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40th Anniversary Special: The 40 Most Important Downtowners of the Past 40 Years - Los Angeles Downtown News - For Everything Downtown L.A.!: News

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News 40th Anniversary Special: The 40 Most Important Downtowners of the Past 40 Years

Running Down the Political, Business, Cultural and Community Leaders Who Made Downtown What It Is Today

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Posted: Monday, February 18, 2013 4:45 am

DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Trying to come up with a list of the 40 most important Downtowners of the last 40 years is a nearly impossible task — the challenge lies not in determining who should be there, but rather deciding who, by virtue of that relatively small number, doesn’t make the cut.

The Downtown Los Angeles of today is completely unlike the community that existed in September 1972, when the first issue of Los Angeles Downtown Newshit the streets. The thriving urban hub of 2013 is a result of the work of thousands of individuals, many of whom remain unheralded.

Still, this is the 40th anniversary of Downtown News, and as such, we’re focusing on the key business, political, cultural, community and other leaders who helped shape Downtown into what it is today. If we overlooked someone or you think another person should have been on this list, let us know.

Here, by category (not in order if importance), are the 40 most important Downtowners of the last 40 years.

Politicians and Policy

 Mayor Tom Bradley: The former police officer, city councilman and five-term mayor arguably did more for Los Angeles than any person in the last century, but when it comes to Downtown Los Angeles, two achievements stand out: Bradley was a key force in bringing the 1984 Olympics to Los Angeles, and the Games, centered at the Coliseum in Exposition Park, had an effect that reverberated across the community — athletically, economically and culturally — for decades. Perhaps more importantly, Bradley realized how far the urban core had fallen, and believing that the future of the center of Los Angeles was at risk, he worked with others to launch the Central Business District Redevelopment Project Area. The Community Redevelopment Agency project, which started in 1975, would direct $750 million in tax revenue to development in Downtown. This led to the construction of the glimmering office towers on Bunker Hill and in the Central Business District. Downtown soon became a major jobs center. The community never looked back. Bradley died in 1988 at the age of 80.

James M. “Jim” Wood: A key partner of Bradley’s in the transformation of Downtown, Wood had his fingers in a number of proverbial pies. As a board member and chair of the CRA in the 1970s and ’80s, he helped propel the creation of the office high-rises that changed the Downtown skyline. He was also a union leader (eventually becoming executive secretary treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO), and worked hard to ensure that the people building and later working behind the scenes in the new structures were paid fair wages and received benefits. His influence on Downtown continued in other ways: He founded the SRO Housing Corporation, which today is a leader in helping get people off the streets and into homes where they can turn their lives around. He died at the age of 51 in 1996.

Mayor Richard RiordanThe highly successful businessman and 39th mayor of Los Angeles had his biggest impact on the city by leading the quicker-than-expected recovery from the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake. However, his role in helping pull Los Angeles out of the depths of a brutal recession was nearly as important, and its effects were widely felt in Downtown. His Mayor’s Business Team was vital in cutting red tape and helping bring thousands of jobs to Los Angeles, with many successes in and around Downtown. He was also a key leader, in partnership with Eli Broad, in bringing about the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The project had stalled in the mid-’90s due to soaring costs, including a parking garage that ran $90 million (that’s not a typo). Riordan twisted arms and “convinced” affluent individuals and corporations to donate to the project. He and Broad got Disney Hall built, paving the way for other advances on Grand Avenue.

Police Chief William BrattonHis Los Angeles stint was relatively short: Bratton was appointed LAPD chief in 2002 and would leave in 2009. However, his time in L.A. was packed with advances. He was instrumental in changing the culture and reputation of the LAPD, turning what many once considered a brutal occupying force into a widely respected department. He led the LAPD past the Rampart scandal and out of a federal consent decree. He also used mapping to respond to problems, ushering in a groundbreaking drop in crime citywide (it has continued under his successor, Charlie Beck). In Downtown specifically, Bratton recorded two major accomplishments: He helped spearhead the building of a $440 million Civic Center police headquarters, getting the department out of bedraggled Parker Center. He also launched the Safer Cities Initiative, directing 50 officers to Skid Row. The ensuing crackdown on “quality of life” crimes resulted in a major change in the area.

Councilwoman Jan PerryThe Ninth District council rep since 2001 (she is termed out in July) has been a leader in the growth that Downtown enjoyed over the past dozen years. Perry championed many jobs-generating projects, facilitating the creation of thousands of housing units. She was also a primary backer of catalytic developments such as L.A. Live. She seemed to grasp what many politicians fail to understand: that sometimes a pol’s job is to push a project forward, and other times the task is just not to get in the way. Perry was equally effective in Skid Row, though her work in the community earned fewer headlines. She pushed hard and helped find funds for a number of low-income housing projects, leading to developments that got people off the streets. She is currently running for mayor.

 Councilman Richard AlatorreOne of the craftiest politicians of the last several decades, Alatorre was a skilled leader who knew where all the skeletons in City Hall were buried. He followed on the heels of Councilman Art Snyder, moving from the state Assembly to win a council seat in 1985. Although much of Alatorre’s 14th District was in Boyle Heights and communities outside of Downtown, he managed to get a busy, primarily Latino shopping sliver on Broadway included in his realm — it was known, fittingly, as the “Alatorre Finger.” Alatorre was also an important early leader in the Latino political movement that today is one of the most powerful engines in the state.  

Councilman Gil LindsayGilbert Lindsay Plaza in front of the Convention Center is named for a figure who many current Downtowners have never heard of: the longtime councilman who created what came to be known as “The Great Ninth.” Lindsay took over the Ninth District council seat in 1963, becoming the first African American council rep in Los Angeles. In the era before term limits, he held the job for 27 years. Although not on the same level of importance as Bradley or Wood, he did play a key role in pushing forward the building boom and growth of office structures on Bunker Hill and in the Central Business District.

Business

John C. Cushman IIIBuilding all those Downtown office towers was one challenge. Filling them with law firms and corporate headquarters was another. The latter is where John C. Cushman made his name. He came to Los Angeles in 1967 to open Cushman & Wakefield’s Southern California office, and one of his early successes was leasing the 2.6 million square feet of space in ARCO Plaza. In 1978, he and his twin brother Louis founded Cushman Realty Corp., which was based in Downtown and for years was the leader in local office leasing, working with entities such as Maguire Partners. In 2001, the firm merged with Cushman & Wakefield. Cushman today is co-chairman of the company.

Phil AnschutzDowntown stakeholders rarely see Phil Anschutz, but virtually every day they witness the fruits of his vision in the form of Staples Center, L.A. Live and the Convention Center Hotel. The media-averse, Colorado-based billionaire is the money man behind those projects. He’s also the one whose bankroll has enabled AEG President and CEO Tim Leiweke to push forward on Farmers Field. As everyone knows Anschutz is on the way out of Downtown — his AEG is on the market, and the announcement of a buyer is expected in the coming months. Still, no one has invested in the community quite like he has: As Downtown News recently reported, AEG’s Central City holdings have an approximate value of $4.4 billion.

Ed Roski: When it comes to L.A. Live, everyone thinks of Phil Anschutz and Tim Leiweke, but Staples Center — and the huge projects that followed — never would have happened without Ed Roski. The head of Majestic Realty was Anschutz’s partner in the $375 million arena that opened in 1999 and houses the Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Sparks, and as the process was moving through city channels in the mid-1990s, Roski was the public face selling the deal. Today many in Downtown think of Roski only as the guy pushing the City of Industry football stadium, a rival to the proposed Farmers Field. But without Roski and his work more than a decade ago, the Farmers Field concept might never have come about.

Tim LeiwekePhil Anschutz may have the billions, but the money wouldn’t go nearly as far without AEG President and CEO Tim Leiweke. Over the last 15 years Leiweke has emerged as Downtown’s most powerful and influential individual, dealing with the business community, the political leaders and the labor unions and getting them all to come out in support of AEG’s L.A. Live, Convention Center hotel and, now, Farmers Field. Under Leiweke’s leadership AEG has created thousands of Downtown jobs (both construction and permanent positions) and reinvented the look and feel of South Park. It’s a testament to the master salesman’s prowess that no one can fathom the future owner of AEG moving forward without Leiweke. If football ever does come to Farmers Field, all credit will go to Leiweke.

Jack KyserFor decades, whenever any reporter anywhere needed a comment about the economy in Los Angeles, they called one person: Jack Kyser, the chief economist at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation. From his office in Downtown he’d dispense his wisdom and analysis, taking whatever time was needed to make sure the caller understood the facts, numbers and context. Then, if given the chance, he’d espouse on all the Central City had to offer, citing its infrastructure, its location, the size of its work force, etc. His influence went beyond speaking to the media: Kyser participated in panel discussions and put together the LAEDC’s annual economic forecasts for the region. He later went on to work for the Southern California Association of Governments. He died in 2010 at the age of 76.

Sue Laris: Laris and her then-husband Jim founded what would become Los Angeles Downtown News in September 1972. On her own with the paper since 1980, Downtown News became the voice of Downtown Los Angeles, giving the neighborhood an identity that continues to grow; the paper covers the news, politics, business and cultural events of the Central City. Over four decades Laris has enabled Downtown News to remain that rare thing in media: an independent publication that has survived numerous recessions and the challenges of the Internet era. Downtown News continues to hit stands every Monday, with web content posted daily.  

Peter O’MalleyIt was O’Malley’s father Walter who brought the Dodgers west and opened Dodger Stadium in 1962, and Peter O’Malley today has an ownership stake in the San Diego Padres. Still, for decades it was impossible to think of the Dodgers without thinking of Peter O’Malley. He became president of the ball club in 1970 and held the title for 28 years, including during the World Series runs in 1981 and 1988. O’Malley was there as the team became immensely popular, with more than 3 million fans a year coming to see players including Steve Garvey, Fernando Valenzuela and dozens of others. The era of family ownership ended in 1998 when, following a failed effort to bring the NFL to a new stadium in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium, he sold the team to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.

 Otis ChandlerForget Sam Zell — one cannot separate the history of the Los Angeles Times from the Chandler family. Many members of the family have played key roles in the evolution of Los Angeles, but Otis Chandler, who was the publisher of the paper from 1960-1980, was the most important member of the clan in Downtown during the past 40 years. Under his leadership the Times saw a surge in circulation and grew to become one of the largest, most influential and most profitable newspapers in the country. During Chandler’s two decades with the paper and five additional years as chair of the parent company Times-Mirror, the Times won nine Pulitzer prizes.

Robert AndersonThe name may be unfamiliar to many young Downtowners, but the man who spent two decades as chairman of ARCO was a major figure in Los Angeles. He moved the company from New York to Downtown in 1972 and made its headquarters in ARCO Plaza (today City National Plaza); the twin 52-story skyscrapers on Flower Street prefaced the launch of the Central Business District building boom. With a massive work force and a new office complex, Anderson was an influential leader, and he also emerged as a prominent philanthropist in the city. He stayed as chairman of the oil company until 1986, and was followed by Lodwrick Cook.

Darryl HolterThe CEO of auto company Shammas Group has played a key role in Downtown Los Angeles in two areas: Shammas Group has become a major employer and activator of the Figueroa Corridor, with seven dealerships under the Downtown L.A. Auto Group umbrella; the holdings include the iconic Felix Chevrolet at 3300 S. Figueroa St. and Porsche, Audi and Volkswagen outlets at 1900 S. Figueroa St. Those have led to investments from others, creating a sort of Downtown “auto row.” Holter has also been a key player in the Figueroa Corridor Partnership, the area’s business improvement district. He was the founding chair of the BID in 1998, and the work has strengthened the connection between the urban core and USC. He continues the work of his father-in-law and company founder Nick Shammas, one of the trio of “grand old men” of early Downtown. (The other two are Jack Needleman and Stanley Hirsh, both icons of the early Fashion District, né Garment District.) Shammas died in 2003 at the age of 87.

Carol Schatz: When Schatz became president and CEO of the Central City Association in 1995, it was a minor organization with fewer than 100 members and a budget of $750,000. Twenty-three years later, it is the leading and most important business group based in Downtown. Over the decades Schatz has been aggressive and fiercely active on both the legislative front (the CCA helped write the adaptive reuse ordinance)t and in terms of pushing the community forward: She also spurred the formation of and sits atop the Downtown Center Business Improvement District. When it comes to advancing most Downtown projects, Schatz is there, whether in City Hall, at a press conference or working behind the scenes.  

Jona Goldrich: Before Tom Gilmore started building Downtown housing, and even before Ira Yellin started building Downtown housing, there was Jona Goldrich. The businessman who was born in Poland in 1927 was the primary driver (through the firm Goldrich and Kest) of the Promenade residential complexes on Bunker Hill, creating more than 900 apartments and condominiums long before many thought the community could be livable. The ties to the Civic Center and Bunker Hill were immediate and strong. Goldrich was also involved in the development of the California Plaza office complex.

Stuart M. Ketchum: Stuart M. Ketchum is more than just the guy whose name appears on the Downtown YMCA. Another major real estate player and longtime champion of Downtown, he has been involved in numerous deals, including the construction of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, the Bank of America Plaza (Security Pacific Plaza when it opened) and the edifice at 800 Wilshire Blvd. His $3 million donation paved the way for the opening of the Ketchum Y, as it is often called, in 1986. He has also been involved with the boards of the Music Center and was a key player in getting the Walt Disney Concert Hall built.

Ezat Delijani: Without Ezat Delijani, Downtown would likely have lost some of its architectural jewels. The Iranian-born real estate magnate, who fled the country during the Islamic Revolution, founded Delson Investment Co., which became a major landowner in the Jewelry District. Still, he is perhaps best known for heeding then-Mayor Tom Bradley’s request in 1987 to buy the Los Angeles Theater, saving it from the wrecking ball. The family would also go on to acquire the Tower, State and Palace theaters; all are to be upgraded and activated. Delijani was also a partner with 14th District Councilman José Huizar in launching the Bringing Back Broadway initiative to upgrade the historic corridor. In 2009 the city renamed the intersection of Seventh Street and Broadway Ezat Delijani Square. He died in 2011 at the age of 83.

Development

Ira Yellin: Even Tom Gilmore acknowledges that he followed in the footsteps of Ira Yellin. The groundwork for Downtown’s future reclamation of historic buildings was laid by Yellin, an Ivy League-educated lawyer-turned-developer, who in 1995 began reviving a handful of structures on a faded Broadway block. In addition to restoring the Bradbury Building and Grand Central Market, Yellin converted the Homer Laughlin building above the market into apartments. He also transformed the upper floors of the historic, 12-story Million Dollar Theatre into residential units. The son of a rabbi didn’t just change old into new — he also set a precedent by caring deeply about the past and preserving architectural elements, knowing that would only help the city in the future. Yellin would go on to co-found the prominent development firm Urban Partners. He died in 2002 at the age of 62.

Tom Gilmore: The former New York architect changed Downtown Los Angeles forever when, in late 1999, he purchased three dilapidated buildings at the corner of Fourth and Main streets and announced plans to turn them into housing. The Old Bank District, which was the first project to take advantage of the city’s Adaptive Reuse Ordinance, followed, and once the structure quickly filled up the Downtown residential floodgates opened. Gilmore not only built apartments, he created a community, launching Pete’s Café and nurturing numerous independent retail outlets and restaurants. He has continued to play an active role in the community, chipping in money to save Art Walk when it encountered financial trouble. He recently donated $1 million to the Southern California Institute of Architecture. 

Robert F. “Rob” Maguire: The visionary developer helped build the modern Downtown skyline. With Jim Thomas in the firm Maguire Thomas Partners, he developed the Downtown trophy properties Library Tower (today U.S. Bank Tower), the Gas Company Tower, the Wells Fargo Tower and the KPMG Tower. The firm became the biggest office landowner in Downtown, with its skyscrapers housing some of the city’s most prominent businesses. Maguire also helped restore and expand the Central Library after the devastating 1986 fire (doing so was a condition of getting development rights for two skyscrapers). Maguire and Thomas split in 1996, with Maguire controlling the Downtown portfolio; the company name changed to Maguire Properties, Inc. His run ended in the recent recession, as in 2008 the board of directors responded to financial troubles and a falling stock price by ousting him as chairman, president and CEO (he was replaced by Nelson Rising). Although the firm has since been renamed MPG Office Trust, few who have a history in Downtown separates its past from Maguire.

James A. “Jim” Thomas: Thomas is another figure who is inextricably linked to the growth of Downtown as a Class A office hub. He ran Maguire Thomas Partners with Robert F. Maguire for 13 years, and was instrumental in building some of the Central City’s most prominent skyscrapers. The North Carolina native split from Maguire in 1996, and though he owned the Sacramento Kings basketball team from 1992-1999, he also ran the firm TPG, which in 2004 led to Thomas Properties Group, Inc. Thomas made a major Downtown play in 2003 when he bought City National Plaza for $270 million. He then poured $125 million into a restoration of the faded 1972 office complex. The twin 52-story edifices on Flower Street became vibrant once again and tenants filled the complex. Thomas has also been active on civic issues and boards, serving as chair of Town Hall-Los Angeles and heading Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic, or FAST, a program to alleviate surface street gridlock.

Nelson Rising: Although Rising last year finally put his name on his own company, he has been influencing Downtown Los Angeles and California real estate circles for decades. He was a partner in Maguire Thomas Partners during the office building boom of the 1980s and led the development of Library Tower (now U.S. Bank Tower), among other efforts. He was also a leader in creating the Downtown Strategic Plan and undertaking the renovation of Pershing Square. That’s just the start of his resume: Rising was chair of the Federal Reserve in San Francisco and spent 11 years as the CEO of Catellus. More recently, he came back to be CEO of MPG Office Trust, a successor to Maguire Thomas Partners. Last year, he joined with his son Christopher Rising to form Rising Realty Partners. The firm purchased and is turning around the Pacific Center in the Financial District.

Steve and Jack Needleman: Over the past decade, Steve Needleman has been the most active and forward-thinking building owner on Broadway; his restoration of the 1923 Orpheum Theatre, completed in 2001 (it included creating apartments on the upper floors), set a precedent that many in Downtown hope other theater owners will echo. Needleman, however, is in some ways following in the footsteps of his father, Jack Needleman, who through his company Anjac (named for him and his wife Annette) acquired dozens of properties in and around the Fashion District. Unlike many Downtown building owners of the time, Jack Needleman paid keen attention to historic properties; when he acquired the venerable Grand Olympic Auditorium, he refused suggestions to raze it (it is currently owned by a church). Steve Needleman is now turning the old Singer Sewing Machine Building into housing.

Wayne Ratkovich: Another developer with decades of involvement in Downtown real estate, Wayne Ratkovich has had an impact on the past and will likely shape the future of the community as well. He founded the Downtown-based Ratkovich Company in 1977 and took on projects such as the restoration of the Olive Street Art Deco gem the Oviatt Building and, later, another historic jewel, the Fine Arts Building. He also managed the development of FIDM’s campus. He is now in escrow on a purchase of the massive Macy’s Plaza and is expected to launch a major renovation of the project’s shopping center.

Geoff Palmer: The longtime developer found a gold mine on the edges of Downtown with a series of market-rate apartment complexes. Through his G.H. Palmer Associates, Palmer since the turn of the millennium has created more than 2,000 residential units. His completed Downtown projects, many of them in City West, include multiple phases of the Medici, Orsini, Piero and Vistonti. All have an Italian Renaissance-inspired design. Other area projects are under construction.

Homer Williams: Portland-based Homer Williams changed the look and utility of South Park when, after the opening of Staples Center but long before the debut of L.A. Live, he began acquiring land for a series of upscale condominium buildings. Elleven, Luma and Evo gave the neighborhood three striking structures and a critical mass of property owners, and provided the base for more residential development to follow. Though the third building, Evo, hit financial trouble, the partner in Williams & Dame Associates returned to the Downtown development scene last year. He is in charge of the $172 million project that will create nearly 400 additional Marriott hotel rooms in a 23-story building across from the JW Marriott/Ritz-Carlton Convention Center hotel.

Culture

Eli Broad: The billionaire and philanthropist founded two Fortune 500 companies in home builder Kaufman and Broad and retirement advisor SunAmerica, and he has been a leader on a number of civic issues. In Downtown, however, Broad’s biggest impact has been on the cultural front. In 1979 he became the founding chairman of a group of arts patrons who thought the city needed a new contemporary art museum, and that it should be in Downtown: MOCA opened in a temporary space in 1983 and moved to a permanent Grand Avenue home three years later. Over the decades Broad has been a vocal proponent of making Grand Avenue truly grand, and in the late-1990s he teamed with Mayor Richard Riordan to kick-start the fundraising for the stalled Walt Disney Concert Hall; their work led to the venue’s opening in 2003. Now, as all Downtown is aware, he is pushing forward on The Broad, a $120 million museum just south of Disney Hall that will house his 2,000-piece contemporary art collection. The structure with a design by the heralded New York firm Diller, Scofidio + Renfro will open in 2014. 

Gordon Davidson: Michael Ritchie has run Center Theatre Group, the most important theater purveyor in Los Angeles, for nine years. However, it was Gordon Davidson who put CTG on the map, both locally and nationally. He took charge of the company that operates Downtown’s Ahmanson Theatre and Mark Taper Forum in 1967, and over the next 37 years he made the venues powerful cultural engines, the places that hosted big-name Broadway musicals and plays (the Ahmanson) and welcomed and nurtured newer and more challenging work (the Taper). Davidson also ensured that there was some star power in the productions, as actors including Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Lemmon and Katherine Hepburn stepped on stage in front of Downtown crowds. Davidson’s productions won every award imaginable and he nurtured young and diverse voices.

Esa-Pekka Salonen: The excitement that still surrounds Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Gustavo Dudamel makes it easy to forget that he is only the second-most important music man in the Phil’s ranks in recent decades — it was Finnish conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen who really made people pay attention to the Downtown-based symphony. Salonen became Music Director in 1992 and remained in the post until 2009; during his tenure he boosted the abilities and reputation of the orchestra. Not only did he bring the Phil across the country and around the world, he sparked enough excitement locally to help the body move from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to its new home, the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. Salonen continues to show up at the Phil each year for a short conducting stint.

Plácido Domingo: In one way, Plácido Domingo was not the key figure at Los Angeles Opera — one could argue that late General Director Peter Hemmings did the grunt work and built the company into a top-tier opera provider (Hemmings died in 2002). However, Domingo’s voice, personality, resume and reputation opened all kinds of doors. The famed tenor has been part of L.A. Opera since the beginning: He sang the title role in the company’s 1986 debut of Otello. Though he has various national and international opera duties, Domingo retains the title of general director of L.A. Opera and routinely appears in at least one production a season, while conducting at least one more.

Michael Alexander: Chalk Michael Alexander’s presence on this list up to endurance and vision — for a quarter century he has been the executive director of Grand Performances, the organization that provides the free summer outdoor concerts at the California Plaza Watercourt. While big crowds at Cal Plaza are now the norm, Alexander started the program at a time when Downtown claimed very few residents, and it was up to him and his top aide, Leigh Ann Hahn, to put together the shows that would prompt people to stay after work and even drive Downtown on weekends. Alexander has done it all by combining an eclectic, international roster with a slate of local artists — the band Ozomatli and the dance troupe Diavalo are among those who found early and eager audiences at Cal Plaza.

Joachim Splichal: In 2013, Downtown boasts the hottest food scene in the city. It wasn’t always this way, and chef and Patina Group founder Joachim Splichal was one of the first culinary big names to gamble on Downtown Los Angeles. Splichal’s Café Pinot, which opened in 1995 next to the Central Library, was an immediate hit, its Cal-French cuisine completely different than anything else available at the time. That began a big Central City play, with restaurants including Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse and Kendall’s Brasserie and Bar. Perhaps the biggest vote of confidence in the market came after the original Patina closed in Hollywood — Splichal brought it Downtown to the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2003.

Community

Frances Hashimoto: Little Tokyo has faced many challenges over the decades, and Frances Hashimoto was always there to lead the way. The president and CEO of Mikawaya, the bakery and ice cream empire owned by her family since 1910, did virtually everything at one time or another in the tight-knit community: She helped launch the Little Tokyo Community Council and the Little Tokyo Business Improvement District; she twice chaired the Nisei Week Japanese Festival; and she was chair of the Little Tokyo Business Association. She did it all while growing Mikawaya from a small sweets shop to a major business, building it into a $13 million-a-year operation with five stores, a warehouse and bakery on Fourth Street and a 100,000-square-foot facility in Vernon. Hashimoto died last November at the age of 69. Two weeks later the city unveiled the long-planned Frances K. Hashimoto Plaza at Azusa and Second streets.

Cardinal Roger Mahony: Today, Mahony’s name sparks anger and disappointment over his handling of numerous priest abuse cases. While those actions will taint his legacy as the head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, for years Mahony was extremely powerful, particularly in Downtown. After the 1994 Northridge earthquake damaged St. Vibiana’s Cathedral, Mahony got the backing from the city’s political elite to have the building razed so a new cathedral could rise on the same spot. When preservationists stymied the effort, Mahony led the development of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on a lot overlooking the 101 Freeway. The $195 million structure opened in 2002 and became a new amenity for Downtown and an instant home for the local Catholic community.

Linda Dishman: Last September, Linda Dishman celebrated her 20th anniversary as the executive director of the Los Angeles Conservancy. During her tenure, the organization emerged as a powerful advocate for preserving the city’s history. While many remember how Dishman helped save St. Vibiana’s Cathedral from the wrecking ball, she also doubled the Conservancy’s membership, tripled its staff and quadrupled its budget. Her presence in Downtown is felt in other ways too: The Conservancy orchestrates weekly walking tours of historic properties, and its Last Remaining Seats series of classic films in old Broadway movie palaces has become a summer cultural highlight.

Joel Bloom: In the 1990s, before the expensive housing arrived and the young urbanites moved in, Joel Bloom was the glue that held the hardscrabble Arts District together. The unofficial mayor of the Arts District opened Bloom’s General Store in 1994, giving locals both easy access to staples and providing a place to hang out and trade gossip. That was only the beginning of his impact — he was a tireless advocate for the community, and famously helped kill an attempt by the Los Angeles Unified School District to build a massive warehouse in the area. Though adored by residents and neighbors, he also could be gruff and didn’t suffer fools. Bloom died in 2007 at the age of 59. The district’s annual arts celebration Bloomfest is named for him.  

Contact Jon Regardie at regardie@downtownnews.com.

© Los Angeles Downtown News 2012