Downtown LA Scenes ~ California

Oh LA, why do you keep trying to woo me back?

I know, I know… You’ve got the glorious Pacific Ocean. I agree, there’s really nothing better than starting the day with a glimpse of its sparkling blue, and inhaling its salty air. I hear you: the Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most awe inspiring drives as you head towards a tucked away Malibu. But then, you’ve got the idyllic Hollywood Hills; I would love to live in one of their Neutra designed homes, or anything modernist architecture for that matter.

In all honesty, I am sold on living in one of the beach fringing neighbourhoods – Venice Beach, or Santa Monica; in a cute little shack and a garden brimming with bougainvillea, red hibiscus, and some roses, too.

On the other hand, a little further inland, there’s that Brooklyn-esque vibe of your downtown area. I’ve been reading about its revival; less Skid Row, more loft and (unfortunately) condo. When I visited, about 2 months ago, the Arts District was alive: its graffiti-decorated streets fringed with manufacturing and lofted warehouses, punctuated by railway tracks of an industrial past. I loved the bustling dining culture with lively spots including Wurstkuche, Church & State, and an outpost of Urth Caffe. Simply say, “Urth’s green tea matcha soy milk latte,” and I’m there.

I’m steps closer to being wooed back, LA. Here’s one reason: a glimpse into the Arts District, and the area around Hewitt Street. Enjoy!

Molino Street Lofts

Line at Wurstkuche

Urth Caffe

Financial District in the background

The Price of Fame ~ Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY

I was enroute to yoga class, when my Zen bubble was burst; I had spotted a sign by a prominent Manhattan based restaurant pointing in the direction of their newest location. Painted in bright colours on a side street wall that intersects with the neighbourhood’s main artery, Bedford Street, it looks more advertising than street art.

I was overcome by a combination of sadness mixed with compassion and loss. Flourishing, this artist enclave that I so enjoy for its grit-and- arty glam is now code for ‘goldmine’. Don’t get me wrong, the group behind the new restaurant has a very good reputation. The sign simply added to an already built-up set of emotions attributed to a general sense of protectiveness towards the Williamsburg community; I resist significant change from fear that it might change the fabric of a neighbourhood I have grown to love. Reading the sign, the discourse in my mind ran along the lines of, “Don’t run out the small businesses. They’re creating something good here. Please don’t mess it up.” But, then again, it’s already too late.

Vines cultivated in 'treasure'-cans

Williamsburg, reflected

Street Art is the norm in this 'hood

I moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn when it was in the throes of gentrification; since the recession, things have been looking up. I knew it before its skyline was punctuated with the large-scale developments of today; I was drawn to its artisan culture and rich creative community. What I find most alluring about the neighbourhood is its shabby-chic vibe. Here, (most) everything old is new again: in a nod to the past, former barrel making warehouses house café cum coffee roasteries; vintage clothing stores dictate trends on the street; old school looking diners stand in the midst of streets decorated with torn posters, playful street art, and FAILE wall stencils.

Wyeth Diner

A FAILE work, mimicked. On Wyeth Street

Old factories, decorated

In a labyrinth of independently owned storefronts, I remember being baffled when a large-scale Duane Reade opened a location directly across from a long standing mom n pop pharmacy. It didn’t feel right and I wondered how the council permitted it; I now think it was a subliminal message. Manhattanites have caught wind of this new ‘hot spot’ and clamor here on the weekends.  Just recently I read that Whole Foods will be setting up shop in the area; I can’t say I won’t take advantage of the shorter distance to buy produce but I am in no way advocating their choice of new location.

Taking a stand through art

A typical street scene

I can’t speak to what Williamsburg was like before I discovered it over 4 years ago, and subsequently relocating, though evidence of its roots abound. The Williamsburg Bridge, opened in 1903, brought with it a new population of people: second-generation Americans and immigrants including Hasidic Jews, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans. Renovated warehouses survive their industrial days of glass blowing and metal smithing; the now defunct Domino Sugar Factory is symbolic of a former glory – in the late 19th century, it was the largest sugar refinery in the world.

Backdrop of the Williamsburg Bridge and Domino Sugar Refinery

A game of dominoes

After WWII, trade and industry deteriorated, and about 30 years ago the creative community took over a neighbourhood in despair. Disenchanted with the rent hikes of their reinvigorated SoHo, they crossed the Bridge to the ‘burg to settle and establish an alternative to the downtown art scene. One of my yoga teachers’ remembers stumbling over passed out drug addicts on the steps of her Bedford Street apartment just 15 years back.

Kent Street's warehouses and condos

A storefront

Do tattoos count as street art?

From Williamsburg, you can catch killer views of Manhattan’s skyline – they span downtown and past 42nd Street. Recent waterfront rezoning laws bring to mind a quote by Jackie Onassis when, in opposition to Grand Central Station’s potential wrecking ball fate, she’d stated:

this is the time to take a stand, to reverse the tide, so that we won’t all end up in a uniform world of steel and glass boxes.

Thankfully, the terminal was saved. On the other hand, these 3-year old East River fringing condo towers are hard to miss as are the gaping holes within the grid of streets, which will eventually be occupied with something of the same. I must admit though, I do enjoy sitting in the new waterfront park at their base, to watch the sun cloak the Empire and Chrysler Buildings with a shimmer of copper-gold as it sets.

Scaffolding hide gaps. In turn, they are a canvas for street art.

East River Ferry dock; Empire and Chrysler Buildings in distance

A new take on 'Park n Ride'

My love for the Williamsburg community is unwavering yet coming to terms with inevitable change of the neighborhood is a double-edged sword. As easily as I forget, I must just as quickly remember to embrace the present moment and ride its wave of success, for I too moved here during its early stages of gentrification. Whilst I do find solace in the ability of the artist community to revitalize an otherwise faltering neighbourhood, I can’t help but wonder what will come of Williamsburg in a year’s time.

5 Pointz – Graffiti Art Gallery in Long Island City, Queens, NY

Because I have posted on street art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a fellow blogger, Victor Ho, drew my attention to a graffiti project in Long Island City (LIC), Queens called 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center, Inc. From Williamsburg, it’s a quick drive over the Pulaski Bridge to LIC.

in some ways, LIC is similar to Williamsburg. Both neighbourhoods are both undergoing gentrification, enjoy view of Manhattan and the East River, are easily accessible by subway or ferry, and are situated close to major bridges — the Queensboro Bridge connects LIC to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. the area has attracted a young professional crowd though the  feeling of community doesn’t permeate as much as it does in Williamsburg.

Queensboro Bridge linking LIC to Manhattan

Dubbed ‘5Pointz’, this empty, 20,000-square-foot, five-story factory building is covered from top to bottom in graffiti. The name, 5Pointz, represents the five boroughs of New York, although the building is showcase global graffiti works by artists from Australia, Spain, Canada, Brazil, and France as well. Located under the rambling elevated 7-subway line, this one block long industrial complex continues until the Davis Street’s dead end. Today, the enclave was far from dead, which was filled with film crew, photographers, iphone-toting fans and trucks.

7 Subway Line

5Pointz Building…

5Pointz Building… continues along Davis Street

5Pointz Building… full frontal

Art continues down the complex on Davis Street

Unfortunately, 5 Pointz faces an undetermined fate. The graffiti art curator, Jonathan Cohen, plans to convert the building into a “graffiti museum”, as well as “a school for aspiring aerosol artists, complete with a formalized curriculum that imparts lessons in teamwork, art history, and entrepreneurship in addition to technique”, yet there are rumours that the building will be knocked down to make room for condos. The building’s owner, John Wolcoff, has expressed interest in building two 30-story high rises to cash in on renters escaping expensive Manhattan, and has promised a rear wall accessible to graffiti artists in lieu of what may be torn down. Hardly compensation.

An homage to Dali

Marie Flageul, an event planner who is part of the 5Pointz team, recently stated on NYTimes.com, “What the landlord doesn’t understand is that 5Pointz is a brand and an icon, and if he knocks it down it will be missed. 5Pointz is the United Nations of graffiti.”

Ironically, LIC is located directly opposite the United Nations building in Manhattan.

View of the United Nations (left), as seen from LIC’s Water’s Edge dock

If you’re a graffiti artist and are interested in staking a piece of real estate within this “graffiti Mecca”, perhaps the only legal place left to tag in New York, you’ll need to obtain permission from 5Pointz. According to the website:

The most coveted locations are given to accomplished graffiti artists who create high-quality, conceptual work that displays great artistic detail, while the less visible areas are preserved for new and aspiring aerosol artists.

The better the mural, the longer it stays up. Pieces and productions are typically left on display for anywhere from one day to two years, depending on the quality and effort of the work, as well as the pedestrian traffic level of its wall placement. Long-lasting, prominently displayed productions require a rough draft and demonstrate creative vision, a high-level of craft, and originality.

Frogs (mural located opposite 5Pointz building on David Street)

To sign the petition, click here: SHOW UR LOVE TO 5POINTZ

Condos along LIC’s waterfront

Please share your comments below. I’ll be tweeting this page regularly to relevant parties and discussion groups. This will be a way to support 5Pointz in their efforts to save their space.

Grimace…

5Pointz – Close Up

Above it all: Manhattan’s High Line

Manhattan works 24/7, without a break. It’s where things happen; it’s the world’s muse. Its avenues are well-trodden, meaning the roads are in continual need of repair. It is where the hot dog and pretzel stands are as ubiquitous as the yellow cabs. But, sometimes all of this hubbub gets too much to deal, and that’s when I head to Manhattan’s High Line.

The High Line

The Standard Hotel

Elevated city view

I first read about the High Line in a travel magazine a few years ago and remember thinking how great it was make something new from something old. Here, 30-foot high abandoned railway tracks have been converted into usable public green space, which is named the High Line. The railway tracks faced demolition in 1999, and this gave rise to a community group  – Friends of the High Line – who came to the rescue with the High Line proposition. The project was approved by the City of New York.

The Standard Hotel

Autumnal colours against the Hudson

Birch trees and grass

The park opened in two phases. The first phase (2009) spanned the area between the Meatpacking District, by Gansevoort Street, and up to 20th Street. Phase two opened this year, in 2011, and extends the walkway to 30th Street. The final phase, between 30th and 34th streets, called High Line at the West Side Rail Yards, is being construction.

Iin October 2011, the Diller – von Furstenberg Family Foundation, founded by the fashion designer, Diane von Furstenberg, and her husband, Barry Diller, made a $20 million commitment to the High Line. This is the largest single private contribution to a public park in New York City’s history and will be put towards this final stretch of the project.

Factories and warehouses hug the High Line

Undercover windows

Fragments of the past

Just when you thought New York was packed to the rafters, up goes the Standard Hotel and a new few condominiums by the High Line. With Hudson River views to one side, and city views from elsewhere, it’s a great spot to buy some real estate, which also comes with a 1.45-mile garden.

Frank Gehry’s IAC building (left); condos (right)

Condos…..

… and more condos.

In addition to making the walk from uptown to downtown more pleasurable, the High Line hosts interactive public art installations, performances, open air film screenings and exhibits.

Art

The success of the High Line has been two-fold: it has not only drawn two million visitors annually, but it has also inspired another green space project dubbed the “Low Line.” The Low Line hopes to restore a former trolley terminal under Delancey Street (Lower East Side), into an underground park. Read more here: NYTimes.com

The High Line has rehabilitated and preserved an essential part of New York’s history. Influenced by its Parisian predecessor, the Promenade Plantée – an elevated park built around a similar rail viaduct and inaugurated in 1993 – Manhattan’s High Line has furthered interest for industrial restoration closer to home. Similar projects are in early stages in St. Louis, Philadelphia, Jersey City, and Chicago.

A linear view

Hudson River views

A great blog about Promenade Plantée can be found here:

Paris’ Promenade Plantée: The original High Line park | On the Luce.