DTLA = Downtown Los Angeles
Most other cities just call their downtown cores “downtown”. But in LA, instead of being the center of local civilization, downtown is just another neighborhood. And it’s one that many Angelenos could live their whole lives without visiting – and no, not because they’re stuck in traffic.
I’ve been coming to LA since the early 90s. But it was only about five years ago that I actually set foot downtown. For decades, the area was just so dilapidated. Not only was there no real reason to go there, but it really was not a risk you wanted to take. Somewhat similar to the first time I visited South Africa in the mid-90s. We were staying with friends in a suburb of Johannesburg called Sandton. When we asked about a possible excursion into Joburg, our hosts looked at us in not-so-mock horror and asked, “Why would you want to do that?!”
But Downtown LA has had a renaissance in the last 10 years with new office, hotel and condo towers and loft conversions… the addition of the LA Live! entertainment complex adjacent to Staples Center (home of the Lakers and a premier concert venue)… and Gehry’s exuberant Disney Hall jazzes up the classic arts complex of the LA Music Center. There’s even a cute little baby subway that runs between Hollywood and Downtown. It may have other stops, but really, does anyone care?
Thom and I lived in a loft right on Pershing Square when we first moved to LA four years ago. That was the longest month of our lives, thanks to the garbage trucks making their rounds at 3am, picking up giant dumpsters along Broadway and tossing them into their cavernous maws. The Bush Administration had a name for this: shock and awe. It was an exquisite form of torture. But we made some great discoveries in DTLA during that monthlong incarceration. Bottega Louie is still one of my favorite restaurants in LA. On weekday mornings, it is just a quiet little Parisian cafe. Evenings and weekends, the cavernous white space (a former Brooks Brothers store) comes to life as a see-and-be-seen super-bistrot. There’s Little Tokyo, where you can forget that you are in North America for awhile. There’s an arts district with galleries occupying the street level of Beaux Arts buildings – that stand in as various parts of NYC on tv and film shoots. One night in LA, I saw them make it rain… in the middle of the day… in New York. Movie magic!
Truth be told, though, I don’t get downtown very often. It’s just not on the way to anywhere. I did have a great reason to head downtown last week for a ‘book chat’ with one of my favorite authors, Armistead Maupin. The event was held at the Central Library, which was built in 1926 and is now almost trampled underfoot by the 1000-ft monsters all around it. The Central Library is a beautiful but odd mix of architectural influences, from the pyramid-topped tower to the Mediterranean-ish design of its wings. Surrounded by low pools, steps and allees of cypress, it is a charming bit of yesteryear – and it works.
As I left the event that night, I stepped outside and looked up the skirt of LA’s tallest building. Its current sponsor is US Bank Corp, so you’ll hear it referred to as the “US Bank building”. But that is as soulless a moniker as they come. From the time this skyscraper’s foundations were being dug in the late 80s, locals have rather lovingly called it the “Library Tower” after its short, bookish neighbor. And that name persists, because it is better than anything else anyone has tried to call it. Library Tower was destroyed by the very bad aliens in their very big spaceships in the film Independence Day. It was also laid low by crazy tornados in The Day After Tomorrow. And it slid into the Pacific with the rest of LA when the world ended in the flick 2012.
As I made my way that night out of downtown, I turned on Grand Ave and was immediately gifted with a magnificent view. I pulled over, put on my flashers, and hoped this would not be a $1000 photograph. There, across a small valley, was the iconic LA City Hall. There was a little mist in the air, and I didn’t even have to squint to imagine I had stepped back into the 40s. Funnily enough, this is another bit of Los Angeles that (a) is topped by a pyramid, and (b) was fried by nasty aliens and their ray guns in the 1953 film version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. I guess it’s cheaper for Hollywood to destroy local stuff than to have to go on location. But gosh, go pick on Chicago. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that city destroyed by anything: weather, space goons or big bad monsters. Unless you count Rod Blagojevich. Just sayin’.
It’s a strange place, but DTLA makes me happy.
Day 031 #100happydays