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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Laurel Canyon

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 16, 2009 03:30pm | Post a Comment

Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Hollywood, showing the approximate location of Laurel Canyon

This blog entry is about Laurel Canyon. To vote for other Los Angeles neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Los Angeles County communities, click here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.


The woodsy area in the Hollywood Hills now known as Laurel Canyon was originally inhabited by the Tongva. A spring-fed stream attracted Mexican shepherds in the 18th century. After the region became part of the US, Anglos arrived. About 100 years ago, the area was divided up, cabins were erected and the area was marketed to vacationing tourists. The first movie made in Hollywood was shot in Yucca Corridor in 1910. Though the film industry remained centered in Edendale for a few years, it gradually shifted to Hollywood and Laurel Canyon became the home of some of the burgeoning industry's photo-players.


Famed cowboy star Tom Mix bought the Laurel Tavern and converted it into his residence. Mary Astor had a love nest on Appian Way. Gay Mexican "Latin Lover" Ramón Novarro lived there until his murder in 1968.


Though better known as an escapologist, Hungarian magician Harry Houdini sometimes acted in the silent era and was another resident to Laurel Canyon. Other stars of the silent screen who made Laurel Canyon their home include Louise Brooks, Clara Bow, Theda Bara, Bessie Love, Wallace Reid and Norman Kerry.


After most of the movie stars left, the rustic neighborhood was still a draw from some bohemian types. It was there, in 1948, that actors Robert Mitchum and Lila Leeds were busted for possession of jazz cigarettes. Mitchum moved away in the '60s. The next influx of inhabitants were more often part of the music industry.


"she lives on Love Street"





 
Located as it is, just up the hill from the famed hippie and folk-rock nexus The Troubadour, the nearby bucolic setting attracted members of that scene. In the 1960s, many musicians moved to the neighborhood including Love’s Arthur Lee, The ByrdsRoger McGuinn and David Crosby, The DoorsJim Morrison and Robby Krieger, the Mamas & PapasDenny Doherty and Cass Elliot, The TurtlesMark Volman, The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, Troy Donahue, Fabian, The Beach BoysBrian Wilson, Buffalo Springfield’s Neil Young and The Mothers of Invention’s Frank Zappa.

Laurel Canyon Country Store - "the place where the Creatures meet."

In 1968, Laurel Canyon's navelgazing period truly began -- That year, Crosby, Stills and Nash formed one of the first supergroups, named after themselves, of course. The amount of musicians who referenced the neighborhood in their works is pretty humorous. The great, underrated Jackie DeShannon was first, with Laurel Canyon.  Two months later, John Mayall released Blues from Laurel Canyon. The following year, Joni Mitchell began recording Ladies of the Canyon. David Geffen moved to the neighborhood hoping to exploit the increasingly mellow singer-writer and soft rock scene embodied by new residents like Jackson Browne, Carole King, James Taylor, Judee Sill, Linda Ronstadt and members of The Eagles and America. In 1970, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young sang the highly irritating "Our House" about Nash and Mitchell's home. The transition from acid rock psychonauts to self-worshiping cocaine cowboys was completed in 1973, when The Roxy opened down the hill in West Hollywood.

By the ‘80s, most of the singer-writer scene had dried up and blown away but the coke hadn’t. In 1981, four members of The Wonderland Gang (Laurel Canyon’s premier coke distributors), were murdered, leading to the arrest of porn star John C. Holmes. The sleaze quotient rose further when shock jocks Adam Carrola and Tom Leykis moved there (not together).
 

In the '90s, the neighborhood became the home of mainstream darlings including Jennifer Aniston, Neve Campbell and Trent Reznor. A new generation of cocaine cowboys began to wax about the good old days of Laurel Canyon. In 2001, British band The Charlatans released their album Wonderland. Accepted into the scene, by the time of his solo debut a couple of years later, singer Tim Burgess seemed to embody the Laurel Canyon revival. In 2002, in true Laurel Canyon fashion, a movie about Laurel Canyon was released, titled Laurel Canyon.


 
World's largest dog park 

Today, Laurel Canyon still exudes considerable charm. The whimsical houses are in a variety of styles, although their current residents are unfailingly scowly types with dogs in their purses and yoga pants on at all times. Their chilly expressions are somewhat fitting in a neighborhood that, despite being surrounded by urban Los Angeles, conveys an undeniably autumnal vibe.





*****


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Little Osaka, the Westside's J-Town

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 10, 2009 11:09pm | Post a Comment



This Los Angeles neighborhood blog entry is about Little Osaka. To vote for another neighborhood(s) to be covered here on the blog, click here. To vote for a Los Angeles County community(ies) to be covered, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of the Westside

Japanese-Americans
have long been integral to the fabric of Los Angeles. J-Towns have sprung up around the Southland in Gardena, Torrance, Boyle Heights, Pasadena, San Pedro, Terminal Island, Compton, Long Beach, Monterey Park and Sawtelle. As far as I know, only two have acquired nicknames that reflect their Japanese-ness, Little Tokyo and Little Ōsaka. The former is a well known spot downtown.


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Little Osaka

The latter is a small district along Sawtelle Boulevard between Nebraska and Tennessee in the Sawtelle neighborhood (and former municipality) favored by Nisei, foodies, otaku, hentai, nipponophiles. With the rainy season just beginning, my ex-roomie Shimbles and I set out to explore the neighborhood.

From around 400 BCE till the arrival of the Spanish, the area around what's today Little Osaka was known to the Tongva as Kuruvunga. In 1896, a neighborhood sprang up known as Barrett. The US postal service objected to the name, on account of its similarity to Bassett. In 1899, the name was changed to Sawtelle. In 1918, Sawtelle became part of Los Angeles. By the '10s, the area was largely populated by Japanese-Americans and the neighborhood was often referred to as "Soteru." From 1920 to '25, the population of Sawtelle grew rapidly, from 3,500 to 10,700.





In the 1920s and 30s, what's now Little Osaka (小大阪) was dominated by Nikkei-run nurseries which mostly served wealthy, white westsiders, although Sawtelle homes themselves often display more thoughtful landscaping than those in average neighborhoods. In 1931, a group of Japanese planted a Japanese garden (designed by Koichi Kawana) in Sawtelle's Stoner Park "for the promotion of better understanding." By 1941, there were 26 nurseries in the area. When Japanese-Americans were unjustly interred during World War II, the neighborhood went into decline. Today there are three nurseries remaining in Little Osaka; The Jungle, Hashimoto and Yamaguchi Bonsai.


Lianne Lin's I <3 Sawtelle

In the '20s, the large Kobayakawa Boarding House was built by Riichi Ishioka on Sawtelle Blvd, housing up to 60 people at a time. It remained in operation until the 1970s. When Japanese-Americans returned to the neighborhood after the war, Sawtelle Gakuin's auditorium was converted to a hostel. In 1946, Toshikazu "Tom" and Midori Yamaguchi opened the store Yamaguchi, a beloved institution in the neighborhood. Yamas remained in business until 2006, when their sons, Henry and Jack, sold it. In the late '80s, many of the existing buildings were destroyed to make way for strip malls and offices. In the '90s, the area began to bustle again, perhaps initially because authenticity-oriented foodies discovered the neighborhood's Japanese-American restaurants. Although most of the pre-war character of the neighborhood was by then erased, the JA character remained and the area began to be referred to as Little Osaka.



There are still multiple sushi, curry and noodle joints -- among others. I suspect the neighborhood may've acquired its nickname (instead of, say, Little Yokohama) because of how densely populated with eateries it is. Big Ōsaka, after all, is the city of kuidaore ("to become poor as a result of one's extravagance in eating and drinking"). Being a cold, rainy day, I had some extra hot curry and sake to warm myself from the inside out. Afterward we stopped by Beard Papa's, a chain founded in the original Ōsaka. I ate the brand new Cookie Crunch Puff. Although my sweet tooth is dwarfed by my bitter, salty, sour, spicy and umami teeth, it was delicious.


There haven't been any films shot in Little Osaka that I know of, except for a couple of short youtube docs, the area does have a connection to Japanese film. First it should be said that Amoeba has a very large selection of Japanese films -- one of the best in the city. However, if you can't find a Japanese movie at Amoeba, there's a good chance they have it at Video Addict, although probably without English subtitles.




Giant Robot
was started in 1994 by Eric Nakamura and Martin Wong as a magazine covering Asian and Asian-American pop culture. It not only filled a void in the publishing world, but its subject matter, its humor, attitude, observation and insight also made it one of the greatest magazines, period. They opened their first store in 2001, in Little Osaka. A few years later, they opened the art gallery, G2. We checked out the Post-It Show.

 


There are a lot of clothing joints in the neighborhood. As with the world outside of Milan, there are many more options for the ladies than the gents. And for the gents, most of the choices are kawaii t-shirts and outfits you'd see on kids in a jerk video.




As we left Little Osaka, we crossed Nebraska and saw this creepy Brujeria omen...



*****

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Calfornia Fool's Gold -- Exploring Canterbury Knolls

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 1, 2009 06:13pm | Post a Comment

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Canterbury Knolls



Canterbury Knolls
is a South LA neighborhood bordered by Manchester Square, Morningside Circle and Vermont Knolls to the south, Hyde Park to the west, Chesterfield Square to the north, Vermont Square to the northeast, and Vermont-Slauson to the east.



Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of South Los Angeles

For the estimated two dozen or so semi-regular readers of this blog, the way this works is clear. People vote for a Los Angeles neighborhoodor an LA County community (vote here). To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.

Then I go there -- often with my trusty sidekick, Shimbles. Then I attempt to explore the connections the area has to movies and music to keep it Amoeblog-relevant. And so, faced with more than two votes for Canterbury Knolls, Shimbles and I set out at the crack of noon to see what we could see in the fabled neighborhood. Preliminary internet research had proved mostly fruitless. Aside from a flame war between some internet gangstas on a 50 Cent message board and some girl’s Livejournal, I could find few firsthand acknowledgements of the neighborhood.

Artistic Welding, one of several iron works in the neighborhood

The way neighborhood names work in LA is this: the more ghetto the neighborhood, the more quaintly English sounding its name. Therefore, I had some notion of what to expect of Canterbury Knolls. Not surprisingly, when we arrived, there were neither knolls nor Kentish people to be seen. (The name "Canterbury" is derived from the Olde Englishe Cantwareburh, meaning "Kent people's stronghold.") In fact, when the Eighth District Empowerment Congress officially nicknamed every neighborhood in the area in 2002, no one in Canterbury Knolls seemed to get the news… or be consulted for the Naming Neighborhoods Project. Further research yielded two claims that the area is more commonly referred to simply as “da hood.” The LA Times even wrote an article, "Asphalt Jungle or Green Meadows?," which addresses the incongruity of the South LA's new neighborhood names and people's ignorance of Canterbury Knolls specifically.

 
Amazing art on a van belonging to Eric's Blog fan, Jesus Cruz!

I couldn’t find any musicians associated with the neighborhood, nor any actors. Although the neighborhood shares initials with Citizen Kane, the only film I could find that was shot in the neighborhood the brutal, senseless beating of Reginald Denny at the hands of Damian Williams, Henry Watson, Antoine Miller, Gary Williams, Anthony Brown and Lance Parker during the LA Riots of ’92, filmed at the intersection of Florence and Normandie. There’s not much along that patch of Florence aside from Gabe Motors, which was packed with restored and waiting-to-be-restored vochos. I’m sure that there are aspiring and possibly practicing musicians, actors or filmmakers in the neighborhood, so if you live in Canterbury Knolls and have a connection to the entertainment business, make yourself heard.


The decidedly deco Green Dog & Cat Hospital, built in 1934

As I mentioned earlier, there are no Kentish people in CK. In fact, nearly everyone we encountered  was black, Latino or Korean. Shimbles and I were the only "people-not-of-color" (to employ the politically correct Anglo-exclusion). Perhaps this is why a kindly old woman asked me if we were brothers as she bade me “good afternoon” and handed me a copy of Watchtower. In fact, Shimbles and I were continually greeted with almost pleasant but almost wearying regularity, making Canterbury Knolls the friendliest neighborhood blogging experience I’ve had to date (in stark contrast to the scowling yoga-pants-horde we encountered in Laurel Canyon the day before).


The gargantuan Slauson Super Mall

Physically, most of Canterbury Knolls is -- like most of South LA -- comprised of small, single story homes, box apartments and tiny stores arranged in grids. There are many churches, auto shops, small markets, discount stores, party suppliers, laundromats and carpet houses. There's a conspicuous absence of chains, for the most part, but they do have an Autozone and a 76. There are few restaurants, just a sprinkling of Burger, Chinese, Mexican and Salvadoran joints.

The northern portion of the neighborhood, along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad, is much more industrialized and mostly comprised of large, aging warehouses. Many of the businesses around Slauson, which forms the northern edge of the neighborhood, are furniture manufacturers. In fact, it was either in or near Canterbury Knolls that I procured one of my couches.

The largest of the warehouses is the awesome, sprawling Slauson Super Mall – an enormous, 177,129 square foot swap meet where one can get their nails done, get one’s shine on, buy rainbow-colored everything, eat pupusas and Icees, and pick up a memorial tee of a recently passed black celebrity. Last time I came here I saw one for 60 Minutes' Ed Bradley. Not surprisingly, Michael Jackson is the favored subject for airbrush artists of the moment. It was shown in the video for Tupac's "To Live and Die in LA."

Inside the Super Mall -- my photography doesn't begin to reflect the scope of this place




Well, that's about all I could figure out about Canterbury Knolls. If you have any corrections or additions, by all means let me know. Thanks.



*****


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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring the City of Walnut

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 20, 2009 04:40pm | Post a Comment

This Los Angeles County community blog is about the City of Walnut, a wealthy, woodsy Los Angeles suburb located in the southeastern portion of the San Gabriel Valley.

 

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Maps of the San Gabriel Valley and Walnut

To vote for other LA County communities, vote here. To vote for Los Angeles neighborhoods, vote here. To vote for Orange County neighborhoods, vote here.


William R. Rowland Adobe Redwood Ranch House
Before it took on its current Asian persuasion, Walnut was mostly Caucasian. Before that, of course, it was inhabited by the Tongva people, whose village in the area was called Pemookangna. After the Spaniards arrived it was mostly used as a ranch which grew walnuts, wheat, grapes, fruit trees and as pasture for cattle. By the 1840s, the Spaniards called the area Rancho de Nogales, which means Walnut Ranch. Many of those walnuts were pickled. In 1868, John Rowland and William Workman divided the land into La Puente to the west and Walnut to the east. The city was incorporated in 1959. In 1975, the William R. Rowland Adobe Redwood Ranch House was designated an Historical Landmark. 



A few years back, a number of well-heeled Taiwanese business people moved to Walnut. Ten years ago, Asians, non-Latino whites and Latinos still made up roughly equal populations of the city and CNN hailed Walnut as a model of diversity. Since then, large numbers of Cantonese, mainland Chinese and especially Filipinos have moved to the area and numbers of white and Latino residents have diminished. The city’s changing character is reflected in the variety of popular restaurants including Heartland's Market and Kitchen, Apo Apo Deli Café, UCC Cafe, Colima Burgers, Coffee Break, Sate House, El Taco Nazo, Ninja Sushi, Mikasa, Kalahi Bakery, the New York Pizzeria, Osuna's, Bangkok BBQ, Charlie's Sandwhich Shoppe, Upper House Boba Tea Shop and Donut Tree. Donut Tree, open 24 hours a day, serves as a sort of de facto community center. When my roommate Tim and I went there, it was packed with retirees speculating about Oprah's reasons for announcing her retirement. The retirees came and went during our visit, all seeming to know one another, and almost invariably arriving and departing in nice cars.
Hockneyesque collage panorama of Walnut's downtown
Walnut is a decidedly tranquil, some would say, sleepy suburb. Money named it the 70th best place to live in 2009, thus placing it above all other California cities, although there doesn't seem to be a lot to do. Its "downtown" is a cluster of shopping centers known as "The Village" and is dominated by chains like Applebee's, Panda Express, Kohl's, Staple's, Starbucks and Millie's, albeit quaintly rendered in a craftsman style. As with many suburbs, most of the businesses are spread out along the main thoroughfares, clustered in shopping centers with names like Flag Automotive Center, Lemon Creek Village and Walnut Tech Business Center. As we know from films like Poltergeist, Blue Velvet and Paranormal Activity, sleepy towns usually have their share of ghosts, and Walnut is no exception according to this website.

Wildin' out at the Walnut Family Festival

In the autumn, Walnut hosts a parade and fair held in Suzanne Park which is known as the Walnut Family Festival


                                      Wolfgang Delgado                                                                Darius McCrary

There aren't that many famous Walnut natives. Former Amoebite Wolfgang Delgado used to live there, as did Darius McCrary (Family Matters' Eddie Winslow). The self-described Latin Elvis and Latin Frank Sinatra, Gerardo "la Pelota" Meija, moved there from Ecuador and became the world's first Latino Rap Superstar with his megahit, "Rico Suave." It’s also the birthplace of drummer Ricky Lawson.
A few films have been shot in Walnut, in part or in whole, including Awaken the Dead, Background(ed), Freudian Eyebrow, Hangman, The Call, Zodiac and Lakeview Terrace

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.



***

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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