Arts District, Los Angeles

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Arts District
Neighborhood of Los Angeles
The Arts District
The Arts District
Arts District is located in Downtown Los Angeles
Arts District
Arts District
Location within Downtown Los Angeles
Coordinates: 34°02′28″N 118°13′59″W / 34.04117°N 118.23298°W / 34.04117; -118.23298
Country  United States
State  California
County County of Los Angeles
City  Los Angeles
 • City Council José Huizar
 • U.S. House Xavier Becerra
Area code(s) 213

The Arts District,occupies the eastern side of Downtown Los Angeles, USA, east of Little Tokyo and west of the LA River.[1] The area of formerly abandoned industrial buildings has become a thriving mecca for young professionals in creative industries, including L.A.'s huge TV and film industry.[2] The city community planning boundaries are Alameda Street on the west, First Street on the north, the LA River to the east, and Violet Street on the south.[3]


In 1981, the City of Los Angeles passed its "Artist in Residence" or "AIR" ordinance, which allowed residential use of formerly industrial buildings - artists had long used such spaces as living quarters illegally, and the AIR law sought to bring this practice into legality and regulation.

Vignes Street winds through the northeastern edge of the Arts District, parallel to and a couple of blocks west of the broad cement trench that memorializes the L.A. River. It is named for Jean-Louis Vignes, an aging adventurer and vintner who arrived in Los Angeles in 1831 by way of the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and Bordeaux. He planted grapes on 104 acres moistened by the seasonal river, ocean mists and sparse rains. The hardy Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc vines imported from the south of France thrived there and by 1849 El Aliso, as the Vignes vineyard was called, was the largest producer of wine in California The grapes are gone, but the San Antonio Winery just north of the community is a reminder of the area’s past.

By the late 19th century, oranges and grapefruit had replaced grapes as the principal agricultural products of the area and the property west of the riverbank was thick with citrus groves. The groves provided a location for filmmaker DW Griffith who filmed parts of Hollywood’s first feature film (In Old California) there in 1909. A single grapefruit tree remains, towering over the Japanese American Plaza off San Pedro Street and Azusa and occasionally dropping an undersized grapefruit from branches thirty feet high, creating a rare urban citrus hazard.

Somewhere near Third Street and Alameda, the area’s first commercial arts enterprise was born. It was a print shop that employed artists from around the region who vied to create the most intriguing labels for the boxes of citrus fruit shipped across the country.

The growing Santa Fe freight depots and warehouses created to serve the citrus industry’s shipping needs determined the area’s economic character for most of the next century and is responsible for the architectural flavor of the Arts District structures that have survived earthquakes, flood and fire. The single room hotels for rail workers to the northwest and the growth of Little Tokyo to the west and Chinatown to the north created a mix that was working class, cosmopolitan and a bit exotic in a manner similar to other West Coast urban centers.

By World War II, the citrus groves had been replaced by factories and the rail freight business was giving way to the trucking industry. The area had taken on an industrial character that was growing seedy around the edges.[4] Over the next twenty years, many of the independent small manufacturers had either been absorbed by larger competitors, grown too big for their quarters – or simply failed—and an increasing number of vacant warehouse and former factory spaces contributed to a dingy, decaying urban environment typical of many aging big American cities of the era.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a handful of artists saw opportunity in the empty warehouses and began colonizing the area, converting former industrial spaces into working studios, renting space for as little as a three cents a square foot and carving out living quarters. The City of Los Angeles acknowledged the reality of the situation and in 1981 passed the Artist in Residence ordinance, which made it legal for artists to live in their working studios.[1]

Art galleries, cafes and performance venues opened as the residential population grew. Al’s Bar on Hewitt just off Traction, in particular, served up punk rock from the mid-70s through the beginning of the new century, introducing generations of Angelenos to dozens of emerging groups. The Atomic Cafe on 1st Street at Alameda was an artists haunt in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), created post-modern exhibitions at its gallery space on Industrial Street. Several commercial art galleries, including Oranges and Sardines, Kirk DeGoyer Gallery, the Downtown Gallery, Vanguard Gallery, Exile, and Galleria by the Water opened in the late seventies, only to close in the early eighties. Cirrus Editions, the first gallery to open downtown, remains open today.

Bedlam, on 6th Street (and later, briefly, in the former premises of Al’s bar) was a salon with drawing workshops, art installations, theater, live music and a speakeasy. Dangerous Curve, on a dangerous curve of 4th Place between Mateo and Molino, put on exhibitions of artists whose work was often difficult to categorize. The Spanish Kitchen, a warehouse space on Third near Traction, was home to series of happenings, events, raves, installations and blowout parties. It now houses e3rd Steakhouse and Lounge, an eatery that hosts community events and exhibitions of works by local artists. Coccola (later known as the 410 Boyd St. Bar and Grill), the legendary artists’ bar just west of the Arts District, lives on as Escondite.

The institution that was for many years the heart of the Arts District was Bloom’s General Store, presided over by Joel Bloom, a veteran of Chicago’s Second City, who became an early advocate for the community and who is remembered as The Arts District’s once and only unofficial mayor. Bloom died in 2007, but his memory is honored with a plaque from the city declaring area around Third, Traction and Rose to be Joel Bloom Square, which is, appropriate to the eccentric nature of the community, a triangle.[5]

Cornerstone Theater, an enterprise that brings community theater to locations all around the country, still resides on Traction Avenue. Around the corner, on Hewitt at 4th Pl., the non-profit ArtShare offers lessons in art, dance, theater and music to urban youth and features a small theater often used by Padua Playwrights. Padua stages plays around the city, often in non-traditional environments, and hosts playwriting workshops. [3]


Challenges face the Arts District today, such as taller buildings and the loss of inexpensive lofts to developers who have convert former loft and studio buildings into condos.[6] Community leaders are struggling to balance the economic opportunities offered by gentrification with the need to preserve the character of the Arts District as a creative community that has made contributions to the cultural and economic well-being of Los Angeles for decades.[7] In 2014, the average annual income for neighborhood residents was $120,000.[8] While the initial decades saw the conversion to residential and commercial uses of low-slung warehouses and industrial spaces, downtown zoning laws are being rewritten to would permit the heights of buildings to roughly double. This could mean up to 1,500 new residential units in structures up to eight stories (about one hundred feet (30 m)).[9]

The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), resides in the 110 year old, quarter mile-long (0.40 km) former Santa Fe Freight Depot that has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Across the street is a 438-unit apartment complex, "One Santa Fe," that opened in 2014. Designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA), a Los Angeles based architecture firm, the 5 to 6 story building has 510,000-square-foot of interior space (47,000 m2). The design enhances the wood frame structure covered in white stucco above a concrete parking deck with a curling concrete parking ramp at the intersection of Santa Fe Avenue and 3rd Street. The structure has a 200-foot-wide opening (61 m) in the center of the project with a long bar that holds three stories of apartments above the opening that frames the large courtyard.[10]

A century-old Coca-Cola manufacturing plant at 4th and Merrick streets, just around the corner from the enormous Santa Fe railroad dock that houses SCI-Arc, underwent an elaborate makeover into a lush office and retail complex in 2014. The three-story brick-clad building was described as the "headquarters for the company's Pacific Coast business and for its export trade in the Hawaiian Islands and Old Mexico" when it was built in 1915. Retail space for such users as a gym, shops and an upmarket restaurant are in the basement and first floor. The two upper floors were converted to office space to attract growing firms in fields such as technology, entertainment and fashion who seek out something different than typical modern offices.[11] The developers planned for the historic building to provide a sense of nostalgia with high ceilings, more natural lighting and different windows such as are typically found in structures originally used for manufacturing. The complex is called Fourth & Traction after Traction Avenue on the other side of the block that was a street car route connecting downtown's old industrial district to the city.[8]

The Arts District remains the home of artists, arts enterprises and many employed in L.A.s film and television industry. The Arts District has as many as 800 filming days a year. Projects shot there include Meet Me in St Louis, Ed Wood, Terminator 2, Monster in Law, the TV series NCIS LA, Flash Forward, Castle, Numbers, The Office, and House. One notable film location, Lot 613 (located on 613 Imperial Street), has been the backdrop of music videos and TV Shows, such as Jason's Derulo's "Ridin' Solo" music video and the promo for Justin Timberlake's "Take Back the Night" single.

So much filming activity has created challenges, particularly as a more upmarket population began to take root. Location productions make donations to community non-profits which are used to support local arts activities and to create a community arts center, a practice that has done much to preserve the peace between residents and production companies.

The artists George Herms, Paul McCarthy and Shepard Fairey, writer filmmaker Frank Miller, singer Meshell Ndegeocello, actors Forrest Whittaker and Jenna Fischer are among the many whose talents were nurtured here early in their careers. McCarthy has recently returned and opened a gallery (The Box) in the community. Early in the new century the internationally acclaimed Austrian artist Gottfried Helnwein took up residence in the Arts District. When he was asked why he chose to live and work here he said, “because this is the image capital of the world.”


Coordinates: 34°02′28″N 118°13′59″W / 34.04117°N 118.23298°W / 34.04117; -118.23298