People have been building things along the Sunset Strip for a long time now. There are plenty of reasons to want to build there. Probably the people who put up the first houses and apartments along the winding hildside road were drawn by the view. The developers who came along in the twenties had something different in mind. Because at that time the area was unincorporated and beyond the reach of the LAPD, it was a great place to put bars and clubs. In the sixties the nightlife was still a draw, but it also became a hotspot for the counterculture. The clubs attracted bands that were playing all kinds of music, and the Strip in general became a magnet for anyone looking for a different kind of lifestyle.
So even before people began taking LA seriously as a city, the Strip had a reputation for being incredibly hip. Developers saw the potential for profit, and the number of high-rise apartments and hotels grew. Out of towners would come to the Strip to have a drink at the Viper Room or catch a band at the Whiskey. And if they had enough money they could rent a room at one of the hotels that offered a spectacular view of the city spreading out all the way to the horizon.
I’ve never had enough money to stay in one of those hotels, but I’ve still been able to enjoy the view. I remember ambling along Sunset as a kid, heading for Tower Records or Book Soup, turning my head now and then to gaze out over LA. Though there were a number of high-rises, much of the Strip was lined with one and two-story buildings. There were long stretches that allowed you to gaze out at incredible vistas.
But these days those views are disappearing. A new spate of development is rising up along the Strip, making it harder and harder to see those breathtaking vistas. There’s a massive project under construction right now which will occupy a good stretch of Sunset on both sides of La Cienega. And there are other projects under consideration, such as 8150 Sunset.
Many of the hillside residents are freaking out, and one of the reasons they’re upset is that these projects will block their view. (There are other reasons, too, including increased traffic and crumbling infrastructure.) Of course, the fact that the folks in the hills are mad about losing their view has riled the pro-development crowd. They’ve been reviled as elitist snobs who want to stop progress just so that can stand on their deck at sunset and gaze at the vast landscape below. It’s interesting, though, that the developers haven’t been the focus of similar criticism. Let’s get real. One of the main reasons they’re building high-rises along the Strip is so they can sell the view. The hotel rooms and condos in these new projects will go for outrageous prices precisely because they offer fantastic views. And if you think we really need another upscale high-rise in LA, I think you’re completely out of touch with reality. Developers are pushing these projects because they can make a mountain of cash. Meanwhile, there’s a serious shortage of affordable housing, in large part because the current wave of development is driving housing prices sky high.
As for me, I do feel like the Strip is losing something. It used to be that just standing on the sidewalk you could see a large swath of the city laid out before you. It was something free that anybody could enjoy. These new projects will make those views harder to find. And beyond that, I feel like the whole Strip is getting so pricey that ordinary people are being squeezed out. While there have always been ritzy restaurants and high-end clothing stores, there were also plenty of places where you could hang without spending a lot of money. Those cheaper places seem to be disappearing.
Maybe it’s just me. Now that I’m older, I do spend a fair amount of time reminiscing about how great things used to be, and I should probably focus more on the present. But back in the seventies when I wandered along Sunset I used to see all kinds of people on the street. There were rich kids in expensive clothes and vagrants without a nickel in their pocket. Beverly Hills types lunching at sidewalk cafes and runaways living on handouts. It seemed like the Strip was open to anyone, that everybody was welcome.
I feel like that’s changing. Is it just me, or is all this new development burying the welcome mat?