and chairs for dining along Broadway in front of the
Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles.
ANGELES — Not even noon, on a weekday no less, and the
line for entrance to The Broad is long and lemming-like.
It takes up a good two blocks, formidable city blocks, in
a town not known for pedestrian traffic. Black-clad,
whippet-thin museum workers try mightily to corral this
docile yet teeming mass of art-loving humanity, directing
the herd northward. It wraps around Grand Avenue, snakes
clear down Second Street, then doglegs left onto Hope
Street. Finally, mercifully, the queue peters out at the
last entrance to an underground parking garage.
time to gain admission? Two hours, maybe three. Who knows?
Broad is new and shiny, the latest jewel in downtown Los
Angeles’ undeniable revitalization, so people gladly
wait with an intensity once seen only in Depression bread
lines. Across Second, the sun glints off the metallic
wings of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, which looks as if
it might levitate and soar off, but few seem to notice.
Heads are lowered, not in supplication but at their
hand-held screens, a few retro outliers opting to read
from text imprinted on emulsified wood pulp. They have
brought provisions, too, bulgogi beef from a nearby Korean
food truck, boba tea from a joint on Hope, kosher hot dogs
sprouting sauerkraut from a street vendor whose jaunty
wool driver’s cap seems pilfered from studio wardrobe.
few minutes, incremental progress can be detected. The
line shuffles forward, sometimes gaining a giant leap of a
whole yard, prompting people to look up and, good Lord,
actually make eye contact with fellow would-be
knew it would be a long line," says Echo Yang, from
the Orange County ‘burb of Brea. "But not this big.
I’ve been planning this since September, since it
opened. They said there’s always a line."
line, by the way, at the Museum of Contemporary Art,
diagonally across Grand, where Warhol and Rothko,
Rauschenberg and Pollock await. But MOCA is old news, so
last century. Got to genuflect at the ever-changing altar
of the new, this latest gift (yes, free admission!) to the
city by Eli Broad, real estate developer and
philanthropist, that features Warhol and Koons,
Rauschenburg and Basquiat — essentially the same lineup
of modern-art icons as at MOCA. Got to literally rub
shoulders with The Broad’s perforated white carapace,
flippantly dubbed by architecture critics a "supersized
cheese grater" (London Guardian) and a
"distorted waffle" (London Independent) with the
"color and texture of gefilte fish" (New York
Times). Got to, you know, make the scene.
it is new and all," says Tiana Griego, a Hollywood
resident who, with devout patience, had gutted it out to
the upper third of the line with friend Jesus Soria.
"Everybody’s gonna check it out."
The Broad, which opened in late September, wouldn’t be
worth it, the sentiment runs, if you could just walk right
in. Where’s the exclusivity in that? Where’s the buzz,
the social cachet?
days, nothing bolsters a person’s trend-seeking,
social-influencing bona fides like hanging in downtown Los
Angeles. This would’ve been a ludicrous, not to mention
dangerous, proposition even into the early 2000s. But
downtown’s population has swelled from 26,000 in the
2000 census to 52,000 as of 2014. Civic boosters have
branded this example of urban renaissance DTLA, and its
ubiquitous acronym is attached to streetlight poles,
public transit stops and even spawned a mural of a
beatific woman, whose ethnicity seems purposely ambiguous,
looking down on the corner of Sixth and Spring, a nimbus
of golden light swirling over her raven locks adding
religious overtones. Its title: "Our Lady of DTLA,"
by native muralist Robert Vargas. Its purpose, according
to an artist statement on the website for the nonprofit
Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles: "She is a
celebration of life & love here in downtown poised to
host this new incarnation of DTLA into the future."
Old-timers might remember when that could well have stood
as an admonition to day-trippers or office-working
commuters as the sun sets: Don’t Tarry Long Angelenos.
though, Los Angeles boasts a burgeoning cultural hub
(Broad, Disney, MOCA) in its Bunker Hill neighborhood. It
offers expensive and exclusive bars and restaurants, some
of which occupy erstwhile bank vaults, power-company
offices and long-shuttered department stores that look
quasi-dilapidated yet somehow still regal in a Norma
Desmond way. Live-work lofts, whose ground floors are
leased to businesses such as designer pet boutiques and
hookah lounges, line once-bleak Spring Street. Charming
boutique hotels, such as the Ace, the Standard and the
Figueroa, have made strides in attempting to blot out
blight, as has the massive Staples Center sports and
entertainment complex that anchors DTLA’s far-western
Row endures, of course, its sidewalk encampments and
high-profile poverty serving as a stark juxtaposition to
all the sidewalk seating at bistros mere blocks away.
Pershing Square retains its sketchy reputation. Crime has
hardly been rinsed clean, like so many coupe glasses at
clubs with red-velvet ropes. In September, the Los Angeles
Times reported that violent crime in the downtown corridor
increased 57 percent, and property offenses almost 25
percent, over the same period the previous year. A new
type of crime has blossomed, the paper reported:
"Creeper" burglaries, in which thieves will
snatch smartphones and purses from tables while heads are
turned. Mayor Eric Garcetti has called the rising homeless
population a public emergency and taken steps to find
shelter for the growing numbers.
incidents perhaps are inevitable, given the tension of
downtown’s rapid transformation, gentrification being
both a boon and a burden.
boon is obvious: more money pumped into the civic
bloodstream, resuscitating its municipal heart. No longer
can critics (especially those haughty New Yorkers) whine
that Los Angeles has no center. Garcetti, speaking at The
Broad opening, called the museum the "crown atop
downtown," his implication being that DTLA now has
ascended to a kingdom worthy of such laurels.
burden may be less obvious to visitors: the economic
migration of longtime residents, many Latino, from
downtown, priced out of their neighborhood. South
Broadway, the bustling retail boulevard once dominated by
Latino businesses, eateries, jewelry stores and bodegas,
is in mid-transition. Family-run taquerias try to stay
open amid the proliferation of trendy bistros, whose
wafting aroma of kale and coconut stir fry compete with
that of deep-fried chicharrones. Mom-and-pop businesses
are pushed out by chains, as the likes of Walgreens are
forcing businesses such as Farmacia y Botanica Million
Dollar to find other digs. The clatter of construction
cranes, razing and rebuilding the western half of Main
Street, is the sound of success to civic boosters, but a
symphony of sorrow to those bent on maintaining history.
me ask you this: What’s the majority (ethnicity) in
California? Hispanics," said Richard Blitz, owner of
Farmacia y Botanica, which will lose its lease at the end
of January. "When you gentrify you’re displacing
the majority of your population. They make it too …
expensive for people. The developers come in and build.
They started in Silver Lake then Echo Park (both
neighborhoods north of downtown), moving east. Boyle
Heights is next. And, of course, here in downtown. There’s
no place for (longtime residents) to go."
Village, north of Silver Lake and southeast of Griffith
Park, is another nearby neighborhood experiencing
gentrification, said resident Monica Chavez. She lingers
with her children and friends at the new
24,000-square-foot plaza outside The Broad, shaded by
century-old Barouni olive trees replanted by the same
landscape architect who designed New York’s High Line
public park. She sits on the re-purposed tree-trunk
benches, ringed by dymondia, and said she harbors mixed
feelings towards DTLA (she didn’t use the acronym, which
might be telling).
it certainly is a different world," Chavez said.
"Years ago, you didn’t want to be here. We spend a
lot of time here now. We also spend too much money here.
But there is the problem of people not having anywhere to
go because of rent and cost of living."
ambivalence is common among Angelenos. Carol Thompson, in
her 70s and a native, grew up playing on Angels Flight,
the erstwhile "railway" that ferried people up
from Hill Street to Bunker Hill. She can point to most any
building downtown and say what used to be there. Change,
to her, is inevitable. She does not begrudge
"progress," but does not want to see the city
lose sight of its heritage.
know, people always think downtown was not a good area in
the past, but that’s not true," she said. "It
was very upscale in the ‘40s and before that, too. It
had a real economy here. The department stores were
upscale — Bullocks, Robinson’s and The Broadway —
and the restaurants down here had a lot of class, a lot of
continental fine dining for the time. About the mid ‘50s
is when I noticed it changing."
she’s noticed it changing back.
they need is more of a mix, in terms of prices for lofts
and apartments," she said.
lunch companion at the Grand Central Market, the venerable
(since 1917) open-air arcade of dining and produce
markets, Shirley Chasin, of Los Angeles’ Studio City
section, added a positive note: "At least the
development people are embracing the (existing)
architecture and history and are no longer just willing to
demolish the old L.A."
brought up the preservation of the Bradbury, said to be
the oldest commercial building in downtown (1893). With
its dizzying staircases featuring ornate iron railings and
marble steps, as well as a sweeping skylight and open-cage
elevators, the building had fallen into disrepair before a
1990s makeover. Before restoration, director Ridley Scott
used the building for a key scene in the film "Blade
Runner," cinematically reveling in the Bradbury’s
those whose idea of the "Old L.A." extends only
as far back as the 1980s, the idea of preservation might
strike a chord of curious incongruity. Visitors
overwhelmingly like the changes. They like feeling safer
and like the nightlife.
Tamer Shaaban, from Washington, D.C., was dining at the
Grand Central Market’s sidewalk tables on Broadway, in
front of the trendy restaurant Egg Slut. As he was
talking, a homeless man lugging a bulging Hefty bag
rummaged through the trash receptacles for plastic bottles
and recyclables. Neither cast the other a glance, though
Shaaban later acknowledged that gentrification can’t be
all bad if he’s able to enjoy a sunny afternoon al
the cost of luxury," he said of DTLA’s ambitions.
"In my opinion, it feels like (Los Angeles) is still
on its way, not quite done yet. There’s definitely
places where it’s been built up great. But, then, you’ll
run into pockets of the old L.A."
and new L.A. meld at hipster haunts such as The Edison
(its pitch: "Industrial cathedral crafted from the
architectural artifacts of L.A.’s first private power
plant") and the Crocker Club (pitch: "Drink
inside the vault … of the old Crocker Citizens National
Bank"). Hoteliers are snatching up historic
buildings, as well. Two years ago, the Ace Hotel (and
performance space) converted a 1920s office building on
Ninth and Broadway. Now, the 1924 YWCA building on 11th
and Broadway is being molded into the Downtown L.A. Proper
Hotel, with rooftop pools, bars, ground-floor restaurants
and retail. The developer even plans to keep the
full-length basketball court on the sixth floor.
it’s the new-new of DTLA that has newcomers, mostly the
loft-dwellers, downright giddy. Brigham Yen, a marketing
and real estate businessman, has started a blog called
"DTLA Rising," which unabashedly cheerleads for
the area’s growth. He recently breathlessly reported a
rumor that an Apple Store might open in an abandoned
theater on Broadway. When downtown’s first Whole Foods
Market opened on Eighth and Grand, Yen enthused,
"Some might say the opening of Whole Foods means
Downtown L.A. has truly arrived — for good."
rings hollow without results, though. Success stories can
be found any evening at any number of nightclubs. These
are trendy dance clubs offering artisanal cocktails, not
Bukowskian dives serving Schlitz. Pattern Bar, on Ninth
Street in the Fashion District, is a prime example. Back
in DTLABG (Before Gentrification), the Fashion District
cleared out by nightfall. Now, with nearby lofts and
reasons for those working in the fashion industry to hang
around after clocking out, the place is hopping.
the house music and the DJ curation," said Eduardo
Meza, Pattern bartender and cousin of co-owner Alejandro
Meza. "We get the young people, 21 to mid-30s. But we
also get people who work here. That’s really what we’re
most known for, our drinks, named after fashion
designers." (To wit: The Chanel: "Tequila
reposado, orange liquor, fresh cilantro, organic agave,
serrano pepper and fresh lime.")
Bar has lasted nearly five years, which, given the churn
of the restaurant/bar business and DTLA’s short memory,
qualifies as real staying power. Soon, it might even
graduate to venerable.
STORY CAN END HERE)
in line at The Broad, where that new-museum smell has yet
to wear off, the line’s movement is glacial but
Naslund and her two teenage sons, from Torrance, joined
the queue back on Hope Street, near the parking garage. It
is 2 p.m. now, and they’re halfway up Second Street.
They are confident they can gain entrance before the
museum closes at 5 p.m. Even if they don’t get a lot of
time to take selfies in front of Jeff Koon’s porcelain
"Michael Jackson and Bubbles," even if by some
chance the line clogs like the 405 Freeway at rush hour
and they don’t get in, their day trip to DTLA would not
was just thinking that I’d love to come here more,"
Naslund said. "Maybe go to the Grand Market or find
some great noodles. It’ll be a good experience for the
guys because Torrance, you know, is a bedroom community.
We need to come to the city more, I think."
Broad: 221 S. Grand Avenue; thebroad.org
of Contemporary Art: 250 S. Grand Avenue; moca.org/visit/grand-ave
Hotel: 929 S. Broadway; acehotel.com/losangeles
Standard Hotel: 550 S. Flower; standardhotels.com/la/properties/downtown-la
Central Market: 317 S. Broadway; grandcentralmarket.com
Building, 304 S. Broadway; laconservancy.org/locations/bradbury-building
Edison: 108 W. Second Street; edisondowntown.com/
Crocker Club: 453 S. Spring Street; crockerclub.com
Bar: 100 W. 9th Street; patternbar.com