A guide to Downtown LA’s Gentrification

I’ve lived here my whole life (with little breaks for a few months at a time while working on location) and it’s always weirded me out more than a little bit that Downtown has — until recently — kicked everyone out at 6pm and tossed them onto the 110, so the whole place can turn into something resembling Bartertown when the sun goes down.

At Gridskipper, Omri Ceren has written an informative, interesting, and amusingly-titled guide to the ongoing efforts to redevelop Downtown to so people will live and play there long after Thunderdome’s been closed down.

Downtown LA For Residents, Tourists, and People Who Sometimes Require Hookers And Blow breaks Downtown into different neighborhoods, attempts to let us know what makes each one a precious little snowflake, and how developers plan to melt those snowflakes into a slushy mass of crap.

Examples on the other side of what the damn kids today call “the jump.”

There’s The Fashion District:

This is ninety blocks of warehouses, depots, and sweat shops. Wiki says that it’s the “hub of the apparel industry on the West Coast,” a description that is technically true but undersells the also relevant “scary shithole” ethos of the subdistrict.

And there’s The Historic Core:

Among other city landmarks, it has Pershing Square, downtown’s smaller version of Central Park that’s not really anything like Central Park. It also has the Old Bank District – ground zero for downtown gentrification. Where old commercial buildings used to sit, new lofts, each with their own dual-use-approved Qdoba or Chipotle, are growing like weeds.

Yeah, because nothing screams history like a Chipotle!

But I especially enjoyed Omri’s take on The Warehouse Disctict:

It’s so named because it’s filled with empty, decaying warehouses. It’s also filled with empty, decaying railroad stops and empty, decaying industrial buildings. For years starving artists have been illegally occupying the abandoned buildings and using them as lofts, eventually making the area into a kind of bohemian cauldron. Then about 25 years ago the city decided to formally recognize their influence and officially redubbed the area an “Arts District.” They rezoned everything, and now shiny residential buildings are springing up. So in 10 years the empty, decaying warehouses will have been totally replaced by glittering lofts – the result being that no artists will have the money to live in the Arts District. The whole plan has a kind of unblinking, ironic stupidity that I can’t help but admire.

It’s positively unpossible for this plan to fail: take everything that makes various Downtown neighborhoods unique and historically important, then tear that down to build more cookie-cutter Jamba Juices and Pottery Barn? What could possibly go wrong?

You know, the more I look at Los Angeles and her “leaders”, Omri, the more I can’t deny that this whole goddamn city has a kind of unblinking, ironic stupidity that I can’t help but admire myself.

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12 Replies to “A guide to Downtown LA’s Gentrification”

  1. Great Post Will. I agree “slushy mass of crap” is the direction too much of this is going. It isn’t so much about character, building character but slamming in a high tax revenue corporate face to minimize risk. Gads…its all over.

  2. it would be even funnier if there actually was a single qdoba or chipotle in historic downtown, or the old bank district. there is a qdoba in the financial district, but the closest chipotle is by usc.

    most of the chains moving into the area seem to tend towards the very small chains (pitfire pizza), or upstarts (pastagina). and there is lots of unique restaurants and retail moving in, of course.

    that said, the guide isn’t terrible. but it doesn’t hold a candle to the sort of coverage at angelenic, of course.

  3. “It’s positively unpossible for this plan to fail: take everything that makes various Downtown neighborhoods unique and historically important, then tear that down to build more cookie-cutter Jamba Juices and Pottery Barn?”

    There’s been very little “tearing down” of anything in this Downtown gentrification. Adaptive reuse actually makes use of historical buildings that would otherwise likely be torn down for a parking lot. Pottery Barn or Parking Lot… I’ll take the latter.

  4. Fred: They left the historical facades up in Old Town Pasadena when they gentrified it back in the early 90s, and though it looks unspoiled in some areas, the entire soul of the area has fundamentally changed from what it was when I was in high school in the 80s. What was once a cultural area with lots of galleries and locally-owned businesses has become indistinguishable from The Grove, or any other soulless shopping center.

    So based on my personal experiences, I find the whole thing pretty gross.

  5. Fred I understand and support recycling the buildings and keeping their facades while being put to new use. Europe does a wonderful job of that yet they keep their character while doing it.

    I’m with Wil, my experience is that the character of the community changes to safe formula coporations that suck the soul out of a community with the current rounds of gentrification. It is nothing more than stepford communities where its all cookie cutter cloned.

  6. Too bad Omri is almost totally wrong about everything she says. “Shiny residential buildings are springing up” in the Arts District? Where? I think there might be ONE on the drawing boards, but nothing of the sort has been built.

    And the Historic Core? ” Where old commercial buildings used to sit, new lofts, each with their own dual-use-approved Qdoba or Chipotle, are growing like weeds.” Really? Does she even know that those old commercial buildings have been sitting empty for almost 30 years? And that there are NO chains in that neighborhood? And that the new residents have moved into formerly empty buildings, so there is in fact no “gentrification” at all?

    Yet another clueless, right winger parading as an insider. Resistance to change does not make someone cool. It makes them look stupid and provincial.

  7. Downtown Office Conversion to “Loft” Condos

    1 chain juice store
    1 Korean yogurt store
    1 chain coffee store
    1 salon
    1 bank or atm
    1 non-chain pizza store or sushi store nearby
    1 Ralph’s or Vons nearby

    Acquire building near sushi, or gourmet pizza and Ralphs. Install juice, yogurt, coffee, salon. Install bank if possible, but atm can be substituted. Remove offices and convert to high-ceiling condominiums.

  8. “Beat homeless with cops until soft. Remove homeless from area.”

    How dare we lose the beautiful and historic homeless culture that has given Downtown so much personality over the years!

    Now doubt get me wrong, I’m no fan of the Robek’s and the Kinko’s and all the other crap. But with that comes gems like Colori Kitchen, Wood Spoon, the many independent bars Downtown, among other things. The South Park Flea Market didn’t exist before the Ralphs. And even the franchise schlock is at the very least business.

    Re Pasadena: I’m sure the soul of Pasadena has changed many many times throughout its history. Nostalgia always makes the present look ugly. I believe the 80’s was the beginning of Old Town Pasadena’s gentrification, in the 70’s the whole area was about to meet the wrecking ball. Remember, it’s always the art galleries that come first. It’s always so weird how there’s an “acceptable” level of gentrification – “artists” and “bohemians” gentrifying a run down area (thereby changing its “soul”) but once the next wave comes in – “yuppies” and “families” gentrification becomes evil.

  9. I’d rather see the homeless get homes, than get harrassed so they move to other parts of the city and be homeless there. Because of gentrification, homelessness has increased, while the population downtown seems to be shrinking.

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