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.

The Wild, Wild West

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Wild Wild West.

That's what comes to mind when I think of Koreatown, colloquially known as Ktown. Typically, when one thinks of Koreatown, they think of the hyper-urban infrastructure, mass transit and the 2.5 square mile neighborhood being the nexus of Korean culture and life in the United States. While all of the aforementioned are true, Koreatown also has a much darker and saucier, grit-laden underbelly. Sure, gentrification and a sterile Korean pop culture flourishes and exists in some areas, but the dominating milieu is one of dereliction, decay, grit and squalor. Chilling statistics such as 70% of its population, 250,000-strong being poor, 1/2 of its population being illegal immigrants and 3/4 of its population earning less than $35,000 [1] speak volumes about the perils at hand. The widespread proliferation of gangs, hookers, trannies, drug dealers and the general extremely seedy veneer cast upon the neighborhood are equally chilling.

So full of edge. Maybe not in the best of ways, either. While the neighborhood has made huge strides in the field of safety, there is a certain unease I get here. The apprehension isn't as visible as say, South Central, but its definitely visible. I must admit, its not a particularly good feeling when you're alone in such neighborhoods and a jalopy violently slows down at a moment's notice , or you're alone and see a crowd of unfamiliar people on the other end of the block you're on, or when you smile at someone, only to receive a blank, vacuous stare. Neither is being viewed with unwanted suspicion from by trannies or vagrants, or having drug dealers make it clear that you "saw absolutely nothing", or seeing 10 MS-13 gang members to pour out of a ratty apartment, all 10 high out of their minds and looking for trouble. Luckily, most of it is just smiles.

While its hard to romanticize or see hope in such daunting statistics, I can however, romanticize its cachet. The preponderance of pre-WW2 masterpieces; buildings that illustrated unfettered ambition and starkly contrast to their current states of various disarray , the generally unpretentious nature; the little Spanish-tinged hello's, and for those who can't speak English, generous smiles, a true "city" feel, and an eclectic culinary scene (even if mainly ethnic street fare), all demand merit.

Venice Mk.III

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

West Adams

Monday, March 23, 2009

West Adams!

The traditionally Black neighborhood that I love for its Victorian masterpieces, greasy, no-nonsense BBQ joints churning out Memphis' Finest,and jubilant Gospel houses! Man, I swear..this place is a real gem. With its lovely tree-lined streets studded with a bevy of homes of Victorian, Craftsman and Spanish-styles, the place has emerged as a hotspot for both
Black gentrification (mainly by Black LGBT), as well community activism and lobbying. Oh, and the people ! So nice ! I mean, they actually say small things like: "Hey baby, how you doin' today?". Might not mean alot to some, but I consider them vestiges of a once dignified, polite and courteous era that once graced Los Angeles.

Bangkok Sapphires

Friday, March 20, 2009

Grabbed Thai food with my grandfather today in Gardena.

Thai food, in its intriguing, exotic demeanor (not the overpriced yuppie fusion bs), is one of my favorite cuisines. Firstly, I love how the Thai food spectrum runs what seems to be the whole culinary gamut. Secondly, like Chinese food, Thai cuisine has dishes geared to American and Thai tastes (the latter for me, of course). Lastly, the impressive breadth. My goodness. From the Chinese-derived to Coconut-bases to Curries. There has got to be a Thai dish for every palette out there.

Oh, and the mango sticky rice and thai iced tea? Without flaw.

South Central Mk.II

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Millie's Cafe

Monday, March 16, 2009

South Central

Saturday, March 14, 2009