If Downtown L.A. is beginning to resemble a seedy but colorful Disneyland with its signposts marking out territories like the Historic Core and the Jewelry, Flower, Toy, and Old Bank districts, then it wouldn’t be remiss to dub the whole area Tomorrowland.
Touring it, as I did the other day to see a friend’s new neighborhood, you get an undeniable sense that a foundation is being laid for a whole new future, one that in 15 or 20 years could make Downtown the true center of the city once again.
For now, it’s alive with creativity and energy and the signs of change. My friend, whom I’ll call Double N, has lived downtown for more than a year, and says the prevailing vibe is hustle and drive. “The question here is not ‘who are you,’ but ‘what did you get done today, and where are you going with it?,” she says. She recently moved from the tony South Park lofts to the newly opened Emil Brown building, which I love because the lofts are spacious with big banks of industrial-style windows.
At the street level, this area near the corner of 9th and Santee is teeming with life, with vendors at work, storefronts open to the sidewalks and row upon row of crazily colorful bolts of cloth on display.
The Fashion District supplies all the raw materials of the design trade – cloth, sewing machines, mannequins, labor, and design and retail space – and it’s eight times the size of the garment district in New York, NN says. “People on the Westside think they’re supporting downtown, but actually it’s downtown that makes the Westside possible,” she observes.
NN gave me a brief walking tour, starting across the street at Gram & Papa’s, a coffee and healthy eats café with the motto “Eat Clean, Play Dirty,” and on to the spectacular Bottega Louie, which opened last fall on Grand Ave. at 7th, and despite the grim financial climate, is a huge hit. “Now this is downtown,” said Double N as she pushed open the glass door. We were immediately hit with an electric high of energy from happily chattering diners seated in a spacious, elegant, and appealing bistro that wouldn’t be out of place on the Champs d’Elysee. The place includes a gourmet market with artisan-style takeout fare that looked incredibly tempting, and the prices for lunch are within reach.
Bottega Louie is housed in a former bank building, and that relates to what makes L.A.’s emerging downtown scene special and unique, according to Double N. “In Boston, this would still be a bank,” she notes. But in L.A., where the whole downtown renaissance was kicked off with the 1999 adaptive reuse ordinance, there’s a large inventory of abandoned and neglected buildings that are actually stunning and ornate, and that are slowly being re-purposed. That takes vision and passion, which is part of what draws a certain breed of people to the downtown scene.
We also stopped at the spectacular Eastern Columbia building, a turquoise and copper-colored Art Deco edifice with a clock tower, built in 1930 as a clothing and furniture store, and converted several years ago to lofts (Johnny Depp is probably the best-known resident). And we passed by the Orpheum building on Broadway, where loft residents get two free tickets to each live musical event in the historic Orpheum Theater. That may be so they won’t complain about noise, but it might make it my residence of choice if I moved downtown (the likes of Van Morrison and Patti Smith recently played there). What do you think? If you live downtown or would like to, please add a comment.
And that’s all for this time – I wish I had better photos for this post, but hopefully I’ll get some soon and add them in.