Seeking Hip, Edgy Lofters

In the ongoing Quest for a Compromise Location Apartment, the boyfriend and I looked at more places today. There was a two-bedroom on Hoover at Third (is that Rampart at K-Town?). There was the duplex in Echo Park with enough steps to prompt base camp jokes. There was the house in Los Feliz that we were told we could view – but it turned out that meant “through the windows, because the people moving out aren’t home.” And then there was the loft downtown.
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We looked at the Reserve Building Loft. This is what used to be the Federal Reserve Bank building downtown, built by Parkison and Parkison, who also built City Hall. The agent began by showing us the space on the ground floor destined for a new restaurant space, and it was beautiful – a massive, marble-floored room with hand-crafted mosaic roof that reminded me of Union Station. The lobby of the office had the original 1927 hardwood floors, hidden under carpet for seventy-five years until rediscovery in 2005. And the lofts were exactly what a loft should be – seventeen foot ceilings, with a partial “attic” area for extra space, giant windows, and cement floors. Unfortunately, looking at them, I realized – I just don’t think I could adjust to living in what is really one big room. Especially a $2300 a month big room, although, we were told, “I could get it down to $2200 for you if you lease this week.”

When we got home, I did a little checking up on Curbed LA. It seems that the loft market is getting a bit depressed. It is no longer reasonable to expect people to pay $600K for a thousand square foot loft. Instead, the lofts are becoming lease properties. And even then, they’re having to run specials and post them on Craigslist to move the rentals. The Packard Lofts are offering free month with a year lease, and the Reserve was offering discounts on all their apartments. It reminded me more ofrenting in Dallas seven years ago, when there was a 10% vacancy rate in the city, rather than the cutthroat market that is Los Angeles. But Curbed’s archives seem to tell the story – loft projects are slowing down, and the theory is that those currently being built are being rented, not sold, until the glut and depression passes. I know more than a few of you reading this live downtown – what are your thoughts on the loft phenomenon? Is it slowing or just not growing fast enough, or just not a good idea to start with?

I admit, there’s some appeal to living in a downtown L.A. loft. I like downtown, a lot – the new bars cropping up, the Central Library, the Fashion District. I loved Charles Phoenix’ Disneyland Tour of Downtown Los Angeles. And there’s something about living in a shiny, edgy, artsy loft that makes me feel extra-urban, much the same way I did when, my first year here, I went to the Standard Downtown a couple times and sipped my $12 martini while looking out at the skyscrapers around the building.

Still, the novelty of the martinis on the hotel roof wore off after a while, and I’m afraid a downtown loft would, too. Downtown is becoming much more vibrant, every day, but it still isn’t exactly Sunset Junction. And I’d be afraid that those four walls would start to close in a bit on rainy winter nights, when it was too wet and cold to go out on the garden roof, and not safe to go for a walk outside, and I couldn’t get away from the sound of my boyfriend watching some stupid B movie.

So we applied, instead, for the two-bedroom (bedroom and home office) at Hoover and Third, and, provided that the neighborhood isn’t too sketch at night, and our applications go through, will be living in a different 1920s building – one with hardwood floors that I plan to clean with a a remote controlled Swiffer.

19 Replies to “Seeking Hip, Edgy Lofters”

  1. When I first moved to LA I looked at sharing an entire warehouse flat with two other artists. My room was huge, although I’d have had to put up my own dry wall. I’d also have had an entire industrial use bathroom – with a wall of urinals, a bank of sinks, and a line of showers, all to myself. And there was also immense space that could be shared to work on art, use as a soundstage, or party. And all at $400 a month. I’d jumo at it today. The only drawback then, really, was it was in the City of Industry.

  2. Hi Jillian…

    Great post and very interesting points. I live in Santee Village (actually it’s Santee Court, the “village” is the for sale lofts in the next few buildings over which I’ll take a serious look at next year – and I lease a loft there for a little over 1600 per, and it isn’t “one big room”…) – a few comments in response…

    Yes, I do think the downtown loft market is slowing down, as is real estate in general (but 25% annual increases are atypical and soon injurious to those of us not in ownership positions). I also happen to believe this slowdown is a good thing, because a lot of people in the lofts stretch as it is to make the rent, and a superheated rental market usually means huge rent increases every year. Also, the hot sales market brought in a ton of speculators – people who would buy several (or more) to rent out and hope to capitalize on the expected equity run-up. That sort of thing can cause trouble because the rental management is often abysmal, leading to transitory renters, which generally erodes a community over time. Downtown has been eroded enough – actually it has been pretty much stripped down to the bones (which is one of the big reasons why it is so interesting to me).

    Downtown seems to appeal to a wide variety of residents, and the diversity here is an equally big reason I live here. Sharing a loft with your partner could get real claustrophobic if the space is too small or not set up so you each have a little “me space” – so the one big room thing might not be a good idea. I have a nice front room with kitchen, and the bedroom is tucked behind the kitchen. At Santee I also have absolutely incredible huge windows, and while some look directly at a tall building that will have people living in it in a year or so, the others look across a parking lot and out to the eastside. Santa Fe Lofts also have wonderful plans like this, as do some others. I was real impressed with Metro 417 – which are really apartments, but “loft-like” and right at 4th and Hill (walk to Pete’s – yaaaay). They have nice units under 2 grand. Reserve is beautiful, but it is pricy.

    There are others – and if you do like the downtown “vibe”, I’d encourage you to take another look. Sure, downtown can be scary or ugly or stinky or even a little depressing, but – it is NOT the suburban wastelands I escaped from. All that said, you and I may have very different ideas about what works for us – I am an architect with projects all over the southwest and Latin America so I travel a lot, I own a house in the mountains where I go every other weekend, and I do not currently have a g/f… well, all I can say is that my experience is such that your comments about walls closing in and rainy nights bringing on something I’ll call “loft fever” make a lot of sense. I chose Santee precisely because those huge walls of glass open me up to the world and keep me from isolating myself… not that an outgoing, gregarious man like me would isolate anyway.

    I really like downtown. I like the edgy energy and the urban pioneer feel. Maybe having the mountain house, with all the trees, etc balances it, but if I had to choose I think I’d be downtown. I get an endless kick out of all the people we have here in the Fashion District – which, by the way, seems a lot more human and accessible to me than some of the more “vertical” areas of downtown.

    Best of luck, and if you do live in or near K-town, it will probably be great. Besides, you won’t be far from downtown. Get your boyfriend a real nice set of top quality headphones so you can read in peace…

  3. Call me crazy, but I remember when actual artists lived downtown, and they happened to live in single, large rooms ‘cuz that’s what was available & cheap. The spaces became considered “artist’s lofts” because artists were effing living in them.

    Now the developers have priced out all the artists and are selling these revamped loft spaces to bankers from the Pacific Exchange and calling them “artist’s lofts”. I know, I know–Downtown is much more livable & safer now. Still, I miss the days when average folks could afford to live there.

  4. and not safe to go for a walk outside

    Unfortunately, if you find downtown an unsavory place to take a a walk at night I don’t think you’re going to find 3rd and Hoover to be much more comfortable.

    Technically, I think you’re in Hi-Fi. I think the southern border is 3rd and the western border is Hoover. Depending on what direction you are we might be community-mates!

    As for downtown, I think you may have missed an opportunity. Some of the neighborhoods are still sketchtastic (um, hello Little Tokyo Lofts), but The Reserve is in South Park, which is one of the blowing-upingest areas of downtown thanks to the Staples Center and it’s surroundind development. In a year you won’t even recognize it. Hell, I don’t even recognize it from a year past.

    And I don’t know if it was ever reasonable to expect $600 a sq. foot for Concerto. The downtwon market hadn’t hit that point yet (except for some of the studios at The Savoy which is kind of an exception). $500-$550 is much more like it. But that doesn’t mean it won’t get there. Downtown is on track to start competing with the west side and if you think $600/sq. ft. for a lux condo is a lot, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

  5. Yes, the Brewery arts complex still holds its spaces for artists. But their waiting list is insanely long, and the prices on most of their spaces are prohibitive. Also I’ve heard quite a bit of grousing re. their management: fire risks, repairs left undone, etc.

    I remember when my boyfriend-at-the-time had a thousand-square-foot space on Spring by 9th for $600…

    That’s six hundred dollars a month. Gah.

  6. That would have been $600 a month for unimproved space with a toilet to share with neighbors and no shower or bath.

    There are still a lot of artists living in downtown and the arts district (east of Alameda) It is not what it was in the 80’s but it is still going on. Most of the partiers have been priced out. What is left are the working artists and those who saw far enough ahead to invest when prices were reasonable.

    If you want a real artist’s building try the Citizen’s Warehouse near Santa Fe and First Street. Huge spaces, though not cheap (owned by KOR), but big enough to share. Wild parties most nights and lots of strange looking people hanging around. It is hard to tell who is living inside and who is living outside at times. There is a very communal atmosphere and a whole lot of nothing happening all the time.

    Down here you hear the stories about 10 cents a square foot rents “back in the day.” But downtown was dead and desperate then. You would not have been comfortable living there.

  7. We’ll be in your vicinity, at least, 5000! – this is right on Hoover at 3rd. I think you’re right about Hoover being the border, too, because I saw a “Wilshire Center” neighborhood sign on Beverly at Hoover. We did actually consider it as being one of the less desirable neighborhoods – especially with MacArthur Park and Rampart so close by. But we went down there last night and walked around Hoover & Vendome between Beverly & 3rd, and saw no cause for alarm. Those blocks are all Craftsman bungalows and with a few 1920s apartment buildings on 3rd, and it struck me as having some slow gentrication trends. We hypothesized that that the area is starting to get more higher-income tenants and owners, because we saw a mix of older and newer cars all over the price map, and one of the added bonuses for us in particular was the proximity to Silverlake or Hollywood, which probably draws other people in our demo.

    I agree that we probably did miss an opportunity with South Park. I do recognize that $2200 a month is a good deal for what it was, and where it was, and that there are many, many changes taking place which will result in higher rent a year from now for the same places. But opportunity or not, I don’t know if I would be as happy as a loft person as I am being an apartment with rooms person. I don’t want to risk putting any additional stress on living with the boyfriend for the first timem and it will be an adjustment to co-habitate, much less co-habitate without walls. I probably won’t need to go outside as much for a walk if I have another room to go into when I need space.

  8. Yes, the Brewery arts complex still holds its spaces for artists. But their waiting list is insanely long, and the prices on most of their spaces are prohibitive. Also I’ve heard quite a bit of grousing re. their management: fire risks, repairs left undone, etc.

    Katheleen or maybe Ruth can probably provide better insight on this, but from what I understand The Brewery isn’t nearly as hard to get into as it used to be. But I’ve definitely heard the same thing about shoddy management.

    We did actually consider it as being one of the less desirable neighborhoods – especially with MacArthur Park and Rampart so close by. But we went down there last night and walked around Hoover & Vendome between Beverly & 3rd, and saw no cause for alarm.

    Yeah, this whole area is actually much more quiet than people realize. Everybody’s afraid of MacArthur Park, but what nobody realizes is that the cops have done so much work to clean up MacArthur Park that it’s driven the drug dealing and crime up into Silver Lake (see mulitple posts from last year about gunfire on Sunset for discussion about that). This area is super mellow now. And you’re right about the gentrification. Everything around downtown is definitely on it’s way up, which is why we ended up here instead of Eagle Rock. Now that nobody can afford Silver Lake or Echo Park, they’re all moving this way. Also, a lot of the school construction that was going on is almost done as well, which makes the whole neighborhood seem a lot nicer.

    On another note, we’ve been planning on moving into downtown for awhile, and I’ve been worrying about the same issue with having less walls. Our house isn’t actually that big (in fact, most of the lofts we’ve looked at are bigger), but having walls and doors to close makes a big difference. And I work from home so the idea of not being able to close the door to my office at the end of the day is kind of a bummer.

  9. Eagle Rock and Glendale were too far from my office, or we would have considered those areas, too – looking in Silverlake a couple weeks ago was just depressing, and I’m shocked how quickly Echo Park’s gone up. Isn’t Eagle Rock the new Echo Park?

    I noticed that the bars on the windows were all older in the 3rd/Hoover area too – guess the LAPD work is paying off, because no one seems to have installed new bars in years, and many windows didn’t even have them. We’re hoping that by signing a lease there now, we may also be jumping demand in a Silverlake-adjacent area. It was still way, way less shady than some parts of Venice, by far – it’s still scary in Dogtown, and I didn’t get any of those vibes at all last night.

  10. lincoln heights is becomming more and more appealing. about a mile and half from downtown and it has the echo park feel of five years ago. my friend has been living off of brodaway near the high school and he loves it. i just staretd looking around there as the house i’m renting now is up for sale so it’s time for me to look elswhere.

  11. Where are all the displaced people moving? Just curious.

    Do you mean the people that were living in the residence hotels downtown that are being converted to loft spaces? I’m not sure about that. Didn’t the city pass some kind of moratorium on conversions because of that?

    If you’re talking about people moving out of Lincoln Heights, Rampart or Silver Lake, here’s an interesting thing I wrote about in another comment thread:

    According to studies done by both Columbia and Duke University, low-income residents in gentrifiying neighborhoods are barely more likely to move than those in non-gentrifying neighborhoods. In fact, one of the studies showed it actually made it LESS likely for a resident to move. Here’s a USA Today article about it:

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2005-04-19-gentrification_x.htm

  12. I’m sure those stats are true. I don’t buy their interpretation, though, because it was just a USA Today feelgood article.

    If rents rise, people will stay put, because they can’t easily move elsewhere. They stay because the rent increase won’t be as large as the rate of increase in the market’s rents. They just figure out ways to save or make money.

    However, in a “non-gentrifying” area, the dynamic is different. In a neighborhood with a lot of substandard units, people will tend to move a lot because the unit’s neglected, and a nicer one becomes available. Some people also have less stable lives, and some lose jobs, become impoverished, and have to move. Or, conversely, they get a good job and move out to a less crowded situation, but in the same area.

    The statistics aren’t really comparable, because the contexts are different.

    I’m really wondering what happens when someone moves, and move *out*. How far are they going?

    I’m assuming they’re going to the suburbs, because that’s where I see the rents are pretty low, compared to LA.

    I’m also wondering, if this is happening, what the suburban cities are doing in reaction.

  13. I wish people wouldn’t use the term “gentrification” as a way to describe a neighborhood on it’s “way up.” Gentrification is a term with negative connotations to describe the displacement of low income people. I don’t know about you, but I’m one of those low income people and I don’t want to get pushed out of my neighborhood by upper middle class people who want to feel cool and urban.
    Most of the folks I know who have been displaced are moving to the desert. To call them the suburbs sounds wrongly idyllic.
    My family has lived in Echo Park for 3 generations, many family friends and neighbors who weren’t lucky enough to own their homes have been flung as far as 29 Palms, Arizona and beyond.
    Hey Al, I live in Lincoln Heights and the gang wars are starting up again. I don’t think you want to live here.

  14. JK wrote:

    [i]Where are all the displaced people moving? Just curious.[/i]

    I dunno. Under some rug somewhere. Didn’t they pass, like, some law or something? Ooh, look, gelato!

    I’ve seen a few of those pollyanna-ish articles like the one in USA today. They always neglect to mention, or only mention deep within the article, that one of the things lower-income people are forced to do instead of moving out of the area is double up (more people in the same space) or trade down (new, smaller apartment for approximately the same rent).

  15. JK wrote:

    Where are all the displaced people moving? Just curious.

    I dunno. Under some rug somewhere. Didn’t they pass, like, some law or something? Ooh, look, gelato!

    I’ve seen a few of those pollyanna-ish articles like the one in USA today. They always neglect to mention, or only mention deep within the article, that one of the things lower-income people are forced to do instead of moving out of the area is double up (more people in the same space) or trade down (new, smaller apartment for approximately the same rent).

  16. I don’t buy their interpretation, though, because it was just a USA Today feelgood article.

    Are you joking? You’re going to blithely ignore two very legitimate studies done by two well-resptected academic bodies just because USA Today wrote an article about them? And, in their place, we’re supposed to accept you personal interpretation of how things work as more legitimate? That’s silly, to put it mildly. There are several counter-opinions cited in that article and the fact that it’s about a study with findings that differs from the general consensus doesn’t make it “feel good” or “pollyanna-ish.” Nor does it make your arm-chair urban planning more authoritative.

    I’m really wondering what happens when someone moves, and move *out*. How far are they going?
    I’m assuming they’re going to the suburbs, because that’s where I see the rents are pretty low, compared to LA.

    This is only anecdotal, but according to people at LAUSD the few local real estate people that I know they’re moving to the very fringes of the city and outlying communities. Basically, like Lucy said, the desert.

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