One of Downtown Los Angeles‘ great treasures is the Walt Disney Concert Hall, a Frank Gehry-designed structure home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Major Chorale. It is captured brilliantly in today’s Photo of the Day, taken by Flickr user Nan Palmero using a simple Canon Powershot S95. The sky’s brilliant blue casts a cool hue upon the structure’s stainless steel exterior, illuminating what is truly a building of the future.
Downtown Los Angeles used to be a no man’s land. But now, thanks to the efforts of local artists and entrepreneurs, pockets of the downtown area are being transformed into an up-and-coming Arts District, complete with open coworking spaces, live-work lofts, organic cafes and trendy eateries. Murals from street artists like Shepard Fairey and JR fill the neighborhood, with hardly a patch of bare wall in sight. On Traction Avenue, tattooed freelancers congregate at sidewalk cafes serving niche foods like pie and bratwurst. Skateboards and thick-rimmed glasses are ubiquitous.
The Downtown Los Angeles Arts District is bordered by the Los Angeles River, Alameda Street, the 101 Freeway and 7th Street. Historically, the neighborhood was home to vineyards and citrus groves, followed by factories and freight companies in the years after World War II, according to LA DAD Space. In the 1960s, urban artists discovered the neighborhood and began converting the previously industrial buildings into progressive live-work spaces. In 1981, the city of Los Angeles passed the Artist in Residence Ordinance, which officially sanctioned these types of multi-use artist lodgings. But then the 1990s came, bringing high crime rates and homelessness. The neighborhood went into a deep decline, and for the past few decades, there hasn’t been much of a reason to visit.
Now, thanks to an active community of artists and entrepreneurs, the Arts District is once again reestablishing itself as the creative hub of Los Angeles. In 2005, the neighborhood was officially established as a Business Improvement District and given funding to improve safety, maintenance and other programs. Artists, drawn by expansive loft spaces and relatively cheap rents, are starting to move back in.
Much of the Arts District action is clustered around Traction Avenue. If you’re hungry, join the line at Wurstkuche, a “purveyor of exotic sausages” with an extensive selection of beers on tap. Be sure to save room for dessert across the street at The Pie Hole, which specializes in offbeat combinations like The Lonely Pie, with dark chocolate, peanut butter and potato chips. Further down the street, you can break out of your food coma with fresh-roasted coffee from Novel Cafe.
Unsurprisingly, the Arts District also offers some exceptional options on the shopping front. A highlight is Poketo, a bright open boutique filled with quirky design items, from graphic tees to spinning tops. A few doors down, Apolis offers stylish, functional menswear, sourced from social enterprises in the developing world. The showroom of upscale linen line Matteo is a must-see for home design junkies.
And then, of course, there are the artists themselves. For a full list of galleries and spaces, and more information about the neighborhood’s development, check out the Arts District website.
[Photo Credit: Jessica Marati]
It’s bustling on nights when there are events at the adjoining Staples Center and the Nokia Theatre. It also hosts the cinema where Eclipse recently held its premiere.
But on other nights, like the ones when I was there, the party shuts down. At L.A. Live, the energy level is all-or-nothing.The hotels aren’t the problem. They’re fairly well-designed, the rooms and corridors spacious, and with terrific views of downtown and beyond. The Ritz’s spa is a fantasia of all-white decor, while the vertical aspirations of the J.W.’s lobby feel akin to a mod 1960s airport terminal. In all, despite the volume of people they can collectively serve, the hotels were a welcome, private respite from the tumult down below on the tough and cluttered grid of Southern California.
I did experience some minor hiccups during my stay, though: My coffeemaker at the J.W. didn’t work and my requests for repair were ignored. There are also a few notable, but not fatal, flaws, the biggest being the private but large pool decks for the J.W. (4th floor) and the Ritz (28th floor) are both in the shade of the connected 54-story condo tower by the middle of a mid-summer afternoon. The $38 parking charge was dizzying, but at least the subterranean lot was so roomy it could eat countless other L.A. structures for breakfast.
The Ritz-Carlton’s 24th-floor restaurant and lounge, WP24 by Wolfgang Puck, should be one of the most alluring nighttime watering holes in the city, given its sumptuous panorama of downtown Los Angeles and the poor suckers laboring along the 110 freeway. But when I showed up at 10 p.m., primed for a martini overlooking the skyline, I was told it was closed for the night. The economics of the L.A. Live project are so immense that tenants are interested only in blockbuster crowds, not off-night scene-making.
The situation in the rest of the complex, connected to the hotels, wasn’t better. On one of the nights of my stay, the Trader Vic’s began closing at 9 p.m., the same time as the mall in many small towns. But the two hotels’ smart and glassy decor and full-service détente had made me feel urban and chic, and I wanted a highbrow cocktail to suit the mood they put me in. Almost every L.A. Live nightspot was closing, except the sports bar, and I wasn’t in the mind of onion rings.
Rather than settle for the no-view hotel lobby bar at the J.W. Marriott (stylish as it is), I ended up having to leave L.A. Live and search for style on the mean streets of downtown L.A. There, I found the nightlife I was looking for at Seven Grand (a hip and dusky whiskey bar), Rivera (artisan cocktails and modern Latin plates), and Hank’s (a lost-in-time dive bar often populated with tipsy solo men and, on my night, a young gay trust funder and his smitten female BFF).
It was a shame to have to seek a martini elsewhere when I was staying in something that purportedly was constructed to be a full-service entertainment citadel, but right now, L.A. Live is designed to feed guaranteed crowds, but not draw its own, and until that changes, it won’t truly establish itself on the landscape.
That may not be much of a loss, since downtown Los Angeles is one of the most underrated and history-rich central business districts that middle-class Americans have ever ignored. For me, being near downtown L.A. is a one of the most important reasons to choose to stay at L.A. Live.
But if I were a local, I’d never risk heading to L.A. Live unless I had an event ticket in hand, even if it meant battling the influx. The development will never be integral to the Los Angeles nightlife until it jumps the hurdle between serving only guaranteed audiences and offering something distinctive that can be accessed anytime. That’s quite a leap to make if you’re a cynical developer who aligns his goals by his predicted market share and not by a distinctive vision.