Friendly Neighborhood Koreatown?

The craigslist ad for my apartment said it was in the Westlake district, so I started doing all my research on that area of Los Angeles and telling all my friends about it and blogging about it, and getting it into my head that I’m moving from quasi-suburbia (I can see through you now, Los Feliz) to a real urban neighborhood.

Well, that’s exactly what I did, but not quite in the way I expected.

I live in an old building on a short block just within walking distance of the Vermont/Wilshire Metro Station. One thing I noticed on the night I moved in is that there’s always people on the street. In the street. Hanging out and loitering all hours in big gangs and small ones. One afternoon I saw a Hispanic family set up a folding table on the sidewalk in front of a vacant lot and have a picnic lunch. Just yesterday a couple of teenage girls played a game of tetherball using the small tree in front of their building instead of a pole. Produce and vehicle repairs are peddled out the backs of trucks. I watch as rows of cars double park with their hazards on up and down the block. People gather around them, talking, shooting craps, drinking, laughing, whatever. All of these things are taking place within about a hundred yards of each other.

What’s interesting about my new neighborhood, and what’s drastically different from my old one, is that I want to meet these people. Not because they’re “colorful” or “interesting” per se (they very well could be), but more because I know they’re there. In Los Feliz and Silverlake, people generally don’t hang out on the sidewalks or in front of their buildings. Usually, you can catch all the hipsters you want walking their dogs or down at Fred 62, but never just hanging out. No one seems very accessible. Before I moved, I’d been living in the same place for two years, and I rarely if ever spoke to the people in the apartment next to mine. Maybe we’d nod as we passed on the driveway, but other than that, everyone just kept to themselves.

Right now I’m just another aloof hipster in a very open, very un-hipster neighborhood. I’m looking forward to feeling right at home some day.

19 thoughts on “Friendly Neighborhood Koreatown?”

  1. Calling yourself a hipster is like calling yourself classy, if you need to point it out to someone, it means you’re not.

  2. That sounds really cool. Being a still-fairly-recent arrival to LA, I wasn’t sure that actual communities like this existed out here.

  3. Based on my observations living in a semi-urban neighborhood, One reason for this “phenomena” of people hanging out on the street as you describe, is that many of them probably live in high density environments, tenement style, apartment bldgs, etc. They’re often working class types who don’t always enjoy things like air conditioning, spacious living quarters, playgrounds, common areas, recreation or green space in or around their bldngs. Often they live numerous people to a tiny apt. When there’s 3 beds in your living room, it doesn’t make one’s place great for entertaining. I can clearly see why they’d want to get out of their cells a much as possible to get some fresh air or just to stretch out in some free open space once in a while (that is, when their streets are not especially toxic and dangerous) . I hope this sheds some light on the subject. The rest of us can go on living in our nice, roomy dwellings, comfortably bored, taking all our conveniences for granted.

  4. my new apt. is in the same area. i keep getting mixed opinions from people. some tell me that area isn’t all that great and the i should move as soon as i can and others tell me i will have a great experience. curious to see how things go in the next year.

  5. I’m kind of interested in this thread, more so in the opinions read into the situation. I think you will get out of the neighborhood what you are willing to put in. Make it adventure and take it for what it is and it will work.

  6. Calling yourself a hipster is like calling yourself classy, if you need to point it out to someone, it means you’re not.

    Really? Thank God. I’m getting a little tired of being labeled.

    Are you aloof because you don’t speak Spanish?

    Nah, I just never got out much as a kid.

  7. I lived in that area for two years. I really liked my building and the convenience of being close to many good things (most especially the HMS Bounty). But the neighborhood itself kind of sucked– parking was unbelievably bad, it was very noisy (lots of late night helicopter action), there was always tons of trash on the sidewalks/streets, and I was often hesitant to walk around too late at night (several of my neighbors were mugged, and my girlfriend was once followed for blocks by a creepy guy from the very Metro station you speak of). That said, it’s definitely a good bang for your buck in terms of rent if you compare it to other neighborhoods. And it’s convenient. And of course, it’s just a short stumble home from the Bounty.

  8. Oh yeah, and in my experience the cool street gatherings that you describe are not too warm or welcoming towards the hipsters moving into the neighborhood. But maybe that’s changed, or maybe it was just me.

  9. In any new situation, it’s good to recognize what’s going on around you, to observe and research. When and if you do socialize with your new neighbors, the most important thing is not to be patronizing.
    In neighborhoods like yours, I’m sure your perspective is welcomed over just moving in and proclaiming the neighborhood sketchy and the people “noisy.” Some folks can’t see beyond their middle class values and realize along with the sketchiness and the grit, there’s some really interesting things going on. In any case, I appreciate the honesty of your post, keep us updated.

  10. Some advice on interacting with my fellow paisanos:
    If you are nice and cool you will be treated the same way, if you are nice and they act stupid they are probably not worth socializing with to begin with. A lot of people have chips on their shoulder, especially brown folks, avoid these chipped shoulder folks at all costs.

    Even the most idiotic thugged out street folks respond well to a joint of some nice herbage, if that’s your forte. If they get suspicious or a bit aggressive, keep on moving and stay polite. If you happen to be treated disrespectfully, leave immediately and politely, and realize an absent or abusive Dadhad a hand in creating that mess and how sad it must be to gather joy from being mean to others. If you have nice stuff in your place don’t let any cholos in untilyou know them quite well and trust them, even then I would avoid actual gangster folks (not brown kids with shaved heads, but guys with “18” on their neck).

    Get a Mexican friend, preferably a cool cholo-ish one who is down with the local paisanos and gang. You may still be the huero they tease, but you are part of their “in group” which matters a lot, plus brown folks like to tease each other and the verbal abuse you are soaking in is a overly self conscious way of saying “you’re one of us”.

    Smell the mayonesa on the elote (corn) once you purchase it (and if it’s bad let your dollar go, refunds are rare).

    Altough the area is changing , you are still in a hood/community where most of the folks with $$ left a long time ago, and it is concentrated with low income people who are usually from poorer areas of Mexico and El Salvador. SO there will be some dysfunction going on, but these people are a poor representation of the ethnicity as a whole. If you focus on the positive and learn to leave your body/become apathetic with the negative the experience will be amazing. I grew up poor but have also been around a lot of rich folks, poor hoods have so much more character and beauty on an organic folksy level.

    Avoid drunks and harassing bald heads

  11. BTW, thank you for reintroducing caucasians to the area (I know you arent the first, but the more the merrier in the barrio) and personally investing in LA’s inner city. This is a genuine thanks from a barrio resident and organizer from East LA who works a lot with the community, it’s people like us who make this city better.

    And note that even if it feels one way (like you learning spanish), you are participating in cross cultural exchange. You’re very existence in that neighborhood as well as willigness to engage in your Latino neighbors changes peoples perceptions of a lot of things, again thanks from someone who cares very deeply about expanding the horizons of iner city paisanos.

  12. Just to clarify, it was the helicopters that circled and hovered for hours at 2am + the car horns held down for 3minutes at a time at all hours that were “noisy”. Not so much the neighbors.

  13. i hate you. i hope someone serves your ass to you “reginald denny”-style. you are not hip. you embody everything currently wrong with this city.

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