the Chinese-American community where several Chinese festivals take place throughout the year. It's also notable for the large number of art galleries. To read more about Chinatown, click here.


CIVIC CENTER


The fancifully named Civic Center is LA's administrative core and beaurcratic core; a complex of city, state, and federal government offices, buildings, and courthouses. Civic Center has the distinction of containing the largest concentration of government employees in the United States outside of Washington, DC. Nestled amongst the large buildings are a number of public art pieces and… I guess you'd call them office gardens or something.


CIVIC SUPPORT


Civic Support is a district north of the Arts District… It's kind of the Roger Clinton to Civic Center's Bill, the Lore to the latter's Data, the Evan to yours truly. Although it's home to beautiful Union Station (and lots of train tracks), it's also where visitors can find the less glamorous Twin Towers Correctional Facility, Housing Authority of the City of LA, the LA Recycling Center, the LA County Public Defender, the Los Angeles County Jail and the art gallery, Jail Gallery. Oh yeah, there are lots of bail bonds places for some reason.



DOWNTOWN AUTO DISTRICT


source: Daily News


The Downtown Auto District was officially designated in 2010. It refers to a stretch of Figueroa that's home to a whopping five car dealerships. This wasn't the result of a grassroots effort or organic development. Rather, the fact that auto sales are the city's top sales tax revenue generator ( $3.3 billion in revenue in 2009 -- netting $271 million for public coffers) convinced Mayor Villaraigosa and First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner to play booster for big car companies.



DOWNTOWN INDUSTRIAL DISTRICT



The Downtown Industrial District is, along with Skid Row, part of what the city officially refers to a Central City East. Bordering Skid Row, Little Tokyo, The Arts District, The Wholesale District, The Produce District and The Fashion District, its character is predictably a hybrid of wholesale, lofts, homeless and Japanese-owned businesses.


FASHION DISTRICT


The design, distribution and warehouse center of the clothing, accessories and fabric industries used to be known variously as the Textile District, the Fabric District and the Garment District. In a bit of clever re-branding it became known as The Fashion District. While counterfeit goods, bootleg DVDs and the illegal trade of animals that happen around Santee Alley seemingly have little to do with fashion, events like Unique LA at the LA Fashion Market reflect the other end of the spectrum. Still, it's not exactly Milan or Paris.


FINANCIAL DISTRICT


The Financial District is a gleaming neighborhood to the south of Bunker Hill that's dominated by upscale corporate office skyscrapers and grand hotels. It's also home to the Los Angeles Central Library. The 73 story US Bank Tower is the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.


FLOWER DISTRICT


The Flower District is the country's largest wholesale flower district; a six block area consisting of nearly 200 wholesale flower dealers. In 1910, 54 Issei organized a flower market that was incorporated in 1912. It usually opens around two in the morning with flowers arriving from around the world and is a site of hectic activity until the later hours of the morning, usually winding down around 10:00 am.


GALLERY ROW


Gallery Row is a district in the historic core that began with the existence of three art galleries in the area: Inshallah Gallery, bank and 727 Gallery. Artists Nic Cha Kim and Kjell Hagen as well as members of the Arts, Aesthetics, and Culture Committee of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council (DLANC) lobbied for the official establishment of Gallery Row, which was designated as such in 2003 by City Council. Today there are many more art spaces in the area and frequent Downtown Art Walks attract art and wine enthusiasts.


HISTORIC CORE


The Historic Core was the original center of downtown LA. After World War II, the center shifted west. Within the Historic Core's borders are the more specific neighborhoods of The Old Bank District, Gallery Row, Broadway Theater District and the Jewelry District. In the 1950s it was a center of Latino business and entertainment. Since 2000, it's undergone significant redevelopment, reuse, revitalization and restoration although there are still millions of square feet of unused property in the upper floors of many buildings.


JEWELRY DISTRICT


The Jewelry District is a neighborhood of downtown that, according to the Los Angeles Convention Center and Visitor's Bureau, is the largest jewelry district in the US. Nearly 5,000 businesses report a combined annual sales of almost $3 billion. In the middle of the bling is the hokey and charming St. Vincent Court, an almost hidden block of Middle Eastern and Persian shops and patrons in a Disney-like simulacrum of an old European street.


LITTLE TOKYO


Little Tokyo is one of only three official Japantowns in the US (all in California and with several unofficial ones in SoCal). Beginning around the turn of the 20th century, it was a large neighborhood and home to thousands of Japanese-Americans. During World War II, the residents were relocated to concentration camps and the vacated area became home to many black Angelenos and was known as Bronzeville. After the internment of Japanese-Americans ended, they returned in much reduced numbers to Little Tokyo. Even though most Japanese-Americans moved elsewhere, its status as the cultural heart of Japanese Los Angeles was restored and in 1995 it was declared a National Historic Landmark District. In more recent years, many of the businesses and residences have become increasingly Korean-American although they've, for the most part, preserved and even restored much of the neighborhood's Japanese charm and character. To read more about Little Tokyo, click here.


NORTH INDUSTRIAL DISTRICT


North Industrial District is also known as Naud Junction and Mission Junction after two railroad intersections in the area. It's also known as Dogtown for its proximity to LA's first dog pound. The Chinatown-adjacent North Industrial District is a district of old, mostly Chinese-owned warehouses. What few residents there are mostly reside in the William Mead Housing Projects. With just one elementary school, Ann Street, it's one of the most obscure corners of downtown. To read more about Dogtown, click here.


OLD BANK DISTRICT


The Old Bank District is an Historic Core neighborhood of early 20th century commercial buildings, most of which have been or are in the process of being converted to residential lofts. The bottom floors often boast fashionable eateries and boutiques. The 1999 passage of the city's adaptive reuse ordinance was followed by the 2000 opening of the first repurposed lofts, which sent ripples throughout downtown and spurred much of the area's revival.



PINATA DISTRICT


source: The Chocolate of Meats 



The Piñata District is an informally recognized area centered around the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Central Avenue that is known for the preponderance of candy-filled papier-mâché containers. It's neighbored by the Electronics, Fashion and Produce Districts.



PRODUCE DISTRICT


The Produce District centers around the massive 482,258 sq. ft. 7th Street Produce Market. One of the largest produce markets in the US, numerous vendors and markets within provide most of the fruits and vegetables for Southern California's restaurants and stores.


EL PUEBLO


El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument, centered on Olvera Street, is the oldest part of Downtown and is often referred to as "La Placita Olvera." There are 27 historic buildings including the Avila Adobe, the Pelanconi House and the Sepulveda House. In 1930, the area was opened as a tourist-targeting Mexican marketplace, much in the manner that nearby Chinatown was eight years later. It's the setting for many Mexican and Mexican-American holiday celebrations and observances.


SEAFOOD DISTRICT


This small but smelly Seafood District is home to several Asian fish markets, canneries and commercial fishing warehouses near Little Tokyo. When the wind is right, the fishy smell carries to the expensive lofts of the Arts District.


SKID ROW


The area contains one of the largest stable populations of homeless persons in the US, estimated to be around 7,000 to 8,000. It's long been a nexus of poverty and, despite the squalor, is full of small, beautiful residential hotels built around the turn of the 20th century that contrast with the numerous tents and cardboard boxes on the sidewalk. There are also many missions and other services targeted toward the homeless population. To read more about Skid Row, click here.


(NEW) SOUTH PARK


Old South Park is a district in South LA centered near the intersection of 51st Street and Avalon Boulevard. However, since 2003 the area around Los Angeles Convention Center, the Staples Center, L.A. LiveFashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) and the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall has for some reason co-opted the South Park name. The city is also mulling over dropping an American football stadium into the mix in an area already choked by some of the city's worst traffic in a bid to draw more tourists and money to downtown.


TOY DISTRICT


The Toy District emerged in the 1970s, thanks to the four Woo brothers. Shu Woo (who started ABC Toys), Charlie Woo, (who started Mega Toys Inc) and their two brothers established the neighborhood's character when they began importing cheap novelties and electronics, mostly from China. In the decades that have followed, more toy stores have joined them but the neighborhood's not exactly a whimsical world overseen by an improbably named and dressed eccentric.


WHOLESALE DISTRICT

The Wholesale District is a group of warehouses (and strip clubs) located in the southeast part of Downtown Los Angeles. Most of the warehouses within it are industrial in nature and serve the greater Los Angeles area. Few people live in this neighborhood now although it historically had a large black population. It stretches south to the industrial city of Vernon. Recently, the expansion of the Arts District from the north had encroached on its old borders. [I forgot to take a picture. :( ]
 
To vote for downtown or other Los Angeles neighborhoods to be the subject of blog entries, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here

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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring The Arts District

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 22, 2009 09:22pm | Post a Comment

This edition of the neighborhood blog is about The Arts District... or The Artist District... or is it The Artist-In-Residence District... or perhaps The Artists' District? This, and other issues, will be sorted out by blog's end to everyone's satisfaction.

 


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of the Arts District

To vote for another Los Angeles neighborhood to be the subject of a neighborhood blog, go here. To vote for one of the communities in Los Angeles County other than in Los Angeles, go here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.


            William Wolfskill                                                                      La Grande Station
 

The area along the western bank of Los Angeles River currently designated The Arts District in Los Angeles has gone through many changes in identity and name over the years. It passed from the hands of the Tongva to the Spaniards to the Mexicans and, most recently, to the Yankees. One of the latter, a Kentuckian named William Wolfskill, planted the land (or had it planted) with citrus trees to sell to scurvy-prone miners who swarmed the area following the California Gold Rush of 1849.

Central City East in 1909

TRAIN HUB

By the 1870s, trains began arriving in the area both to transport the citrus to far off locales and to bring in migrant workers to work in the groves. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad opened the Moorish-style La Grande Station in 1893. Thirteen years later, a new depot opened at 3rd and Santa Fe.

BIRTH OF SKID ROW

Following the arrival of trains and the immigrant laborers they brought, the area began to rapidly industrialize. Much of the work in Los Angeles, based as it was on agriculture, was seasonal. To cater to the workers between jobs, many bars and flophouses sprang up between downtown proper and the growing industrial district which gradually became known alternately as Skid Row and the Nickel -- because it’s centered on 5th St.

 
Nate Starkman & Son   


                                                                                  Industrial Street after sunset

RISE OF INDUSTRY - THE WAREHOUSE DISTRICT

Between San Pedro and the Los Angeles River, Central City East was soon covered with large factories and warehouses. By 1950, Los Angeles was an industrial powerhouse where more cars were assembled than in any American city besides Detroit. The city’s tire production was only exceeded by that of Akron. Los Angeles also outranked all American cities in garment production except for New York City.

One famous warehouses was owned by George Shima, the first Japanese-American millionaire. Shima was born ???? in Kurume in 1864 and lived in Berkeley (when he bought a house the newspaper headline read "Yellow Peril in College Town." His base of operation was out of a warehouse on 1275 E. 6th Street. After beginning his career as a domestic servant and later becoming a migrant worker, he nonetheless managed to amass a fortune of about $18 million (about $200 million adjusted for inflation) due to his Shima Fancy potatoes commanding 85% of the potato market.


As the population of the city swelled, much of the industry and especially the residential population center moved away from the city center, leaving behind many massive empty buildings.

Looking west near Wholesale and Mill

VIETNAM WAR ERA

In the late ‘60s, many returning emotionally-disturbed and drug-addicted Viet Nam vets joined the older, by then permanent population of alcoholic ex-hobos, tramps and bums. Many missions had long serviced the indigent area and the mostly abandoned industrial area became a hotbed for those both dropping out of society and those expelled from it. Not all of the industrial core was abandoned and as different areas took on different characteristics are still organized around smaller districts, including The Wholesale District (an area where most of the produce, seafood and flowers pass into the city), Skid Row (an area where most of the county’s 10,000 or so homeless pass through), The Fashion District (formerly known as The Garment District), The Toy District and -- on the eastern edge -- The Arts District.

Economy Supply (with large chess pieces on the roof)   

Looking east down 5th St from Alameda


BORDERS OF THE ARTS DISTRICT

Not all of the district's borders have been accepted by all parties. Since it became a highly desirable area, developers have continually attempted to stretch its borders so that they can convert and sell more properties. The western border has always been accepted as Alameda. The eastern border has always been accepted as the L.A. River. Though the northern border is defined in city documents as 1st Street, both Temple and the 101 have also been described as the border and even appear as such in some unofficial maps. Confusingly, the only "Arts District" signs in the area are located at Hewitt & Traction and at 3rd & Santa Fe, intersections within anyone's definition but not marking a border. In 2000, the Central City North Community Plan officially set “Artists-in-Residence District’s” southern boundary at 6th street. Then, in 2007, the southern boundary was officially extended several blocks further to Violet St.

It is bordered by the Civic Center to the north, Boyle Heights to to east, the Wholesale District to the south, the Downtown Industrial District to the southwest, and Little Tokyo to the northwest.



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BIRTH OF THE ARTS DISTRICT

The area began to take shape as the Arts District around 1976 when artists began to come to the area to inhabit the by-then often vacant buildings, attracted in part by the ample space and average rent of thirty cents-per-square-foot. Since the empty warehouses weren’t zoned for residences, there were occasional raids by the fire department and it was all a bit lawless.

AL'S BAR

In 1979, the storied Al’s Bar opened on the ground floor of The American Hotel when Marc Kreisel bought the property from the titular Al. Over the years, the club hosted many underground and then-obscure acts like The Fall, Gun Club, The Jesus Lizard, The Residents, The Misfits, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Red Kross, Sonic Youth and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even acts that would never likely play there were attracted by its "cred" and so poppier acts like Bad Religion, Coolio and Pennywise all filmed videos there.


 A massive Iron Mountain warehouse   




Mesquit under 6th St Bridge


1981 - AIR ORDINANCE

In 1981, the Artists-In-Residence (AIR) ordinance was passed, allowing artists to live in their work spaces as long as the residences conformed to building and safety standards. After the neighborhood began to build up a bit of Bohemian cache, some enterprising individuals began buying the buildings and the rents began to climb, at first fairly slowly. The area came to be known by a variety of names, including The Lofts District and more often The Arts District.


GORKY'S CAFE 
 

Gorky's (image source: Vespa Vamanos)

Gorky's Cafe opened at 536 E. 8th Street in 1981 by a former librarian, Judith Markoff, and originally catered to local homeless and artists. Fred Powers bought the cafe in 1985, and added a microbrewery, nightly live music, neon and security guards -- promising "Foodski, Funski, Brewski" athe venue, renamed Gorky's Cafeteria & Russian Brewery. It got trendier and Powers opened a second location in Hollywood. The Hollywood location soon closed and a patron, Candace Choi, took over the Arts District location in 1992 before permanently closing the doors in 1993. The building has since been absorbed by the growing Flower District and is home to a flower shop with googly-eye dogs made out of poms and crosses made of flowers. 




In 1982, multimedia artist Stephen Seemayer finished his rough cut of an 8mm film titled Young Turks. Its setting was the area around and including the Arts District between 1977 and 1981, when few of the wealthy loft dwellers would've likely even risked a drive through the area. The stars include artists Bob & Bob, Coleen Sterritt, Richard Newton, Woods Davy, and Al's Bar owner, Marc Kreisel.


BLOOM'S GENERAL STORE


Bloom's General Store  




                                                                               Acme Modern Supplies

As is normally the case in industrial areas, there was a distinct lack of greenery aside from vegetation springing up in hard to access nooks and crannies until some of the locals began planting trees. As the area grew, the distinct lack of nearby services for residents became an issue until Joel Bloom opened Bloom’s General Store. Bloom, along with other community activists, lobbied the city to make The Arts District official. Recognizing the by-then thriving scene, the city began actively encouraging people to move to the district and many of the warehouses were re-zoned and converted into Artist in Residence dwellings. They also installed signs declaring it The Artist District. Even today there are official signs referring to it thusly, or in other cases as, “The Artists' District” but it has long been known primarily as The Arts District, which is what the signs now say. For a while, there was one of the old signs mounted on the exterior of Bloom's store.


Looking east on Conway 



Newly restored building on 6th St.


BEDLAM ART SALON
 
 
Jim Fittipaldi started a speakeasy/art space and magazine of the same name located in the warehouse that is now Molino Street Lofts around 1994. It briefly moved  to Los Feliz in 2000 for a bit before returning to the Arts District, making its home on E. 6th Street (in the Potato King's old warehouse). It closed in 2006.

In a predictable narrative, after the artists begin reversing the long decline of an area with their efforts, gentrification followed. Aiding the speed of the shift were clauses in AIR that exempted the building owners from rent control, so massive developers began to price out and evict long-time residents, converting the buildings in the process into appealing, if less affordable, condos. As the old timers were forced out and the buildings transformed, not surprisingly the character of the Arts District once again began to transform. The American Hotel was sold to Magnum Properties and in 2001, Al’s Bar closed its doors. In 2007, Joel Bloom passed away and his famed store closed its doors after struggling for two years in 2009. Though the intersection of 3rd and Bloom is named Joel Bloom Square, for better or worse (or both), the Arts District has quite a different character than it used to in its heyday as an arts colony.


 Between Barker Block and Molino     

 Former train depot, now SCI-Arc

As with Historic Filipinotown, the Arts District's name now applies largely to an historic population, as most artists can't afford to live in the expensive neighborhood. No longer is the area populated primarily by practicing, struggling artists, but rather by wealthy loft owners attracted by the concept of "artist" as a lifestyle rather than an actual creative pursuit. Although slumming will always hold an attraction for those from a privileged background and realtors bounce around words like “gritty,” “funky,” and “hip” like a hacky-sack in a college dormitory courtyard, in reality the big lofts, including Barker Block, Molino, Toy Factory, Biscuit Company, 2121 and the proposed AMP, are squeaky clean, posh and only affordable to established, celebrity artists or dabbling trustafarians.

The lofts are at least tastefully done (although it would be nice if part of the conversion process had included installing green roofs or walls!) and residents of the neighborhoods busily crowd their ground floor businesses whilst expertly leaving the non-loft areas surprisingly desolate and empty except for the homeless.

There are now a handful of restaurants, stores and bars in the area. I've been known to knock back a few (OK, more than a few) at
Royal Clayton's English Pub in the Toy Factory Lofts. Across the street are The Biscuit Lofts, where Sandra Oh's character lives in Grey's Anatomy. I believe that show takes place somewhere in the northwest which is why, when filming down there, they routinely wet the street.


  The Biscuit Lofts



Looking south at Mateo and 6th
 
To be fair, there is still art being produced in the neighborhood, although much of it has a controlled, prescribed and commodified vibe. Perhaps no space embodies the well-mannered, inorganic and sanctioned "edginess" more than the Barker Block's private, enclosed (and therefore off limits to non-residents) “Artists' Alley.” Most of the rest of the public art in the neighborhood is run-of-the-mill graffiti of the sort favored by the backpack-and-hoodies crowd whose notions of gritty street culture more likely come from Urban Outfitters than firsthand urban experience.

There’s also fair amount of theater in the neighborhood (which I haven't checked out) and several art galleries where you’ll hear terms like “outsider art” and “new ideas” bandied, even though most of what’s being discussed (and most modern art in general) seems to me ironically to be highly uniform, generic and excessively rule-bound. Ironically, much of the online discourse from new residents of the neighborhood revolves around complaining about the twin nuisances of the homeless population, on the one hand, and industrial activity on the other. Sure, Andres Serrano, Chris Ofli and Survival Research Labs type stuff is apparently fine-and-dandy as long as they’re on display in galleries -- but not when the same "media" are on the sidewalks where you walk your tiny dogs on your way to an upscale coffee shop. While I agree that homelessness and pollution are enormous problems in Los Angeles, if you hate water you probably shouldn't move to the coast and then complain that the ocean won't dry up.


In 2000, The Southern California Institute of Architecture moved to the former train depot on Santa Fe. In 2006, Gideon Kotzer opened the last Crazy Gideon’s in the Arts District. His son Daniel runs Café Studio nearby, on Palmetto. The elder Kotzer is trying to get out of the electronics game and now trying to get the approval to convert his property into a truly hideous series of ugly corrugated box residences lined stupidly by palm trees. Given the high standards on display throughout the neighborhood, I doubt the final version will look much like the Crazy One's warped vision.



Currently the Arts District is one of the most unique and physically attractive urban sections of Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, it’s been featured in several films. La Grande Station used to contain a Harvey House, was the subject of (and featured in) The Harvey Girls. In The Limey, Terence Stamp’s character utters his most memorable line before menacingly crossing Willow St. after shooting some pests in a factory there. I'm sure there've been other filmss, (I think Repo  Man), videos and TV shows filmed in part or in whole down there. If you know of any, let me know.


*****


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