One point not mentioned in this or any other recent article is how one previous Mayor was strong-armed by organized labor into keeping this entire part of the city restricted to heavy industry, long after heavy industry had not only fled this area - but the entire city. And for years projects like those listed below were stopped and the buildings lay empty.
A burgeoning arts district is helping California’s biggest city reinvent itself
JAMES S. RUSSELL
THE opening of the Broad Museum is claimed by some to bestow a pre-eminence on downtown Los Angeles that has long been sought. Many Angelenos have never been completely persuaded that their sprawling, mongrel-like metropolis could ever have a proper downtown, even though it has skyscrapers hugging the freeway and a line-up of cultural crown jewels on South Grand Avenue, on what is called Bunker Hill, where the Broad is to be found. But the sceptics should take heart. Another part of the city-centre that has been ignored for decades is now coming to the fore, amid hundreds of blocks of low, anonymous industrial buildings that spread southeast a mile or more from the foot of Bunker Hill to the vast railway yards by the Los Angeles river.
A couple of streets away an arts district has been quietly taking root, as a coterie of artists first settled, and then thrived, in near invisibility. Though a few coffee shops and some sophisticated restaurants have opened, most barely announce their presence within the rusting sheds. Murals cover derelict factories and lorries roar down the wide streets.
Ever since it opened, the district’s fulcrum has been the Box, an influential gallery in a concrete-block building, founded by Mara McCarthy, the daughter of Paul McCarthy, a well-known Los Angeles artist. Now, close by the Box, Paul Schimmel, for many years the chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), has teamed up with Hauser & Wirth, a powerful international gallery that represents Mr McCarthy, among others, to overhaul a 116,000-square-foot (10,800-square-metre) complex of derelict industrial buildings (pictured).The project, which will be called Hauser Wirth & Schimmel, is conceived as a “destination”, Mr Schimmel says. Designed by Annabelle Selldorf, an architect who specialises in galleries, it will work much like a museum, with an educational area, a bookshop, a restaurant, a garden, four large exhibition spaces and a sculpture court. It is also a sign of the city’s growing presence in the international art world.
The new gallery will be a short walk from the Geffen Contemporary, a MOCA branch. The combination of the two will rival the institutions of Bunker Hill. Other high-profile projects are also bringing greater attention to the area. Preliminary construction has begun to replace the crumbling Sixth Street Bridge that spans the Los Angeles river. The arches and delicate deck-supporting cables of the new bridge, designed by Michael Maltzan, an architect working with HNTB, an engineering firm, echo the graceful arches of the original, which has provided the backdrop for dozens of memorable scenes filmed in the concrete riverbed. The bridge accommodates pedestrians and bikes with stairs and ramps that drop down to the riverbank and run up the arches to gain views of downtown. It could become an attraction to rival the High Line Park in New York.
There is also untapped value in the river itself. A master plan provides greater public access to the softened edges of a naturalised stream flowing among lushly planted islands. The district’s mongrel character has spurred Mr Maltzan to develop other projects around downtown, channelling the area’s industrial atmosphere while proposing new ways of accommodating its growing density.
One of these is a block of flats, One Santa Fe, that extends a quarter of a mile (402 metres) along the railway yards. Three floors of white and red stucco flats run above a two-storey concrete parking structure that is as stark as a highway viaduct. The design expresses the district’s “infrastructure scale” of railways, bridges and power lines, Mr Maltzan says. Its extended horizontal layers are meant to suggest that higher density may be achieved by stacking horizontal elements rather than building towers.
In other cities, the presence of such landmark investments would set off a wave of property development that would drive away the very people who first created value out of abandonment. Locals seem less worried about that happening in Los Angeles because the city is seen as eternally fluid and diffuse. “Every place is sort of a destination here,” says Laura Owens, a Los Angeles artist who has collaborated with Gavin Brown, a gallery owner, and Wendy Yao, who owns a bookshop, to open 356 Mission, an exhibition space. As prices have risen in the arts district, Ms Owens has moved to Boyle Heights, across the river. “People will drive all over to see what’s interesting.” She says her gallery is off the beaten path, but won’t be in a year. (A local offshoot of Maccarone, a New York gallery, is opening nearby this month.)
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