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In Photos: 122 Years of Downtown Los Angeles's Ever-Changing Arts District

The Arts District, 1893. Image via <a href="http://jpg2.lapl.org/pics26/00047864.jpg">Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection</a>.
The Arts District, 1893. Image via Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection.

Downtown LA's Arts District gets its name from the people who moved in to its rundown warehouses after the businesses moved out of the once industrial neighborhood. The artists arrived pretty recently—the first ones trickled in in the 1970s, says the LA Convservancy, and then more and more came until, by some point in the 1980s, a little community had formed. But today rents are rising rapidly and fancy condos, shops, and coffee bars are the new wave; artists can't really afford to stay in the AD anymore and the neighborhood's character is changing dramatically—what better time to look back on the fluid past of the district?

The railroads really helped kickstart the part of town now called the Arts District. With rail depots in and around the neighborhood in the late 1800s, it was a pretty good location, strategically, for manufacturing and other industrial pursuits. By the 1910s and 1920s, the AD was bustling with businesses producing rubber, auto parts, furniture (Barker Bros.), and much more. Some working class housing popped up in the neighborhood, but by 1922, says the Conservancy, the whole 'hood had been zoned for industrial uses. (Some of those houses are visible in a 1924 aerial photo below.)

But trucking eventually overtook the railroads, and the power of industry in the AD faded. The neighborhood started getting shady and warehouses fell into decline—the perfect combination for artists priced out of bohemian hubs like Venice and Santa Monica. In the 1970s, a dozen artists moved in and squatted in the abandoned buildings, "[hiding] during building inspections by the fire department." Cheap rents for big space drew more and more artists, and by the 1980s there was an undeniable art scene, so the city allowed the bohemians to legally stay in their old factories and commercial buildings.

The AD isn't a hotspot for artists anymore (though a huge gallery/arts complex is opening next year, but that's geared more toward the millionaire set) so much as it is for creative office workers, pricey-loft-dwellers, and night-time revelers. Looking at photos from the neighborhood's boom days, it's easy to pick out the building that was once rumored to be the future home of a Soho House and the furniture factory/warehouse that's now full of fancy lofts. And though it's even getting a Grove-style, open-air mall, the Arts District is still marketed as that gritty, arty place it was back in the 1970s and '80s. For how much longer though?


· The Arts District: History and Architecture in Downtown LA [LA Conservancy]
· Lost Train Depots of Los Angeles [KCET]
· Mapping the Relentlessly Rising Coolness of LA's Arts District [Curbed LA]
· "Don't Change the Arts District" Says Guy Who Arrived Last Year [Curbed LA]