The City Without a City


“I just can’t do it until the light rail comes in.” I have no rebuttal to Tim’s adamant stance on downtown Los Angeles’ placement among America’s big cities. Instead, I agree and say, “It’s too hot in the summer.” Tim and I both conclude that, “it’s just not there yet.” That’s basically the deduction we land on as we talk about the hypothetical what-ifs of relocating to downtown LA.

Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles

We sit at a Starbucks (of all places) on 6th street in the heart of Los Angeles. We watch the city move as it may. The weather is surprisingly calm and cool and the vibe is that of New York City, not Los Angeles. There’s no celebrity sightings or abundant palm trees. Instead, cars and buses whip by as people stop and go at walk and do-not-walk intervals. The buildings, brick and ornate, have character. They rise well above our heads, yet far short of most city standards. Around every corner there’s historic charm and from our vantage point we can see new businesses as we hear the construction of many more to come. There’s a rebuilding in downtown and it’s piqued our interest. The problem is, it hasn’t done enough to lure us away from the beach just yet.

First off, yes there actually is a centralized downtown Los Angeles. New York or Chicago it is not, but there’s a history here that rivals both its behemoth brethren to the East. And while there are still naysayers who believe LA will never be what it was in its heyday, countless relics stand as proof that it does indeed have a vital epicenter; an epicenter that is seeing the light of day and catching the attention of a growing number of people.

 Tim and a bucket of caffeine

We walk the streets and marvel at the potential of each city block. We picture the pavement with a trolley or rail car instead of yellow cabs and aimless commuters. We talk about how cool it would be if that old theater across the street would reclaim its grandeur and expel its tacky T-Shirt shop that occupies its frame. With each glance, we can just see the possibilities. But promise and potential are not enough for Los Angeles to become the city it can be. There has to be more. And without snubbing LA Live and its billion-dollar business partnerships, the rebuilding effort needs to respect the city’s noir history instead of its commercial partnerships.

 The Eastern Columbia building

Fortunately, not everyone is waiting for that to happen. According to developer, 213’s website: “213, the first nightlife developer to stake a claim in Historic Downtown Los Angeles, has created nine distinctive bars set in re-imagined architectural gems, increasing your nocturnal wanderlust and entertainment possibilities.” And they have come through on their promise. Cole’s French Dip, the self-proclaimed originators of the French Dip, is one of their properties. With tin ceilings, deep red interiors and vintage cocktail menus, Cole’s happily whisks you away to the early 1920’s. Seven Grand, LA’s best whisky bar in town, is another great example of a space dedicated to the authenticity and revitalization of downtown once again.

Another guy with his finger on the pulse of downtown Los Angeles is Andrew Meieran. He not only believes in the city, but he’s sinking millions of dollars to help get it there. Meieran is the founder of LA’s most unique bar/nightclub, The Edison. The gigantic space occupies the old Edison building built in 1910 and has kept nearly every historical detail intact. He recently bought downtown LA landmark, Clifton’s Brookdale cafeteria and plans to refurbish it back to its original charm while improving upon its entire building. Redwood Bar, The Orpheum Theater, The Cicada Club, and plenty of others that stood the test of time, are helping to authenticate this city once again.

For those of us who believe in this place, we know that there are dozens of gems dotting each turn and alley of the city. We make the drive, pay the parking fees and wander the streets in search of the next great watering hole. But there’s still something missing; something big enough to keep us from moving here.

Maybe it’s the sketch that prowls the gritty streets or the fact that public transportation is still a distant afterthought. Maybe it’s the 100-degree weather or the smog. Whatever it is, it’s enough so that while on a loft tour, we turn our noses at an 800 square foot loft overlooking the city for only $1,600 a month. Try doing that in Manhattan. Neither the polished concrete floors nor the stainless steel kitchen were enough. The free parking space, free internet, exposed brick – none of it could take us away from walking to the beach each night after work with our ladies. And perhaps it’s not a slight against the city, but a testament to Santa Monica. Whatever the case may be the enticement is there, but until it all comes together, we’ll be hypothetically moving in for some time.

 View from the City National building

You can help Los Angeles “get there” by joining the Los Angeles Conservancy. They’re a non-profit organization that works to preserve the historic architecture and cultural resources of Los Angeles. 


(All pictures taken with the EVO phone from Sprint)


One comment

  1. CD · November 8, 2010

    True that, brother! Well said. Great photos.

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