Downtown Artists Fight Eviction

AE 01 Coming Soon

Artists are being forced out of the Arts District. This isn’t news. It’s been happening for years. The news is that now the artists are fighting back.

On Saturday, November 4, two groups of artists facing eviction organized a parade to bring attention to the rampant displacement that threatens their community. Earlier this year the residents at 800 Traction were told by the new owners of the building that they’d have to leave. Also this year, the people behind the Artists’ Loft Museum Los Angeles (ALMLA) were hit with a steep rent increase that seems intended to force them out. So the two groups have gotten together to let the world know that they’re not going quietly.  On Saturday, November 4 they staged a parade through Downtown.

AE 10 Skel Pharm

The parade started in Little Tokyo.

AE 12 Angel 1

Took a right on Alameda.

AE 14 Crowd Alameda 3

Then the protesters headed down Alameda toward Fourth.

The parade started in Little Tokyo, cut down Alameda to Fourth, then wended its way along Seaton, Fifth and Hewitt, finally winding up at 800 Traction. It was an interesting walk. Protesters waved signs and displayed artwork. Two giant skeleton figures towered over the crowd. A few cars honked to show their support.

AE 16 Crowd Alameda 4

A momentary pause on Alameda.

AE 18 Crowd Seaton 2

Marching along Seaton.

AE 20 Merrick

And then up Merrick.

We passed in front of the building that holds ALMLA, which is actually a brand new enterprise. Michael Parker and Alyse Emdur have lived in this space, along with other artists, for 16 years. Parker says that in just the last 6 years their rent has risen by 200%. The latest increase is beyond what they can pay, and Parker believes it was designed to force them out. So the artists at 454 Seaton decided to create ALMLA, which they hope will draw attention to their situation, and to the larger wave of displacement that’s sweeping across Los Angeles. Just before the museum’s opening, the landlord went to court to shut the event down. Fortunately he failed.

I used to hang out in this area back in the 80s and 90s. It’s depressing to see some of the changes that have taken place. While most of the buildings remain, with the onslaught of gentrification many of them now house chic boutiques and pricey restaurants. Anonymous LLCs have bought up a lot of the real estate, and investors seem bent on turning this part of Downtown into something very close to a suburban mall.

AE 40 Shop

Shop in the Arts District.

AE 42 Restaurant

Eat in the Arts District.

AE 44 Creative Campus

Gentrify the Arts District.

Like I said, we ended up back at 800 Traction. A number of the artists who live in this building have been here for decades. Some were among the first wave of artists to move to the area back when it was more or less a decaying industrial ghost town. And most of the current residents at 800 Traction are part of the Japanese-American community, which is crucial to this story. This community has hung on in spite of successive waves of forced displacement going back to WWII. In the early part of the 20th century, Little Tokyo stretched far beyond its current boundaries. There were numerous Japanese-owned businesses and Japanese cultural institutions in the area between Alameda and the LA River. The first assault was the internment of Japanese-Americans after Peal Harbor. Since then City Hall has carved out one piece after another. And now these artists, after years of working within the community, are threatened with eviction.

AE 50 Golf 2

A performance featuring two of the Downtown elite enjoying a round of golf.

AE 52 Golf 4

They seemed to agree that gentrification wasn’t happening fast enough.

Hanging out with the other party guests, I felt like the room was filled with a kind of giddy energy, but there was also an undercurrent of tension. I spoke with Nancy Uyemura and Jaimee Itagaki, and they gave me the latest news about 800 Traction. The building’s new owners, DLJ Real Estate Capital Partners, had hired a property management firm, Pearson, that seemed intent on sabotaging the gathering. Pearson had called the cops before the party, apparently believing they could shut it down, but it went on as planned. They also sent security guards to keep an eye on the tenants and guests. Harrassment in situations like this is commonplace, and Pearson is doing their best to make things uncomfortable. Uyemura said that the tenants at 800 Traction were told in May that they had to leave, and they were supposed to be out by August. Recently they received an unlawful detainer notice. Their hearing date is in December.

AE 60 Party 1

Protesters gathered at 800 Traction after the parade.

AE 62 Security

I hope the security guards enjoyed the party.

AE 64 Sketch

Artists sketched their take on what’s happening Downtown.

The attempt to evict the artists at 800 Traction is bad enough, but there’s another layer to this story that makes it even more disturbing. DLJ has decided to go through the process of designating the building a Historic-Cultural Landmark, which will enable them to get significant tax breaks for renovating the structure. They hired GPA Consulting to do the research for the nomination. GPA’s report talks at length about the building’s architect and Beaux Arts revival style and the food processing industry. They even mention Al’s Bar and LACE. But somehow they completely avoid any mention of the Japanese-American community that thrived in the neighborhood for decades. They also neglect to mention that the current residents have deep ties to the current Japanese-American community, and that some of them were among the first artists to move to the neighborhood back in the 80s.

In other words, GPA’s report completely whitewashes the community’s history. At the Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) hearing where the nomination was considered, some attendees pointed this out, among them Dorothy Wong, herself a preservation consultant. Wong was baffled by the fact that the report didn’t refer to Little Tokyo once, and made no mention at all of the Japanese-American artists who had lived and worked at 800 Traction for decades. To their credit, the CHC agreed that the report was incomplete and chose to defer their decision until further work was done.

This may seem like a small victory, but it goes to the heart of what’s happening in Downtown. Ruthless investors are kicking artists and others out of the area so they can turn it into a sanitized, upscale urban destination. The Mayor and the City Council are doing everything they can to help make that happen. The people who have lived and worked in the area for much of their lives, the people who built communities and kept them going through tough times, are being told to leave. And while City Hall makes a great show of preserving historic structures, they’re destroying the communities that gave those structures life.

It’s hard to say whether the artists at 800 Traction and ALMLA will win this battle. They’re a determined group, and they seem committed to fighting til the bitter end. But LA has become increasingly hostile to artists, and the Mayor’s vision for Downtown is all about handing the area over to developers.

What have real estate investors put into this community? Money. What do they want out of it? More money.

What have the artists put into this community? Their lives. And what do they want? To continue working with and for the community, as they’ve been doing for years.

Find out more by following these links.

800 Traction

ALMLA

AE 90 Skel Sun

A Big Win for Tenants

Members of Union de Vecinos and the LA Tenants Union at a gathering on Thursday.

Members of Union de Vecinos and the LA Tenants Union at a gathering on Thursday.

It’s not uncommon these days to hear about a group of investors buying an apartment building and forcing the tenants out. Sadly, this kind of thing happens all too frequently in LA, and we’ve seen thousands of apartment dwellers lose their homes in recent years. Many renters don’t know their rights and leave without putting up a fight. Those that try to stay can get ground down by long and costly court battles.

But every once in a while the tenants win out.

Apartments at 4330 City Terrace.

Apartments at 4330 City Terrace.

Earlier this year the apartments at 4330 City Terrace were bought by Manhattan Manor, LLC. (Love the name. It’s so classy.) The new owners immediately imposed a steep rent increase on the tenants, certainly knowing that most couldn’t pay and would have to leave. Carolina Rodriguez’ rent went from $1,250 to $2,000, far beyond what she could afford. She could have thrown in the towel and left, hoping to find another place she could afford. But she decided to fight, and last month, she won.

With the help of the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action (LACCLA), Carolina went to court, and the jury sided with her. In fact, not only did the jury decide that $2,000 a month was unfair, they said that the apartment she occupied needed major repairs and was only worth $1,050 in its current state. Must’ve been a shock to Manhattan Manor.

Celebration on City Terrace after the victory in court.

Celebration on City Terrace after the victory in court.

On Thursday a crowd of people gathered at 4330 City Terrace to celebrate this victory. In addition to residents from the building, members of Union de Vecinos (UV) and the Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU) showed up to hear speakers talk about Carolina’s struggle, and to remind everyone that the struggle is still going on. Noah Grynberg, the lawyer from LACCLA who argued the case, gave an energetic speech about the importance of protecting people’s rights. Elizabeth Blaney, of UV, emphasized that there was still a long way to go in the battle against gentrification and displacement.

Noah Grynberg, of LACCLA, speaks to the crowd.

Noah Grynberg, of LACCLA, speaks to the crowd.

And Carolina took the mike to talk about how she came to the point where she felt she could stand up to the landlords. She mentioned another tenant who lived in the building, Jesus Baltazar, who had been a major influence. Though he was very ill, Jesus had insisted passionately that the tenants had to make a stand, that they shouldn’t be pushed around. His determination inspired her, and she decided to go to court. Sadly, he has passed away. His daughter, Georgina, is still fighting eviction.

Carolina Rodriguez tells how she decided to fight eviction.

Carolina Rodriguez tells how she decided to fight eviction.

The struggle goes on. Property owners will continue to kick people out of their homes in their pursuit of higher profits. But this story shows that tenants can fight back, and they can win.

If you’d like more info about the organizations mentioned above, the links are below. They all deserve your support.

Union de Vecinos

Los Angeles Tenants Union

Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action

ct-a-70-stop-dis

Talking About Displacement

MTA construction along Crenshaw Blvd.

MTA construction along Crenshaw Blvd.

Speaking at a recent Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum, MTA CEO Phil Washington talked about how the growth of LA’s transit network has been accompanied in some areas by gentrification and displacement. Washington is concerned about the fact that low-income residents are being pushed out of the communities they call home, and he wants the MTA to do more to address the problem.

It’s good to hear somebody at the MTA talking about this. The question is what can actually be done. Earlier this year the MTA Board agreed that when new residential units were built on the agency’s land their goal would be to set aside 35% for low-income renters or owners. That’s fine, but it’s not nearly enough. What we really need is to have the City and the County commit to changing their planning practices. Mayor Eric Garcetti and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas serve on the MTA Board. They should both support Washington and take a public stand against displacement. Then they should push for the City and the County to create policies to address the problem.

While gentrification is happening all over the city, the growth of LA’s transit system definitely seems to be a catalyst. Downtown, Koreatown, Hollywood, and Highland Park have already seen thousands of low-income residents displaced. Leimert Park and Boyle Heights seem to be next on the list as the MTA continues its rapid push to expand, bringing an influx of developer dollars to neighborhoods near rail stops. As property values skyrocket, rents go up, too, and low-income tenants who can’t afford to pay must find somewhere else to live. Tenants in rent-controlled apartments can be forced out by landlords who use the Ellis Act to convert their units to condos.

I’m really glad to hear Washington talking about displacement, and I hope others back him up on this issue. This is a conversation we need to have, and it should have started long ago.

MTA construction in North Hollywood

MTA construction in North Hollywood

The Neighborhood Is Changing, and Not for the Better

The main gate that used to lead to the Cat & Fiddle.

The main gate that used to lead to the Cat & Fiddle.

I was with with my brother and my nephew last week when we decided to go to the Cat & Fiddle for dinner. What a shock to find out that they were closing the place down. Apparently the owners are looking for a new location, but at this point they haven’t found anything. When I dropped in a couple days ago, the restaurant was almost cleaned out. I’ve had so many good times at the Cat & Fiddle, hung out there with so many good friends. It was strange to be standing there, surrounded by boxes and furniture. Nobody sitting in the booths. Nobody standing at the bar. No music. No conversation. Just silence.

The silent courtyard.

The silent courtyard.

The empty booths.

The empty booths.

The deserted bar.

The deserted bar.

According to the LA Weekly, the building was purchased by its current owners, an investment group headed by Jesse Shannon, in 2005. When the Cat & Fiddle’s lease was up, apparently Shannon wouldn’t consider renewing it. At this point he has not revealed who the new tenant will be. No doubt one more upscale bar/club/restaurant of the type that’s been spreading like a virus through Hollywood for the past decade. Shannon does say that his group plans to spend millions to renovate the building.

This is good news. I hope he’s serious. The building is a beautiful example of the Spanish Colonial Revival style, with some very cool Churrigueresque decoration. I hope the money Shannon spends is matched by a real desire to restore the building, rather than to make it a glitzy magnet for club-hopping kids.

A few links. The first is to the story in the LA Weekly. Next, a link to a Facebook page that was created in the hope that the Cat & Fiddle could stay at its old location. It has some photos that show how full of life the place was. And last, an article on LA Eater in which Shannon talks about the reasons for not renewing the restaurant’s lease.

Farewell to the Cat & Fiddle

Let’s Save the Cat & Fiddle

Why the Cat & Fiddle Had to Go

I look forward to checking out the next incarnation of the Cat & Fiddle whenever it finds a new location, but I’m really sad to see it leave the building on Sunset. Sad because it was such a great place to hang out. And also sad because it’s just the latest casualty of the gentrification craze that’s sweeping through LA. The new tenant may have an amazing menu and a fabulous bar, but I seriously doubt it will have one tenth of the character that the Cat & Fiddle had.

A photo of the Cat & Fiddle from September of this year.

A photo of the Cat & Fiddle from September of this year.

The Changing Face of Hollywood

Rendering of the proposed Kilroy project at Vine and De Longpre

Rendering of the proposed Kilroy project at Vine and De Longpre

Hollywood is hot. Developers are jumping in with both feet. A number of projects have gone up in the last few years, and many more are in the works. My feelings about the building boom vary greatly, mostly depending on the quality of the individual projects. Some of them will definitely benefit the community, some I can tolerate, and others should never have gotten off the drawing board.

Just recently Kilroy Realty unveiled their plans for a project on Vine, south of Sunset. Over all, I’m inclined to support it. As many people have pointed out, almost anything would be better than what occupies the site now. It’s an underutilized parcel, and Kilroy’s idea of turning it into a media campus makes perfect sense for the area.

A recent shot of the site from the corner of Vine and De Longpre

A recent shot of the site from the corner of Vine and De Longpre

But I do have a couple of reservations….

First, traffic.

Anyone who’s lived in Hollywood for a while can tell you that traffic is steadily getting worse. This is especially interesting when you consider that the Hollywood area lost over 10,000 residents between 2000 and 2010. So even though there are fewer people living in the community, more of them are driving. It seems probable that this is because the low-income residents who were forced out by rising rents have been replaced by more affluent residents who are more likely to own cars. The Kilroy project will be continuing this trend, since the residential units are geared toward people who have money to spend.

For those of you who don’t live in the area, here are a few photos of the northbound traffic on Vine on a Wednesday evening around 7:00 pm. These were taken at the corner of Vine and De Longpre, right across from the project site.

Traffic on Vine, heading toward Sunset.

Traffic on Vine, heading toward Sunset.

Traffic on Vine, coming from Fountain.

Traffic on Vine, coming from Fountain.

Same perspective as previous shot.  Note that cars are not entering the intersection even though the light is green.

Same perspective as previous shot. Note that cars are not entering the intersection even though the light is green.

This project will definitely be putting more cars on the road. What really concerns me is that it’s just one of many projects being considered for the Hollywood area. My point is that the City of LA needs to do a cumulative traffic study to plan for all this growth. The City argues they don’t have the money, which is ridiculous. They don’t have a problem throwing away millions of dollars on legal fees to defend projects that never should have seen the light of day, but they won’t spend a relatively modest sum to plan for a sustainable future. If Garcetti wants to push for big growth in Hollywood, he needs to start by springing for a cumulative traffic study that will help to lay the groundwork.

Second, the residential component of the Kilroy project is definitely catering to the crowd that makes six figure salaries. Again, it’s not so much that I have a problem with this specific project, but the vast majority of the residential units that have been built in the area over the past ten years are geared towards the rich. You can’t move into places like the W, Blvd. 6200 or the Avenue unless you have money to burn. This push to make Hollywood a playground for the wealthy is driving rents up throughout the community. It’s not just the low-income working class families that are being forced out. The artists, musicians and writers who used to live in Hollywood are having to look for less expensive places. The desperate drive for gentrification is great for bringing in the trust fund kids who want to party, but it’s pushing out a lot of the people who really enriched the local culture.

Over all, Kilroy seems to be making an effort to respect the community. This project is planned more or less within the current zoning laws, though the residential tower does go a little high. They’re including a fair amount of open space. It makes sense that they’re catering to media/entertainment companies, and, according to the LA Times story, there is a demand for office space in Hollywood.

So my problem isn’t with this project itself, but the trend that it’s a part of. Hollywood is becoming more expensive and more congested. The mayor doesn’t care. He’s got a mansion in Hancock Park and a driver that takes him wherever he wants to go, both of which are paid for by the taxpayers. So naturally Garcetti wouldn’t be concerned about housing prices and traffic, since he doesn’t have to deal with those problems.

Unfortunately, the rest of us do.

If you want to take a look at the LA Times article on the Kilroy project, the link is below.

Kilroy Unveil Plans for Complex in Hollywood

Out with the Old….

Frfx 01 Kid Corner

The Fairfax district is going through some changes. When I was growing up, Fairfax was a largely Jewish neighborhood with a bunch of delicatessens and kosher markets….

Schwartz Bakery

Schwartz Bakery

There was the newsstand at Oakwood….

Kosher News

Kosher News

There was the Silent Movie Theatre….

Silent Movie Theatre

Silent Movie Theatre

There are still kosher markets and delis on Fairfax. The newsstand is hanging on somehow. And the Silent Movie Theatre seems to be going strong, though they don’t show a lot of silent movies there any more.

But the neighborhood is undergoing a rapid transformation. In the last few years, many of the buildings have changed hands. The new owners have jacked up the rent, forcing out a lot of the older businesses, in some cases businesses that had been serving the community for decades.

Let me give you a few examples. Here’s old Fairfax….

Frfx 05 Hebrew

And here’s new Fairfax.

Frfx 06 Car

Old Fairfax.

Frfx 07 Solomon

New Fairfax.

Frfx 08 Chic Rest

Old Fairfax.

Frfx 09 Two Women

New Fairfax.

Frfx 10 Youth

You can see the landscape is changing. Some of the older establishments are still around, like Canter’s, which is eternal.

Frfx 11 Cntrs Sign

I first started hanging out at Canter’s when I was in my teens. It was a place to go after seeing a movie or a band, because back then it was one of the few restaurants that was open twenty four hours. I didn’t know until recently that Canter’s was originally located in Boyle Heights, which was home to a large Jewish enclave in the first half of the twentieth century. After WWII, when the Jewish community started moving to the west side, the owners followed the exodus and moved the restaurant to Fairfax.

Here’s an article from the LA Times that gives more detail on the transformation that’s taking place.

Fairfax Area Losing Its Kosher Flavor

Things change. Over the years I’ve seen a few places disappear from the neighborhood. I was sorry to see Largo move to La Cienega. I’m sure the new venue is great, but I still remember seeing Weba Garretson, Two-Foot Yard and Jon Brion at the old location. And it broke my heart when Eat a Pita closed.

But it’s not just that the community is changing. I don’t have a problem with Fairfax being a hangout for skateboarders and kids who are into hiphop. They’re bringing life to the neighborhood.

Kids on skateboards are a common sight.

Kids on skateboards are a common sight.

Street artists have been busy on Fairfax.

Street artists have been busy on Fairfax.

Frfx 16 SignI do have a problem with Fairfax becoming a destination for the hip and trendy crowd who see it as just another place to shop and eat. At the rate things are going, it looks like this neighborhood, which used to have so much charm and character, will soon become as superficial and soulless as the worst parts of Melrose.

There’s nothing wrong with people doing business and making a profit, but there are different ways of going about it. There are some investors who move into a particular community not just to make money, but because they see value in being a part of the community. They’re willing to work with the residents. They’re willing to respect the history. My problem is with the people who only see profit and nothing else. They don’t see the community, they don’t see the tradition, they don’t see the culture.

All they see is money.

One of the newer storefronts on Fairfax.

One of the newer storefronts on Fairfax.