Thursday, December 10, 2009
It seems that there is only so long I can go without posting, writing, or somehow mentioning my beloved Koreatown. Readers should know by know that Ktown (as it is colloquially referred to as) is as good as it gets on the urban front here in LA. Not only is the densest of the city’s many nabes, it is the crown jewel with regards to its often maligned architecture. I mean, for an Angelino, Ktown has got it going on!
In a city so characterized by uninteresting sprawl and banal, suburban-esque developments, Koreatown, with its treasure trove of solid architecture, is something like a glimmering beacon of light. And even though its architecture quite literally spans the whole spectrum, I find much of the neighborhood to be stuck in a particularly romantic era: 1925. I know I’m getting carried away a bit, but it’s almost as the neighborhood is one giant prop for the Great Gatsby. The buildings, with their intricate detail and old-world grandeur and opulence, definitely bespeak of a bygone era.
This area I’m talking about, New Hampshire and 5th, is one of many stuck in a 1920s timewarp. Anchored on one end is a prominent former Jewish temple – now a Korean Presbyterian Church – done in a splendid Mediterranean-influenced style of Art Deco. The other is a favorite building of mine, a gorgeous 1925 Neo-Classical mid-rise. I tell you, there’s something special about the balconies on it, man. Though balconies aren’t used much around these parts, during the sweltering-hot summers, it is not at all uncommon to see men perched on such balconies, wearing nothing but a wife-beater (literally, lol), enjoying a smoke in the cool evening breeze.
These kind of buildings, with their rich history only exemplify my previously-stated opinion that LA is a true polyglot city; one that is in constant flux. And amidst the architectural diversity is something I find very LA: the fact that no singly style prevails over another or really dominates the area – that ties into the whole polyglot theme. Kinda how the “Korea” in the Koreatown name is almost an anomaly, with the some 60% of the nabe being Hispanic (which is diverse in and of itself), but also having visible Bengali, Black, Filipino, Vietnamese and White populations.
Which reminds me, the whole Mid-Wilshire (along with Boyle Heights) was once Jewish. But that, too, changed as Jews attained affluence and sought new digs in locales such as the Fairfax District, Pico-Union and parts of the (Southern) San Fernando Valley such as North Hollywood and locales along Ventura Blvd. Case in point, the current location of the aforementioned temple is on a high-rise studded section of Wilshire Blvd in West LA often called the “Golden Mile.”
The architecture, on average, is from the 1920s-1940s (i.e pre-war in nature), and tend to be hallmarks of a time from when the nabe was once one of the ritziest in LA. Much of it is from the same era when women wore white gloves to catch the trolley and donned Channel suits meeting acquaintances for lunch at the park. The surrounding blocks are largely made up of low-slung French-Normandy houses, amongst other 1920s Colonial Revival styles. Also in the mix is a good-sized contingent of rather unattractive 1970s multifamily units, too. Regardless, the neighborhood in its current state is, uh, quite “different,” to say the very least.
Ktown, with its numerous personalities, colorful history, and extremely multifaceted nature, is a very LA neighborhood. Marked by no shortage of diversity and practically lurking with both intrigue and character, is is to no surprise that I count it among my favorites. And as far as urbanity in LA goes, having some of the densest census tracts outside of Manhattan, and one of the best collection of 1920s-1940 architecture in the Sunbelt, it should be a no-brainer.
the temple in mention: