DTLA—An irony in the continuing robust evolution of Downtown Los Angeles is that the Arts District, one of the few communities with a residential base back at the turn of millennium, has seen among the most dramatic shifts in terms of local housing construction. That trend continues with the recent opening of The Aliso, a 472-unit rental complex at 950 E. Third St.
The change wrought by thousands of new residents has long been causing some consternation in the district. That’s because many of the artists originally drawn to the area by the large and inexpensive live-work spaces have been unable to afford new market rates, and have left the community. The opening of The Aliso will add to that momentum. In modern Downtown, investment and development frequently lead to more investment and development. With many new Arts District apartments renting for $3.50-$4 per square foot, one needs to be a pretty successful artist — or tech worker, or whatever — to afford a unit.
This trend has been a long time coming, perhaps ever since the Southern California Institute of Architecture had the foresight to turn a former rail depot into its campus in 2001. The evolution has continued steadily, with the arrival of projects such as the 438-unit One Santa Fe, which debuted in 2014, and the 320-apartment Garey Building, which opened two years later.
There are now buzzing office hubs including At Mateo and the former Ford Factory Building. Even more change and attention comes from high-profile restaurants such as Bestia and Bavel (both owned by the husband-and-wife team of Ori Menashe and Genevieve Gergis).
There’s also a cultural shift. The mega-gallery Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles has helped redefine a portion of Third Street. The nearby stores and restaurants that have opened would have been unthinkable a decade ago. Good luck finding street parking anywhere.
The neighborhood seeks to maintain a grip on its former artistic, community-driven direction wherever possible, and these elements should be encouraged. Kent Twitchell’s re-creation of his “Ed Ruscha Monument” mural on a wall of the American Hotel reminds the district of the past. The $460 million replacement of the Sixth Street Viaduct will include an art park named for late community developer Leonard Hill. An Arts District dog park was born from neighborhood advocacy.
Some new businesses carry a variation of the independent spirit that originally defined the district, and are counter to the cookie-cutter approach seen in shopping centers. Two-Bit Circus and Wisdome LA, for example, both apply a creative angle to large entertainment destinations. Happily, we’ve yet to see the arrival of a big chain eatery such as a Cheesecake Factory.
The Arts District still has some long-term residents who advocate for preserving the community’s earlier appeal, and the local business improvement district works hard to improve the neighborhood. People still care.
We hope that care and advocacy endure, because the Arts District, with its streets, old buildings and siting on the banks of the L.A. River, remains unique. The community will never be what it was, but it’s worth trying to maintain some of the charm and grit that helped draw all the attention in the first place.
Copyright 2019 Los Angeles Downtown News