Category Archives: Los Angeles history

Downtown L.A.: A Light Ramble Through the Fashion District

    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.

Silhoutte of NN inside Emil Brown's Art Deco lobby

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.

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Filed under Downtown L.A., Los Angeles history, Uncategorized, Urban Exploring

Meet the Chandlers

This Monday, Oct. 5 from 9-11 p.m., PBS airs a new documentary, Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times.  I caught the world premiere in January at the Santa Barbara Film Festival, so I can report in advance that  it’s really good –a fascinating, unsentimental portrait of our home-grown media dynasty and a newspaper era that’s fast fading to history.  A lot of former L.A. Times employees were in that audience, not suprisingly.  Anyone interested in L.A. and its media will want to catch it.

Otis Chandler family, early 1960s

Otis Chandler family, early 1960s

Filmmaker Peter Jones, who won acclaim doing profiles for A&E’s Biography series, covers four generations of the Chandler family from Harrison Gray Otis, founding publisher of The Los Angeles Times, through succeeding publishers Harry Chandler (who reputedly inspired the villain in Chinatown), Norman Chandler and finally, Otis Chandler, shown above with wife Missy and their five children.   Otis makes a fascinating character, and despite his  hale and hearty physique, was a serious newsman who elevated the paper’s standards considerably. The youth in the center of the photo is Harry Chandler, a former exec at the Times and other media companies who aided the filmmakers with photographs and letters, and who’s interviewed in the film, as are Missy, Bettina (Otis’ second wife and widow), Catherine Mulholland, Kevin Starr, Mike Davis, and many others who lend a unique perspective.  The younger Harry Chandler, who certainly has a personal stake in the history, had this to say in an email he sent out this week: “In the end, I found it a moving and powerful documentary that is quite accurate and very watchable.”  

The photograph above, originally taken by Alex Spear, is reproduced from the end materials in Harry Chandler’s Dreamers In Dream City, a recently published collection of profiles and inventive photo-portraits of influential figures in L.A. history and current affairs.   Coincidentally, the 55 photos in that book (all either taken by Chandler or enhanced by him with techniques such as digital backgrounds and hand-coloring) are getting a full-on museum exhibit now through Jan. 3 at the Autry National Center (the Gene Autry Museum of the West, out near the L.A. Zoo).   Congrats, Harry! 

And last but not least, Angel City Press, which published Harry’s book, has also published a companion book to the Chandler documentary, written by Bill Boyarsky, a Pulitzer Prize-winner and 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Times.   Autographed copies are available for $24.95 here.

(Disclosure: although I worked on the Dreamers book as a contributing editor, I have no interest other than a rooting one in the projects described above.   I just think you’ll find them interesting!).

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Filed under Los Angeles history, Los Angeles media, Uncategorized