Downtown Los Angeles – The Arts District

You probably already know that Downtown Los Angeles is rapidly becoming a pretty cool place to live. Even longtime Angelenos are often surprised at just how “urban” the actual city center can feel. One tends to picture the Hollywood Sign, Bel Air mansions, surfers, wide boulevards cutting among hip neighborhoods and past rolling mountains when someone says “Los Angeles.” But the actual downtown – the place where city hall, sky scrapers, court houses, etc. come together – feels like a “real city.” It’s flavored by a pinch of New York, a dash of San Francisco, dare I say a sprinkle of… what’s that… Denver? And, of course, its own unique characteristics.

If you read my earlier article on the housing market in Downtown, you know that now is a decent time to buy a condo in the area. They are abundant and run the gamut of prices, from ultra-luxury homes to, shall we say, homes with lots of “character.” But what we still need to discuss is just why you might want to live downtown. I could talk about the beautiful, Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall or the stunning cathedral or all the dining and retail opening up around the city, but today we’re going to focus on something else. If you read the article’s title… um… yeah, you already know…

The L.A. Art District’s nascent days were the later 1970s. Artists from surrounding areas – with a large number of them from western communities like Venice – began to flock to eastern downtown thanks to the wide availability of large loft spaces for cheap rents. In fact, the area was previously known as the “Warehouse District.” As so often happens, the decline on one thing, in this case business, led to the ascendance of another, here being art. (Think of the Meat Packing district in NYC.) Many of these first downtown artists lived an essentially squatter’s lifestyle, living illegally in the commercial spaces they used as studios.

Eventually, in 1981, the zoning ordinances were altered to meet the new reality of downtown, and by the mid-80s there was a bustling (and legal) community of artists living and working in Downtown L.A. By the 2000s, the area was popular not only among artists but also among young, usually affluent young people who rapidly gentrified the area. In 2006, the community voted to usher in a Business Improvement District measure, which brought heightened security, cleaning and maintenance services and infrastructure improvement, essentially cementing the area as a place both hip and safe to call home.
Today, among the studios and loft-style apartments and condos, many signs of the area’s roots are still in exisitence. A rail line still links up to a functioning rail yard and active warehouses, food and industrial processing plants still occupy city blocks. What’s newer is the abundance of shops, restaurants and cafes. Visitors (or residents) in search of the eponymous mainstay of the area – namely artists – would do well to start off with a stroll down “Gallery Row” off Main Street. Well over a score galleries are there for you to visit. And don’t forget about the nearby museums and theaters, from world-famous MOCA to the unique Museum of Neon Art. And for those looking for an LA art primer, why not try the Art Walk? On the second Thursday of every month, a street in downtown is transformed, for the afternoon, into one giant – and free – art show to be strolled through by the aficionados and the curious alike.

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