Downtown Los Angeles

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Lately, I've been spending more and more time in my fair city's Downtown. Long depressed and neglected, the supposed "central lotus" of Los Angeles – a metropolitan area of 12,000,000 people -- can come off as downright barren and desolate. However, it wasn't always this way. During its late 1890's and 1900's heyday, Downtown was the crème de le crème of Los Angeles, with its abundance rich turn of the century architecture, and its streets jam packed with life and urbanity.

In a case played out all over America, the vicious white flight of the 1940s and '50s exacted a rather heavy toll on Downtown (and inner-city America as a whole), creating a huge population exodus and leading many businesses to board up or shutter completely. For decades, Downtown Los Angeles, on a downward spiral, rotted: investment waned, and eventually completely evaporated, companies fled and future ones steered clear. DTLA might as well have had typhoid fever. Unsurprisingly, such a vacuum exacted toll on the demographics and socioeconomic strata of the area.

Now, at the helm of its population were vagrants and the desolate; the living dead. Solitude and destitution had taken hold. In light all of the aforementioned, the neighborhood sooner or later was stigmatized with a terrible reputation: one as a no-man's land where vagrants, other "unwanted" types and their associated ilk (drugs, violence, prostitution, etc) run amok. Eventually, civilians, too, began to avoid Downtown like the plague.

Downtown was forced to fend for itself, and wallowed in its own misery and decrepitude. Urban blight, a synthesis of lethargy, lack of concern, and not-terrible intentions, combined with ignorance, was formed.

Thankfully, light was (is?) at the end of the tunnel. On the heels of the great 1990's and 2000's large-scale urban renaissances and influx into formerly blighted urban neighborhoods, Downtown benefited immensely -- and for all of the right reasons. With its stellar architecture and rich building stock, East Coast-style density and urbanity (rarities in Los Angeles) location of hundreds of thousands of jobs, position as a freeway and transit hub, and lastly, the drastic expanding of entertainment options and venues (Staples Center, LA Live, 7th + Fig, etc), Downtown flourished.

The impact of the said renaissance was unrivaled, and is probably the greatest effort to revitalize Downtown in recent memory. Everywhere you looked, development was abound. Cranes dotted the skyline, finishing projects at breakneck speeds, construction crews glutted formerly abandoned buildings, prepping them for conversion to lofts, brown butcher paper plastered the windows of soon to open cafes and restaurants (70 opened in 2008 alone), dozens of clubs, bars and speakeasies opened in spaces in newly available ground-level retail, filming crews descended on the area, placing Downtown at the forefront of urban filming in the US, 35,000 people poured into the bevy of newly built and re-purposed condominiums, forming one of the largest, most prominent and vibrant artist communities anywhere, rooftop parties proliferated, heck..even a grocery store opened.

Civility had returned. Downtown had finally become a viable place to live, work and even play.

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3 comments: to “ Downtown Los Angeles so far...


    Splendid commentary and photography, professor.


    I love your historical introductory comments to your fascinating downtown photography.


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