Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Urban Un-Renewal: After Coronavirus and Black Lives Matter, Has the Bubble Burst in Downtown L.A.?

 
The Frank Putnam Flint monument on the south lawn of Los Angeles City Hall, facing the Los Angeles Police Department Headquarters, covered in anti-police graffiti. – 6/21/20

Despite decades of flagrant political and fiscal mismanagement, the cities along California’s coast have flourished. Even with the looming threat of unpaid liabilities to civil servants’ unions, an unrelenting drought, and a wave of homelessness that has swept down upon San Francisco and Los Angeles like the zombie apocalypse, nothing seemed to stop the push to develop more and more. The jeremiads against gentrification have grown louder and more desperate every year as, in L.A., more formerly poor and minority-dominated neighborhoods saw craft beer shops and vegan bakeries open among the 99¢ stores and check-cashing outlets. Nowhere was more symbolic of the success that Downtown L.A. itself: At the start of the millennium, the city’s historic and financial core was a ghost town after 6 P.M. and on weekends, its streets becoming eerie canyon of shuttered storefronts devoid even of the homeless.

When you realize that there actually are worse ideas than “President Bernie Sanders”: Graffiti in Los Angeles. – 6/27/20

By 2010, the area had begun roaring to life with trendy bars and restaurants, and retailers looking to project a certain bleeding-edge cool began locating there. By the start of 2020, Vans and Nike’s Jumpman brand had built flagship stores on the historic Broadway corridor, while Apple was underway transforming the Tower Theater into one of its new lifestyle concept destinations.

More anti-police graffiti on the base of Los Angeles’ Sister Cities signpost. – 6/21/20

And by mid-2020? What do things look like after CoronaPanic and the Black Lives Matter lootings? Unfortunately, it seems Mark Twain never uttered that great line, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.” And that’s a shame since there are signs in L.A. that, despite saying all the right things about how black lives matter and such, the good Liberals of Los Angeles might be practicing something that happened sixty years ago in the same areas – namely, another wave of White Flight.

A looted store in L.A.’s Little Tokyo with a portrait of George Floyd painted on the plywood covering the broken windows. – 6/21/20

Even now, four weeks after the destructive “peaceful protests” that saw many people angry at the police violence against George Floyd get brand new $300 sneakers, many businesses’ windows remain boarded up. Those storefronts with the largest windows were conspicuously targeted, even if they have nothing at all behind them – literally. (One building had just been finished being built; the peaceful protesters simply wanted to smash things.)

A high-end sneaker store in L.A.’s Little Tokyo that was looted in Black Lives Matter protests is now adorned with a portrait of Nina Simone. – 6/21/20

The previous weekend, after returning from three placid weeks in Louisiana away from the chaos, I went to Little Tokyo, walking past the Civic Center first. The encampments of homeless tents were on the sidewalks as always, somehow immune from the draconian CoronaMadness laws to which everyone else is subject. I could see that the lower walls of City Hall looked off as if they had recently been discolored. Judging from the graffiti that remained on the monument to Frank Putnam Flint (a former California senator who was instrumental in securing water for Los Angeles in the early twentieth century), I’m pretty sure the building had previously been defaced. All manner of anti-police epithets ranging from the profane to the downright stupid – and usually both – were still scrawled all over the Flint monument, which faces LAPD headquarters.

The peaceful protesters smashed the windows of a new development on 7th Street and Olive Street that was unoccupied just because they wanted to smash windows. Peacefully. – 6/27/20

In Little Tokyo, many of the storefronts that were targeted had one thing in common: They sold rare, hard-to-find, collectible sneakers. Cell phone stores and marijuana dispensaries were also similarly targeted. Apparently higher-end shops like Acne Studios, A.P.C., Mykita, and Theory were mostly spared in favor of looting the nearby Urban Outfitters and Foot Locker. Activists were busy painting brightly colored inspirational pictures on the plywood of the broken windows – because portraits of Nina Simone and calls for education will somehow make all those stolen cell phones and Yeezy Boosts okay.

Chica’s Tacos, a gourmet taco stand on Olive Street, has closed for good and headed to the safer Miracle Mile neighborhood. – 6/27/20

On the Broadway corridor, many stores are open again to some degree– for now. COS, Vans, and the large Australian BNKR womenswear are still boarded up. A store employee told me that, weeks earlier, the entirety of Broadway had been boarded up, then I was shown photos. It looked as if the place was preparing for a category five hurricane. Before I reached that area, though, I saw the first sign that things were not well: Chica’s Tacos, a popular gourmet taco shop on Olive Street, had closed and moved to the Miracle Mile – a neighborhood about six miles west that is upper middle class, more generally white, and much safer.

BNKR store on the corner of Broadway and 9th Street, completely boarded up four weeks after the looting. – 6/27/20

When I reached the hippest of the hip areas – the Arts District on the eastern fringe of Downtown – that is where I noticed the most closures: Malin+Goetz, a high-end skincare line from New York; Shinola, a luxury accessories brand; a high-end women’s clothing boutique; a store selling crystals and incense other hippie objects; a comics and pop culture store; and one other store I couldn’t remember have all closed permanently. Is 3.1 Phillip Lim going to reopen? Will that new Le Labo that’s also boarded up reopen?

This COS boutique has repeatedly been vandalized since it opened a little over two years ago. The Black Lives Matter lootings are just the most recent attack. – 6/27/20

So many stores are just shut right now. And that’s the big question: Which ones will reopen? The longer the CoronaHysteria shut down drags out, the hard that will be. Even though many places could reopen, they are opting not to do so because of the onerous measure the state and city are placing on businesses. For what they would be earning against the costs they would incur to open, they would just lose less money remaining closed. But with the looming threats of street violence, lootings, increased crime, and a reduction in policing added to this, will business owners lose their appetites to locate in “edgy” areas? Will L.A. return how it was in the 1990s when Angelenos had to go north of the 10 and west of La Brea if they wanted to have a nice dinner, see a movie, and shop in a brand name store?

This string of high-end retail storefronts at the most prominent intersection of L.A.’s Arts District is either boarded up or advertising for new lessees. – 6/27/20

On one page of their marketing website, the developers behind At Mateo – one of the many upscale developments in the aforementioned Arts District – write:

Amid the glittering towers and crumbly Art Deco facades, a new generation of adventurous chefs, bartenders, loft dwellers, artists, and developers are creating a neighborhood as electrifying and gritty as New York in the ‘70s.

Does anyone really want that? To live someplace “as … gritty as New York in the ‘70s”? That was the New York victimized by Son of Sam. The New York where porn theaters lined Time Square. The New York where Central Park was a patch of bare earth and subway cars completely were covered in graffiti. The New York where entire city blocks were occupied by squatters. The New York that saw television production flee to the West Coast. The New York that was the subject of that infamous headline, “Ford to City – Drop Dead.”

Trendy skincare brand Malin+Goetz has closed up shop in L.A.’s Arts District, along with a number of other retailers. – 6/27/20

Ironically, those developers’ promotional blather may be more true than they realize. What made people willing to venture into neighborhoods like Echo Park, Chinatown, Boyle Heights, Koreatown, and Downtown was that they felt safe there – something they did not feel about those areas two decades ago. But the massive wave of lootings has the potential of bringing the bunker mentality that gripped Angelenos after the 1992 riots back, seeing businesses that are already stretched to the max by the unfavorable business conditions imposed by the cities and state pull up stakes and move to a more secure location in state (San Diego, Orange County) or just out of state entirely. One restaurateur told me in late May that, if he had it all to do again, he would have opened his business in Huntington Beach, not Downtown L.A.

At least there is one sane person left in Downtown Los Angeles. – 6/27/20

Only time will tell, but this may very well be the start of L.A.’s great urban un-renewal. After months of an economy under government-mandated lock-and-key, will a few rocks through the windows followed by shameless pandering by the city’s politicians to the mob reverse decades of growth as the well-heeled retreat to the suburbs again?

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  1. Jon1979 Lincoln

    You have to remember when Giuliani cleaned up New York in the 1990s, a lot of liberals were truly outraged that he had taken away the gritty vibrancy they loved about the city. The thing was the gritty vibrancy was usually tied into areas where they personally did not live and only had to visit on an optional basis. So for them the crime and the squalor was exciting street theater they could walk away from, and for which the richest of them could totally wall themselves off from. There might be over six murders per day in the city, but nobody who was important to them was dying (and I’d assume any desire for a return to the 1970s-80s ‘vibrancy’ by The New York Times would not include a return there for the Port Authority Bus Terminal — the Mos Eisley Cantina of transportation centers 40 years ago which became safe enough under Giuliani and Bloomberg that the Times built its new headquarters across the street).

    As for degentrifcation in Los Angeles, New York or elsewhere, that’s probably going to start in the outer areas that were the last to be rehabilitated over the past 25 years. Marginal areas that have the least to offer because they were either developed last and/or are furthest away from the locations people want to go are the most likely to see immediate retreat, because housing investments are lower there, making it easier to just walk away. The areas that started gentrifying two decades ago may have people who are worried about their futures and want to leave, but have too big a financial commitment to pull up stakes right away.

    • #1
    • June 29, 2020, at 6:09 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  2. Unsk Member

    Great post Elephant, but you missed one thing: The Chinese connection.

    Downtown LA had five- count five- Chinese funded Billion Dollar condo projects along the “Figueroa Corridor” that catered to wealthy emigrant Chinese that had monumental problems even before the CoronaVirus . Now that idea is blown all to hell. I think only one was built- talk about a monumental white elephant- but I could never understand why anyone would pay millions to live there.

    But that begs another question I always had when I went Downtown, and that was:

    “Why in LA of all places would you want to live Downtown”? LA has so many better neighborhoods – why there?

    What was the appeal? The fake urban grittiness? The Arts district down by old skid row was an Arts district 30 years when actual artists could afford to live downtown because it was really cheap but now it has all these really mega-expensive restaurants for the Downtown Corporate types to show how cool they are and astronomical rents.

    • #2
    • June 29, 2020, at 6:23 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  3. DonG (skeptic) Coolidge

    Good report. The weather is great, so it will bounce back eventually despite the high taxes.

    • #3
    • June 29, 2020, at 6:24 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  4. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks for the report. 

    It won’t matter. The rich are not hurt. They will just sit behind walls with private security. 

    They want this. They want no middle class and just them and the poor. 

    It is not a burst bubble. It is what they want. 

     

    • #4
    • June 29, 2020, at 6:40 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. The Elephant in the Room Member

    Unsk (View Comment):

    But that begs another question I always had when I went Downtown, and that was:

    “Why in LA of all places would you want to live Downtown”? LA has so many better neighborhoods – why there?

    What was the appeal? The fake urban grittiness? The Arts district down by old skid row was an Arts district 30 years when actual artists could afford to live downtown because it was really cheap but now it has all these really mega-expensive restaurants for the Downtown Corporate types to show how cool they are and astronomical rents.

    The appeal of Downtown L.A. includes:

    1.) It’s the most historic section of Los Angeles, with a collection of beautiful architecture unlike anywhere else in the city. L.A. has always been demolition happy, and Downtown is no exception, but this area has perhaps the best collection of historic structures preserved if only because of neglect.

    2.) It’s one of the only truly walkable areas of the city – walkable for an extensive area, not just a handful of streets like Santa Monica or Beverly Hills.

    3.) There is a collection of various different neighborhoods all within very short distance from one another: La Placita (a.k.a., Olvera Street), Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Arts District, Historic Core, etc., all have their own different feel, and they are all very short distances from one another.

    It’s great for Angelenos who are not keen drivers, who don’t have families, and who aren’t obsessed with the beach or mountains. Moreover, Downtown was just the locus of where things were happening in L.A. for the last decade. More cool stores and restaurants were opening near Downtown than the Westside.

    • #5
    • June 29, 2020, at 6:54 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  6. The Elephant in the Room Member

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    As for degentrifcation in Los Angeles, New York or elsewhere, that’s probably going to start in the outer areas that were the last to be rehabilitated over the past 25 years. Marginal areas that have the least to offer because they were either developed last and/or are furthest away from the locations people want to go are the most likely to see immediate retreat, because housing investments are lower there, making it easier to just walk away. The areas that started gentrifying two decades ago may have people who are worried about their futures and want to leave, but have too big a financial commitment to pull up stakes right away.

    In L.A., that would probably be areas like Boyle Heights and Frogtown, as well as parts of Atwater Village bordering Glasell Park. East Hollywood and areas of Koreatown would also be likely to deteriorate, as well as those few portions of Westlake on the eastern edges of the Harbor Freeway that have seen some gentrification.

    If commercial real estate prices don’t lower quickly in Downtown, a lot of businesses could be heading out soon, especially if the CoronaClampdown remains in place through the end of the year (very likely under Generalissimo Garcetti). With some many of those cool bars and restaurants that did so much to lure young people into those pricey lofts gone, how will the twentysomethings justify paying $5000-per-month just so some schizophrenic can scream at their labradoodle three times a day? I think a certain element of retail will remain, but the Ross and Burlington Coat Factory aren’t what draws the hipsters to pay those rents; it’s the Aēsop and Paul Smith and Gentle Monster.

    Downtown has been a bubble for a while, but I think the events of this year – especially the mass looting – will hasten the correction and perhaps see an overcorrection that otherwise would not have happened.

    • #6
    • June 29, 2020, at 7:07 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  7. Jon1979 Lincoln

    The Elephant in the Room (View Comment):

     

    In L.A., that would probably be areas like Boyle Heights and Frogtown, as well as parts of Atwater Village bordering Glasell Park. East Hollywood and areas of Koreatown would also be likely to deteriorate, as well as those few portions of Westlake on the eastern edges of the Harbor Freeway that have seen some gentrification.

    If commercial real estate prices don’t lower quickly in Downtown, a lot of businesses could be heading out soon, especially if the CoronaClampdown remains in place through the end of the year (very likely under Generalissimo Garcetti). With some many of those cool bars and restaurants that did so much to lure young people into those pricey lofts gone, how will the twentysomethings justify paying $5000-per-month just so some schizophrenic scream at their labradoodle three times a day? I think a certain element of retail will remain, but the Ross and Burlington Coat Factory isn’t what draws the hipsters to pay those rents; it’s the Aēsop and Paul Smith and Gentle Monster.

    Downtown has been a bubble for a while, but I think the events of this year – especially the mass looting – will hasten the correction, and perhaps see an overcorrection that otherwise would not have happened.

    Here in Texas, the renewed bar ban this past Thursday — as opposed to the restaurant bars, which remain open — showed that bars/clubs that cater to younger crowds are seen as a problem, because those places and the alcohol they serve were never meant for social distancing, and the more alcohol consumed, the less likely social distancing is going to be maintained. That’s where the COVID rules are far more deadly for the hipster bars (and for stand-alone bars in general) than they are for Chili’s, and it’s hard to see California having more relaxed COVID rules on that than Texas did before last week.

     

    • #7
    • June 29, 2020, at 7:14 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. The Elephant in the Room Member

    Jon1979 (View Comment):

    Here in Texas, the renewed bar ban this past Thursday — as opposed to the restaurant bars, which remain open — showed that bars/clubs that cater to younger crowds are seen as a problem, because those places and the alcohol they serve were never meant for social distancing, and the more alcohol consumed, the less likely social distancing is going to be maintained. That’s where the COVID rules are far more deadly for the hipster bars (and for stand-alone bars in general) than they are for Chili’s, and it’s hard to see California having more relaxed COVID rules on that than Texas did before last week.

    Here in the Los Angeles Soviet Socialist Republic, temperature checks are mandatory with this little gun they aim at your head, and servers have to wear plastic face shields and masks and gloves. It feels more like going for a colonoscopy than getting dinner out. It’s truly horrible.

    • #8
    • June 29, 2020, at 7:21 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  9. James Lileks Contributor

    Better that the successes of capitalism and free markets be destroyed now, so something more equal can take their place. All of those buildings were rehabbed with the expectation of profit, and since property is theft, the entire project of revitalizing the abandoned old downtown was immoral. 

    Now that the work’s been done, though, the enemies of property will be happy to expropriate them and move right in. Nice view!

    • #9
    • June 30, 2020, at 10:54 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  10. The Elephant in the Room Member

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Better that the successes of capitalism and free markets be destroyed now, so something more equal can take their place. All of those buildings were rehabbed with the expectation of profit, and since property is theft, the entire project of revitalizing the abandoned old downtown was immoral.

    Now that the work’s been done, though, the enemies of property will be happy to expropriate them and move right in. Nice view!

    Sadly, what’s more likely to happen is that no one will move right in, and they’ll sit derelict as they did for decades before. And while that’s kinder than the wrecking ball treatment so much of L.A. has gotten, it’s still a shame to think that an area that awoke from such a deep slumber to become the most dynamic part of a notoriously centerless city could soon become a husk of a downtown once again.

    If there’s any silver lining, it could be for media production: Downtown Los Angeles was the backdrop for many commercials and movies for decades because it looked like a generic “downtown” – and it was deserted after banker’s hours, making it an ideal filming location. On evenings and weekends, it basically became one giant backlot. One of the gripes the entertainment industry has had is that, with the rebirth of Downtown, all the new residents began complaining about shooting: Productions can’t just shut down eight blocks of streets all weekend, shine massive lights through the night, or stage huge gunfights and massive explosions like they used to.

    • #10
    • June 30, 2020, at 3:10 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  11. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    All I feel when I see photos of the graffiti and plywood in great American cities is utter helplessness and dismay.

    Oh, and rage. Lots and lots of rage.

    • #11
    • June 30, 2020, at 6:32 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  12. The Elephant in the Room Member

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    All I feel when I see photos of the graffiti and plywood in great American cities is utter helplessness and dismay.

    Oh, and rage. Lots and lots of rage.

    Unfortunately, your rage is the wrong rage. Your rage is privileged and bigoted and hateful. The rage that stole all those expensive sneakers – that’s the correct, media-approved rage.

    • #12
    • June 30, 2020, at 8:56 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  13. James Lileks Contributor

    The Elephant in the Room (View Comment):
    Sadly, what’s more likely to happen is that no one will move right in, and they’ll sit derelict as they did for decades before.

    Probably. I’m just extrapolating the outcome desired by the revolutionaries. They’re owed those apartments, man.

    • #13
    • June 30, 2020, at 10:19 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  14. James Lileks Contributor

    Charlotte (View Comment):

    All I feel when I see photos of the graffiti and plywood in great American cities is utter helplessness and dismay.

    Oh, and rage. Lots and lots of rage.

    Me too. I drive past areas still boarded up but open for business and wonder: Are you unwilling to pry off the wood because someone daubed it with a popular sentiment and you don’t want to assert your rights? Qre you all hedging your bets, because you’re factoring in another night of broken glass? Are we now just living in a state of suspension between eruptions of Righteous Anger?

    • #14
    • June 30, 2020, at 10:23 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  15. colleenb Member
    colleenb Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Great post. I haven’t been to LA since the 1984 Olympics (that was a loooong time ago wasn’t it!) but its sad to see the state parts of it are in now. Two things. First, today is the Feast Day of St. Junipero Serra. I am asking him to pray for his beloved California and Los Angeles. Second, where did you go in Louisiana? My husband’s family is mostly in Alexandria LA.

    • #15
    • July 1, 2020, at 8:12 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  16. Cosmik Phred Member

    Looks like the perpetual darkness and rain of Officer Deckard’s L.A. would be an improvement.

    • #16
    • July 1, 2020, at 8:34 AM PDT
    • Like
  17. The Elephant in the Room Member

    colleenb (View Comment):

    Great post. I haven’t been to LA since the 1984 Olympics (that was a loooong time ago wasn’t it!) but its sad to see the state parts of it are in now. Two things. First, today is the Feast Day of St. Junipero Serra. I am asking him to pray for his beloved California and Los Angeles. Second, where did you go in Louisiana? My husband’s family is mostly in Alexandria LA.

    “Where’s your Messiah now?!”: Fathera Junípero Serra statue pulled down by indigineous idiots in L.A.

    Junípero Serra has been targeted as a colonialist symbol and a perpetrator of the “genocide of indigenous peoples.” Two statues – one in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the other at Los Angeles’ Olvera Street – were pulled down by lawless mobs, I mean, peaceful protesters. (The San Francisco mob is the same group that toppled statues of Francis Scott Key, that terrible slavery proponent Ulysses S. Grant, and Don Quixote because… it was there?) Other statues of Serra in Carmel and Ventura, as well as one on the grounds of Mission San Luis Obispo, have been removed from public view.

    I’m sure that, as the current California state government is slightly to left of Trotsky, the statue of Serra in the U.S. Capitol (one of the state’s two contributions to the National Statuary Hall) will be replaced, and the Junípero Serra State Office Building in Downtown Los Angeles will almost certainly be renamed.

    As for where in Louisiana I was, I was in Baton Rouge – super boring. (I did get a nice day trip to St. Francisville, though.)

    • #17
    • July 2, 2020, at 11:44 AM PDT
    • Like
  18. colleenb Member
    colleenb Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The Elephant in the Room (View Comment):

    colleenb (View Comment):

    Great post. I haven’t been to LA since the 1984 Olympics (that was a loooong time ago wasn’t it!) but its sad to see the state parts of it are in now. Two things. First, today is the Feast Day of St. Junipero Serra. I am asking him to pray for his beloved California and Los Angeles. Second, where did you go in Louisiana? My husband’s family is mostly in Alexandria LA.

    “Where’s your Messiah now?!”: Fathera Junípero Serra statue pulled down by indigineous idiots in L.A.

    Junípero Serra has been targeted as a colonialist symbol and a perpetrator of the “genocide of indigenous peoples.” Two statues – one in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the other at Los Angeles’ Olvera Street – were pulled down by lawless mobs, I mean, peaceful protesters. (The San Francisco mob is the same group that toppled statues of Francis Scott Key, that terrible slavery proponent Ulysses S. Grant, and Don Quixote because… it was there?) Other statues of Serra in Carmel and Ventura, as well as one on the grounds of Mission San Luis Obispo, have been removed from public view.

    I’m sure that, as the current California state government is slightly to left of Trotsky, the statue of Serra in the U.S. Capitol (one of the state’s two contributions to the National Statuary Hall) will be replaced, and the Junípero Serra State Office Building in Downtown Los Angeles will almost certainly be renamed.

    As for where in Louisiana I was, I was in Baton Rouge – super boring. (I did get a nice day trip to St. Francisville, though.)

     

    It is so sad how St. Juipero Serra is being reviled now in California. Sigh. As to LA, St. Martinville is a nice place to visit also. I like going to the Capitol in Baton Rouge just for the whole Huey Long vibe. We were back about 2 years ago for a memorial service in Pineville. Again thanks for your report on the er… Golden State. Maybe it should be the Golden Calf State. I think that fits better.

    • #18
    • July 2, 2020, at 1:32 PM PDT
    • Like