Upside of downtown

L.A.'s urban renaissance rises, once more

For some, to know downtown L.A. is to love it. However, the course of true love never did run smooth.

In the neighborhood with a history of faking out Angelenos, city cheerleaders have the task of convincing a skeptical public that — no, really — downtown is worth the trek.

This time, a small army is on their side: Downtown now boasts a core resident population of about 25,000. With more than $12 billion invested in private construction projects, the area expects to see 9,000 new residences by the end of next year.

Cedd Moses, who opened the Golden Gopher bar in 2004, says his clientele is comprised of “the emerging population of young multiculturals and downtown dwellers. It’s their migration to the Central City and mindsets that are sparking L.A.’s urban renaissance.”

Nevertheless, an ill-timed visit can make you wonder if you’ve been fooled again.

No matter how many crumbling factories are transformed into million-dollar views, their sightlines still include tent cities. And walking to the coffee shop could include a glimpse of an addict lighting his morning crack pipe.

The effects of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s recent promise to redouble the city’s homeless services remain to be seen. However, the truest indicator that this downtown revival might be built to last is an influx of operations that, in any other neighborhood, would be mundane.

When Vietnamese restaurant Blossom opened at Fourth and Winston streets in March, local resident Bonnie Kim says the impact was immediate.

“We’d never imagined walking across (Winston),” says Kim, who describes it as “the single most-famous ‘you-don’t-walk-down-that-street’ street. It’s OK to walk there now. At Blossom you see people, other loft dwellers, that you’ve never seen before. And I’ve been here for five years.”

Market Lofts developer Jeff Lee acknowledges there’s more community excitement about the 50,000-square-foot Ralphs supermarket that will anchor his property than the 267 high-end condos that will perch above it.

“Everyone is watching the progress on construction,” says Lee, president of Lee Homes. “Knowing that the supermarket is coming has been a factor for many people in their decision to purchase and live downtown.”

Where luxury has been swift to embrace the area, utility has been more wary. The 90014 zip code, a prime area for downtown’s lofts and condos, contains not a single Starbucks. Trader Joe’s won’t make an appearance anytime soon; says spokeswoman Alison Mochizuki, “Downtown Los Angeles is not in Trader Joe’s two-year strategy at this point.”

However, a Ralphs spokeswoman says the market will open in fall 2007; a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf will be in the same complex. Pitfire Pizza opened last year and makes local deliveries via Segway; wine bar 626 Reserve opens next week.

Meanwhile, there are small victories: Last month’s LACMA Muse ArtWalk culminated with a cocktail party at the refurbished St. Vibiana’s Cathedral, with a DJ where the pastor used to be. Broadway Bar is now monthly host to Cabaret Roulette, the new home for the Derby’s burlesque dancers. And the year ahead promises dozens of bars and restaurants, including multiple projects from Fred Eric and Moses’ 213 Ventures.

Kim will make her own contribution to the cause with Push Emporium, which she will open June 1 with Sally Daliege. In addition to a drop-off dry-cleaning service, Dirty Girls, the 2,500-square-foot Push will include florist Dandelion Ranch and a boutique that sells men’s and women’s clothing, tabletop elements, gifts and beauty products.

Next door is Clik Hotel, a favorite of local prostitutes. “We’re on Fourth and Main,” Kim says. “We’re hoping (Push) changes that side of the street.”

However, even the area’s biggest boosters don’t expect change to be immediate. Moses lives in Hancock Park with his wife and children.

“The new population is primarily single, wealthy and without kids,” he says. “It doesn’t make sense for me yet.”

Urbane and urban dwellings

Library Court

Textile at Santee Village

Library Court
630 W. Sixth St. (Financial District)
Textile at Santee Village
315 Eighth St. (Fashion District)
Ground floor: Library Bar, Mataki Sushi, Wolfgang Puck Café, gourmet salad bar Loose Leaf, Juice It Up! and Subway.
Overhead: Ninety units in the former University Club, across from the Standard Hotel. High ceilings, hardwood floors, granite counters; sizes range from 500 to 1,185 square feet. Fitness center, playroom and rooftop lounge.
Pricing: $350,000 to the $800s
Occupancy: Summer; open house June 3-4
Developer: Greystone Group
Contact: or (213) 488-1931
Ground floor: 5,000 square feet of retail space; project’s first phase includes a Rite Aid drug store, a food court and — another Subway?
Overhead: Sixty-four lofts in a renovated 1926 textile building with oversized windows and finished concrete floors; rooftop pool and hot tub. Floorplans include studios up to two-bedroom, two-bath units.
Pricing: The mid-$300s to the low $900s
Occupancy: Now; open house May 13
Developer: MJW Investments
Contact: or (213) 624-1640

Sky Lofts

Market Lofts

Sky Lofts
801 S. Grand Ave. (South Park)
Market Lofts
Ninth and Flower streets (South Park)
Ground floor: Retail and restaurants expected to open by year’s end, but a rep couldn’t confirm names.
Overhead: A 1980s high-rise converted to 132 residential lofts on 11 floors; 10 floors of office space and street-level retail beneath. Residential units range from 1,070 to 2,141 square feet; private lobby, fitness center and screening room.
Pricing: From the $700s to $1.3 million.
Occupancy: Now
Developer: Lee Homes/CIM Group
Contact: or (213) 689-5009
Ground floor: The mecca formerly known as Ralphs; also Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Cold Stone Creamery, Quiznos and a UPS Store.
Overhead: There are 267 lofts on floors 3-7, from 695 to 1,588 square feet, with open-plan interiors. Building amenities include pool, spa, fitness center and rooftop deck.
Pricing: From the high $300s.
Occupancy: Spring 2007
Developer: Lee Homes/CIM Group
Contact: or (213) 553-9375

Original infrastructure

Yoga Studio
Yoga Circle Downtown, 400 S. Main St. (San Fernando Bldg.), lobby level, (213) 620-1040
Since: April 2003
Knekoh Fruge offers over a dozen yoga classes in the historic building each week. Most students live or work in the area, but some drive in from Echo Park, Koreatown and Boyle Heights.

DVD rentals
Old Bank DVD, 400 S. Main St., #105, (213) 613-9654
Since: December 2005
Key grip Erik Loysen (“The Shield”) and director of photography Mark Schumacher opened shop on Christmas Eve for people who were tired of driving to Video Journeys in Silverlake. Membership doesn’t always have its privileges; says Loysen, “I can’t afford to live down here.”

Doggie Daycare
Bark Avenue, 3016 S. Hill St., (213) 748-7485;
Since: October 2004
This full-service retailer offers grooming services and daycare for dogs (and free pickup and delivery for loft-dwelling dogs in the Bark Avenue limo). Open daily, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Pizza Delivery
Pitfire Pizza, 108 W. Second St. (Higgins Bldg.), (213) 808-1200;
Since: October 2005
Owners Paul Hibler and David Sanfield also own motion picture catering service Deluxe; the first Pitfire location opened in North Hollywood in 2002. Downtown offers the same menu with locally grown and organic ingredients, plus delivery via two Segways.

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