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Neighborhood Spotlight: L.A. Arts District

Written by Kelly Weimert on Wednesday, July 31st, 2019 at 11:05am.

Angel City Brewery; Source: atlasobscura.com

The Los Angeles Arts District is located downtown and bounded by the Los Angeles River, Alameda Street, First Street, and Violet Street. The district is among the most creative hubs of LA, largely thanks to a group of artists in the 1970s who were priced out of Venice and Hollywood, establishing homes and studios in the forgotten warehouses of downtown, albeit mostly illegally. 

These artists founded several art galleries, such as The Art Dock, a street gallery in a loading dock of then-called Citizens Warehouse (now the Pickle Works Building) and the Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions center on Industrial. There were also a number of artist-fueled hangouts established during that time, including Al’s Bar in the American Hotel, which is attributed to creating the punk-rock music scene in the mid-‘70s, with the likes of Sonic Youth, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Beck developing their sound there. The bar went strong for decades before finally closing in 2001. 

LA Arts District Warehouses
Source: tripsavvy.com via kaytedeioma.com

By 1981, the City of Los Angeles realized the burgeoning and illegal artist community was only getting stronger, so it passed the Artist in Residence (AIR) ordinance, which legally permitted residents to create homes in the formerly commercially-zoned industrial warehouses. With the law on its side, the creative community grew even bigger, with new art galleries, cafes, and performance venues sprouting up all over the district. 

Fast forward to today, and you’ll still find a highly creative community, although gentrification has led to rising housing costs and the loss of many affordable live/work lofts and the artists who reside in them. Despite losing its original, gritty and affordable vibe, the district still remains a cultural hub, with many creative industries, like green technology, entertainment, and architecture, establishing businesses in it. 

PIckle Works building LA Arts District
Pickle Works Building; Source: laconservancy.org

Speaking of architecture, the district is home to many historic buildings. And while they’re not necessarily known for their beauty—most of them are industrial warehouses—they played significant roles in the city’s history. For instance, the aforementioned Pickle Works Building is among the last surviving Victorian-era warehouses in LA, dating back to 1888, and was a largely free and illegal residence for many artists. Among the prominent artists it housed was Carlton Davis, who created the above-mentioned Art Dock in his studio space. 

Challenge Dairy Building; Source: challengedairy.com

Another historically significant piece of architecture is the Challenge Dairy Building, which was designed by the Charles F. Plummer firm in 1926 and purchased by developer Norm Solomon in 1982 after the establishment of the AIR ordinance. Solomon converted the building into lofts for artists, with expansive units ranging from 1,600 to 5,000 square feet. 

Angel City Brewery LA Arts District
Angel City Brewery; Source: atlasobscura.com

The Angel City Brewery also has strong architectural roots. Built in 1913 for an expanding steel manufacturing company, the building included tiles that illustrated the uses for the company’s products, like ships, bridges, and cable spools. The tiles were created by one of the most famous tile artists of the Craftsman period, Ernest Batchelder, and most of them are still intact despite the building’s 2010 conversion to a brewery. Today, Angel City Brewery makes artisan brew in the building in addition to hosting a community gathering space and dedicating many of its walls to rotating displays of local artists' work. 

Undiscovered America LA Arts District
Undiscovered America; Source: cartwheelart.com

LA Arts District Mural
Source: The Patch.com

In addition to historically significant architecture, there are equally significant murals on said architecture, such as artist Dustin Shuler’s 1982 installation, Pinned Butterfly, on the wall of the American Hotel and Earth Crew’s (a collection of ‘90s artists) mural, Undiscovered America on East Fourth Street. Another prominent artist who used the Arts District’s streets as a canvas is Shepard Fairey, who created a number of murals throughout the area in addition to Barack Obama’s iconic 2008 campaign poster. The district is so dense with beautiful murals that there are$20 walking tours available to learn more about the historic street art. 

Lofts for Sale in the LA Arts District

Interested in calling this historic, creative hub home? Check out all lofts for sale in the Los Angeles Arts District below.  

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