FX Excursions

FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

Downtown Los Angeles Makes A Dramatic Comeback

Aug 1, 2014
2014 / July 2014

If Jane Jacobs’ definition of urban success — diversity, density and dynamism — holds true, then downtown Los Angeles is well on its way to becoming a West Coast SoHo. There’s housing stock with provenance and an abundance of historic commercial space, as well as an educated, high-income demographic. “It’s very creative, cutting-edge — and it’s just exploding,” says Adele Yellin of The Yellin Co., which operates the downtown’s historic Grand Central Market.

The Oregon-based Ace Hotel debuted its latest bohemian outpost in 2014 at the iconic United Artists building, complete with a 1,600-seat theater, the erstwhile United Artists Theatre, which has been rejuvenated with movie premieres and screenings. “This is a community of people of passion,” says Carol Schatz, president and CEO, Downtown Center Business Improvement District, “and the key players are passionate about bringing back Downtown L.A.”

On weekends, the velvet-roped Upstairs at Ace has hipsters lining the Broadway sidewalk, while across the street Alma, Bon Appétit’s “Restaurant of the Year,” draws in foodies for its $95 tasting menu. In December 2013, Stockholm’s clothing collective Acne Studios opened in the landmark Eastern Columbia Building, conjoined to Swedish-based il Caffé. Brooklyn-based collective Kinfolk Studios arrives in 2014.

Belted by freeways, L.A.’s downtown area stretches from Bunker Hill to the Convention Center, encompassing the city’s historic core and the arts and fashion districts. In the past decade, the number of residents increased fivefold, from 10,000 to more than 50,000, with 500,000 employees working in the area which also welcomes 10 million annual visitors. “Downtown L.A. has emerged as one of the nation’s most diverse city centers,” says Ernest Wooden, Jr., president and CEO, Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. With nearly 5,000 new housing units under construction, downtown L.A.’s resident population is expected to rise to 62,000.

Passed in 1999, the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance enabled developers to create thousands of housing units in downtown’s historic buildings. “This was the hottest housing market before the crash,” says Schatz, “and it’s come back with a vengeance as the recession has eased.”

Currently rising is the $1 billion sail-shaped Wilshire Grand Tower, a 73-story mixed-use complex that will be the tallest skyscraper west of the Mississippi. Frank Gehry’s Grand Avenue residential and hotel project, located across from the architect’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, will break ground in 2015. Across the street, Arquitectonica just completed a 19-story condo tower next door to The Broad, Eli Broad’s three-story museum, scheduled to open in late 2014.

At the Eastern Columbia Building, residential lofts were snapped up following the Art Deco building’s $80 million renovation. “We are in this 1930 masterpiece,” says Michael Backlinder, managing partner, il Caffé.

L.A. Live © Gerry Boughan | Dreamstime.com

L.A. Live © Gerry Boughan | Dreamstime.com

Over at L.A. LIVE, The Ritz-Carlton Residences sold its last unit early in 2014. “It’s been an educational process for the public,” says Michael Roth, vice president, communications, AEG. “We needed Staples Center to help teach people that they could stay — and not just for dinner.”

If anything, the decades of blight have shown the import of a healthy city core. Spearheaded by Los Angeles councilmember José Huizar, “Bringing Back Broadway” was launched in 2008 as part of a 10-year plan to revitalize the historic Broadway corridor with its 12 movie palaces dating from the 1920s and 1930s. According to Schatz of the Business Improvement District, “Broadway, which we used to call ‘the hole in the donut’ for its inability to redevelop, is now on fire, all the way from 11th Street to First Street.”

The city’s new Historic Commercial Reuse Guidelines will enable the preservation of Broadway landmarks while also ensuring redevelopment of more than 1 million square feet of available commercial space. In 2015, Whole Foods Market will open a 42,000-square-foot store in a new 700-unit luxury complex at Seventh and Grand Avenue.

Across from The Ritz-Carlton at L.A. LIVE, a brand-new, 24-story tower houses both a Residence Inn and a Courtyard by Marriott, with a Renaissance Hotel scheduled for the corner of Olympic and Georgia. The nation’s first 4DX theater, which combines motion seats with immersive special effects, opens in summer 2014.

As for the Convention Center, the city embarked upon an architectural competition for revitalization of the 1970s structure. For meetings and conventions, “Downtown L.A. offers all the urban amenities within walking distance or a short Metro ride,” says Wooden.

A downtown streetcar project received approval in March 2014 from the Federal Transit Administration for a $75 million “Small Starts” grant. Throughout the 1920s, Los Angeles operated the largest trolley system in the world. The current proposal for the relaunched streetcar route will encompass Broadway and L.A. LIVE, as well as the Civic Center and Walt Disney Concert Hall to the north. “You can see it already,” says il Caffé’s Backlinder. “You can tell that downtown is going to be the center of L.A. again.”

Even the Los Angeles River is getting a makeover, helped by a $10 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study that recommends ecological improvements along the river’s corridor. Additional recreational and park spaces are planned, along with more bike and pedestrian bridges.

As Adele Yellin exclaims happily, “What’s happening now in downtown is pulling people out of their cars and into the streets.”

SCENIC DRIVES

When you need to get out of Dodge, the Pacific Ocean is less than 30 minutes away; and the maritime pleasures of Malibu, Santa Monica and Venice include world-class museums and acclaimed eateries alongside breathtaking vistas.

While not a drive, but certainly scenic, passenger ferries to Catalina Island depart from Long Beach for the hour-long trip to the 22-mile island that was a favorite getaway for Hollywood stars of the 1930s.

Farther up the Pacific coast (about 95 miles), Santa Barbara earned the sobriquet “The American Riviera” for its temperate climate and its reputation as a winter retreat for Gilded Age tycoons. A repository of Spanish colonial revival architecture, the city offers a thriving arts scene that includes the renowned Santa Barbara International Film Festival, as well as the Ensemble Theatre Company. For oenophiles, Santa Barbara’s annual Vintners’ Festival features more than 100 regional wineries, while the 31-day Epicure festival celebrates the city’s best in cuisine, libations and culture.

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FX Excursions offers the chance for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in destinations around the world.

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