Downtown LA has two faces. Street level blight and architectural grandeur overhead. Two adjacent worlds not necessarily in opposition but now a symbiosis of urban life. Those who are drawn to the aesthetic of Tribeca West cannot wish away Skid Row. Those who live a blighted life cannot wish away the new, moneyed intrusion. Inevitably one must give way to the other, but for now its sort of a draw.
This is not the alternative. The alternative is renting in Fontana. Curbed LA has the lowdown:
‘Let’s go for a drive’, says I. ‘Let us bid farewell to Van Nuys for a few hours.’ ‘Yes, Lex!’ replied Mrs. UpintheValley. Slip into her ModCloth dress she did and away we went. Downtown! Where she soon drew admirers…
Giles is game for all outdoor adventuring, but Santee Alley was a bit chaotic and crowded for a small dog underfoot. It’s a world of commerce in extremis. Men in slim-fit suits lurk next to the mannequins at the front of stalls whispering: ‘Fendi, Fendi, Valentino.’ Then you walk around to the service alley and there are Koreans in beat-up vans unloading garments in huge trash bags through the back doors of the stores.
The contrasts are remarkable. Here we have another mixed-use industrial building being converted into high-end lofts….directly across the street, however:
…there are poverty stores where the great unwashed are reminded not to wash their hands in the melted ice of the soda cooler. The Brazilianization of California continues apace.
After an hour or so, Mrs. UpintheValley had her fill of the garment district, so we moseyed east of Alameda, to the Arts District. This was more to her liking.
There’s something about the arts district phenomenon, here and elsewhere, that fetishizes and celebrates the architecture of the manufacturing age. This is partly inevitable. Vacant buildings in a post-industrial landscape offer the dormant capacity needed for residential re-development. But that’s not the only reason. Even the most utilitarian structures from the golden age offer aesthetic delight and authenticity difficult to re-create today and this is part of the attraction. The workmen of the day (and it was men, working then) were frequently artisans, even in the construction trades. As someone who has built and re-built a thing or two, let me bear witness to the staggering amount of craftsmanship and nearly flawless execution in this single brick wall. Mark Zuckerberg himself couldn’t buy the people with the skill set to duplicate bespoke masonry at this level, at any price. The people who could do this sort of thing are no longer to be found in Los Angeles. What does it mean if the most enduring artistic achievements of the area prove to be the structures themselves?
Just down the block from the swanky National Biscuit Company lofts we found this cafe tucked nicely in a narrow curved alley. Only after we walked around the corner did I realize beneath this brick patio was once a railroad siding that served the Nabisco loading docks. From this spot biscuits and crackers began their dispersal throughout the rail networks to the far corners of North America, once upon a time. Now it’s a lifestyle playground.
On the other side of this mural, we discovered the Urban Radish, uber-gourmet grocery. I would be lying if I didn’t say we both lusted in the aisles of this store. Artisanal cheese! ($35 lb) Gourmet sausages! ($15 ea) Dry-aged beef! (don’t ask) Organic brickleberry flavored ice cream made from pastured cows! ($11/pint) I would also be lying if I suggested if we could afford any of it. Clearly, this is someone else’s lifestyle playground.
But play, we did. We ended up at the ironically named Pour Haus, for happy hour and glasses of wine and a game of Scrabble. At the moment of this photograph I had just laid down a seven-letter word to leap 60 points ahead. She is amused by any confidence on my part I will hang on to this lead. ‘You have no chance of winning, my dear. None.’ The word was: Serious.
She was almost gracious in victory.
When we reached the limit of our $20 budget for the afternoon we returned to the car, and the trek back to the Valley and its particular cake of comfort and squalor. On our way to the freeway we passed the American Apparel factory and its huge Legalize LA banners and the image seemed to encapsulate everything about our political and cultural moment in Los Angeles. Here at the crossroads of the garment and arts districts, where the new economy embeds itself within the ruins of the old (Southern Pacific, no less), where the new fortunes are being made or blown…here, the poster child of DTLA proclaims to the world: ‘Pay Americans Less Money’. Let there be no immigration law which would prevent millions of unskilled workers coming here to do battle in the labor marketplace with those already arrived and the native-born hanging on by their fingernails. May the devil take the hindmost. They even sell Legalize LA t-shirts to the hipster kids who wear them in a celebration of ignorance of the laws of economics. Van Nuys is boring. But it’s mostly honest. If you stick to a budget you can own a house there. For now. I love my wife.