trucks along Spring and 2nd street line the parking
lot there on Jan. 8, 2015 during ArtWalk January
9th, 2014. Over the past few years, the rise of
social media coinciding with the revitalization of
downtown L.A. led to the creation of acronym "DTLA."
ANGELES — Alan Valentin slips off his bulky headphones.
He’s checking out a new art gallery/fashion
boutique/event venue — a cavernous space where
bass-heavy music reverberates off pristine white walls —
that recently opened on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles.
as it’s known by the folks here, DTLA.
Valentin, who wears a nose ring and long hair, use the
abbreviation in everyday conversation?
course, he replies.
then, as if to check that it feels natural, he says "DTLA"
and pauses. "Definitely."
for "downtown Los Angeles," DTLA has crept into
the Angeleno lexicon over the last several years, a
hashtag-friendly name that gained traction online and then
bled into real life.
initialism captures the ethos of the emerging downtown,
with its trendy lofts and burgeoning nightlife and arts
scene — what the 23-year-old Valentin calls its
he moved to the neighborhood two years ago, "it was
just ‘downtown.’ " Now, for Valentin, who lives
with his girlfriend — they met at Burning Man — it’s
it’s not just a thing with newcomers. The name has also
become an essential piece of the rebranding of once-drab,
now-hip downtown L.A.
of businesses have tacked DTLA onto either end of their
names. Tourists can pick up souvenir "I (heart) DTLA"
on just about every piece of downtown-related advertising,
DTLA is stamped on some corner.
often adopt new names when they gentrify, such as SoHo in
New York City and SoMa in San Francisco, says Elizabeth
Currid-Halkett, a professor of urban planning at the
University of Southern California who studies neighborhood
economic development. Like DTLA, the shorthand becomes
synonymous with the area’s revitalization.
are kind of in lockstep with each other," says
Currid-Halkett. "As we see a neighborhood change, we
see the need to change what we call it."
fairly obvious abbreviation, DTLA had been tucked away in
the L.A. vernacular for years.
1984, a modest tea shop in Little Tokyo reportedly served
an excellent croque-monsieur. That restaurant — deemed
"a kind of tearoom for the ‘80s" in a Los
Angeles Times review — was called DTLA.
Times article parenthetically explained what DTLA stood
for, but not why the owners chose that name.
18 years. Singer-songwriter Gary Jules releases a track
your money in the other hand
of a regular
floating on a sea of ghosts
always the same, I told you
... downtown Los Angeles."
2002 song, which describes the barren streetscape and drug
culture of downtown, doesn’t include the abbreviation
anywhere in the lyrics.
says the story behind the title goes like this: When
recording, he had to scribble the track name on a piece of
masking tape that was too small to fit "downtown Los
I wrote ‘Dtla,’ and that was it," says Jules, who
lived in L.A. at the time. He’d never heard anyone use
it, but he thought it sounded cool.
the name didn’t have much staying power until the rise
of social media.
Twitter’s character limit placed a new value on
pithiness, DTLA stood out as the shortest way to refer to
downtown. And when Instagram created a global audience for
photos of cocktails and beet salads, DTLA became a way to
specify in which city’s downtown the pictures were
Fields has the distinction of being the first person to
just sort of happened," Fields says of his 2007 tweet
of a quintessential L.A. scene: "Sitting on the roof
@ The Standard in DTLA listening to LCD soundsystem &
a designer who lived in the Highland Park neighborhood
back then, says that L.A.’s artist community had already
been using the acronym at that time, and it ended up
translating well to social media.
few years later, the Downtown Center Business Improvement
District heavily pushed the use of the hashtag "#dtla"
on Twitter when the social networking site formally
the Internet teems with the initialism; more than 500
tweets included "#dtla" on the first day of 2015
District President Carol Schatz called the online reach of
DTLA gratifying but remembers more fondly seeing "I
(heart) DTLA" T-shirts for sale for the first time.
It was a couple of years ago, and she viewed it as a
telling moment for the future of DTLA.
has developed a life of its own," she says. (Of the
T-shirt, she jokes: "I’m kind of mad at myself for
not buying one," adding that she plans to the next
time she sees one in a store window.)
more than 30 businesses in Los Angeles feature DTLA
somewhere in their names. DTLA Bikes, KTCHN DTLA, DTLA
Fine Jewelry, Gather DTLA, Industry DTLA, DTLAVets.
25 of those were registered in the last two years.
Cayce opened her practice, DTLA Derm, in October. The
dermatologist, who recently moved to Los Angeles from
Dallas, says she didn’t feel "downtown L.A."
connoted all the changes she’d heard about in the
when I hear people talk about DTLA, it’s almost like
there’s an energy," she says.
years ago, artist Robert Vargas decided to paint a mural
to capture that spirit.
lived in downtown for a decade and watched a residential
population mushroom alongside an explosion of new bars and
restaurants. He’s seen Angelenos’ reaction shift from
shock to nonchalance when he tells them he lives downtown.
four-story painting of a young woman with billowing black
hair, at the intersection of 6th and Spring streets, is
titled "Our Lady of DTLA."
Clarke opened DTLA Cheese in Grand Central Market a little
more than a year ago. At times, her store’s name has
caused confusion among customers.
says she thinks the uninitiated are mostly tourists; if
you spend time in downtown, "it’s an automatic to
know DTLA," she says.
10 yards away, Rocio Linan works the counter at Jones
Grain Mill. The old apothecary occupies a corner of the
transforming market, a produce bazaar that recently gave
way to businesses offering wood-fired pizzas, oysters and
wine, and locally made kombucha.
eight years, Linan, 28, has spent her days among the
wooden shelves crammed with pill bottles and jumbo
containers of exotic leaves and spices. Two months ago,
she finally figured out what DTLA meant.
is this?" she remembers thinking when she first saw
it on Instagram.
a while, she thought it was perhaps related to the shop’s
neighbor, DTLA Cheese, as if DTLA were some enigmatic
brand fueling Internet chatter.
that she’s familiar with it, Linan occasionally uses
DTLA herself in texts or on social media, she says.
"It’s much faster and shorter."
the USC professor, says DTLA will continue to spread as
downtown’s new identity is fortified.
with other neighborhood rebrandings, she says, there are
early adopters. And then there are the late ones.
you’re part of the old guard, it’s still just ‘downtown,’
" she says.
STORY CAN END HERE)
grew up near downtown and has lived in Little Tokyo for
the last five years. He knows DTLA — he’s seen the
shirts — but thinks the old name is easier.
not that he loves what downtown was before, a place where
most people went only for work or jury duty.
wants a city full of nothing?" Rodriguez, 26, asks
rhetorically. But he’s also worried, he says, that
downtown could lose its soul with all the new development.
he ponders this, Rodriguez passes through the intersection
of First Street and Central Avenue — the corner where
the DTLA tearoom operated more than 30 years ago.
it’s a dirt lot, full of construction cranes and wooden
pallets stacked high above the chain-link fence that
light-rail line is being built to connect pockets of
downtown, and this site will soon become the home of a