Decontructing the Arts District – Downtown LA, CA

Downtown LA has been undergoing a renaissance of sorts, most notably in the Arts District, a short drive from the downtown core. The first artist-in-residence ordinance was enacted in 1982, and a second wave of tenants are now being drawn to this diamond in the rough. Artists are working alongside food artisans, tech entrepreneurs, boutique owners, and architecture students.

Not unlike a roughly sewn patchwork piece, Los Angeles county comprises many diverse neighbourhoods and cities. The Art District follows a similar model, just with less planning. Here, an enclave covers roughly two or three blocks until it ends… you cross a few streets, and another starts up again. Each of these pockets are marked by: at least one prominent restaurant (look up: Church & State, Bestia, Urth Caffe, or Wurstkuche); a cafe that roasts its own coffee and/or bakes its own bread; warehouse-to-loft conversions; and a grocery store. Street art — graffiti, murals, and wheat-pasted posters — decorate the neighborhood, and the creative spaces — art galleries, architecture firms, design shops, and filming studios — that line the streets serve as sort-of thoroughfares that weave in the desolate areas.

For an outsider looking in, the photos below may recall street scenes from Brooklyn’s Bushwick or Williamsburg. The difference comes down to the community’s vibe. The Arts District in Los Angeles is more subdued and low key; the crowds haven’t made their way here even though the people-scape is familiar — there’s little that comes between its residents and the Ray Bans and fedoras of their creative East Coast cousins, except perhaps, less tattoo art…

Change for the Arts District is inevitable, and it’s promising to see communities re-purpose existing infrastructure for new uses (though construction at the expense of old buildings — not so much). If future development happens at a snail’s pace, then hopefully residents and out-of-towners will be able to better absorb its resurrected rawness and welcome subsequent growth.

Note: It requires a car to break down what’s happening within the neighbourhood’s expanse, unless you’re unfazed by walking long stretches in 90 Fahrenheit temps under the blazing sun; the lack of coastal air and shading from decades-old trees means it feels 10 degrees hotter in this part of town.

DSC_0441PSAbove and below – the interior courtyard of new residential complex, 7 + Bridge. The first artist-in-residence ordinance was enacted in 1982 and allowed live/work studios in the neighborhood.

DSC_0439PSDSC_0442PSAbove and below: one of the most Yelped about restaurants in the area, Bestia.

DSC_0452PSDSC_0431PSAbove and below: Nameless except for this Parking sign, The Bread Lounge serves freshly baked pastries, pizzas, and bread. The picture below is of the pistachio danish though I highly recommend the kouign-amann — imagine a croissant, as dense as a marzipan filled one except here it gains its sweetness from caramelized sugar crystals topping its outer shell. (It was eaten before I could take a photo.)

DSC_0433PSDSC_0443PSDSC_0445PS DSC_0451PSDSC_0453PSDSC_0458PSDSC_0464PSDSC_0468PSDSC_0476PSDSC_0477PSDSC_0479PSDSC_0482PSAbove: This mixed-use project on a slender strip of land between SCI-Arc and the MTA’s railyard will bring 438 new rental apartments to the neighborhood; when it opens in two years 20 percent of its housing units will be affordable. In addition, the 510,000-square-foot complex — designed by Michael Maltzan — will have a theater, dining, more than an acre of parkland and retail, including one large space that could potentially be a grocery store. (LA Weekly)

DSC_0485PSAbove and below: the bustling store, Poketo, that sells the nostalgic to the trendy. Triple-decker lunch box anyone?

DSC_0486PSDSC_0489PSDSC_0490PSDSC_0493PSDSC_0495PSDSC_0501PSDSC_0505PSAbove and below: the new gourmet store, Urban Radish, is the closest to a supermarket in this part of Los Angeles. It even caters to electric cars.