A Stroll in Downtown L.A.: Newness This Fall

“Does anyone even live in Downtown Los Angeles?” visitors often ask.

The answer is yes, of course. Roughly 60,000 residents call it home.

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“Downtown has a richness to it,” says Jordan Nova of Hotel Per La. “It has a real honesty to it. When you walk around Downtown and you see it, there’s no veneer. There’s no dressing up of Downtown. People fall in love with the honesty and also the creativity.”

After a soft opening, Hotel Per La officially opened doors in September. Twelve-stories high, on the corner of 7th and Olive Streets, the historical building originally housed the Bank of Italy — now Bank of America. Construction was completed in 1922, as imagined by architectural firm Morgan, Walls & Clements, unveiling a neoclassical style design with Doric columns and marble floors. It was known as Giannini Place for many years before becoming a hotel in 2018, NoMad, which closed two years later due to COVID-19. Taken over by investment manager HN Capital Partners, it’s been revamped with the help of operator Sage Hospitality Group and designer Jaqui Seerman. They’ve given the space new life.

Honoring its past, maintaining the structure, Hotel Per La is L.A. living with an Italian flair. There’s a rooftop pool and bar, offering refreshing cocktails (with a long list of flavored spritzes created by Coleen “Coco” Morton); a downstairs café, and a restaurant, Per L’Ora, where the drinks are strong and dinner is served in a grand dining room. Chef Courtney Van Dyke oversees the kitchen (tuna carpaccio, lobster tagliatelle, veal Milanese).

“There’s this real community,” Nova goes on, of the area. “There’s this beautiful cultural tableau here that no other neighborhood in L.A. really has.”

Downtown certainly stands out from the rest of L.A. For one, it’s walkable. Bustling, it’s dense and grid-like.

Modern high-rises intermix with architectural landmarks. The Church of Our Lady Queen of the Angels comes to mind. Founded in 1814, it was built in El Pueblo de Los Angeles — one of the first towns created during the Spanish colonization of California. Settled in 1781 by a group traveling north from present-day Mexico, according to historical documents, the layout is reminiscent of centers found in the Spanish Empire: a central plaza with a church. It was in 1847 that American forces took control.

Downtown was once the village of Yaanga, home to the Indigenous people of the Los Angeles Basin and the Southern Channel Islands known as the Tongva. Enslaved and killed, they constructed the new settlements.

The region has a dark past. And it’s seen hard times through the years, declined economically, seemingly abandoned by the city. The homeless crisis of L.A. is most apparent here; Skid Row is hard to ignore — as much as it seems to be.

To better understand Downtown is to know its districts, among them the Historic Core (with its movie palaces), Financial, Flower, Toy, Jewelry, Warehouse, Fashion and Arts.

The Arts District is trendy; it’s where both members club Soho House’s Warehouse and New York’s Death & Co. bar landed in 2019. It attracts tourists who stop by to visit galleries Hauser & Wirth and (for those in the know) much more discrete The Box, grabbing beers in the open air at the nearby breweries. The newest attraction, however, is a structure: the 6th Street Viaduct, the bridge that connects the Arts District with Boyle Heights. The action is on Traction Avenue, where Youth to the People has its storefront and neon lights artist Lili Lakich occupies the original location of the Museum of Neon Art, which she cofounded in 1981.

One and a half miles away is the Society of Art Los Angeles, known as SOLA, a nonprofit hosting community exhibitions and talks. “Kimono Wednesdays,” by Pandasex (Gregory Chikara Shimada) and Parker Koo Ito, is currently on view until Nov. 6.

It’s down the street from A.P.C., Acne Studios, Ganni, Paul Smith and Pop DTLA, a pop-up that carries indie brands like Natashia Miyazaki, on South Broadway. On the corner of West 9th Street, Swedish coffee shop ilCaffè offers espresso, wine and bites, and a few steps away Little Smoke sells homemade, organic incenses. This is where the fashion hipsters stroll.

Bounded on the east by the Los Angeles River and on the west by the 110 Freeway, creatives once flocked Downtown for the cheap rent and sprawling lofts. Those days are over; neighborhoods are flipped and replaced with glass-filled towers (always marketed as “luxury,” not always well-built).

Chinatown and its surroundings is arguably where the artists are today, opening DIY spaces. On Nov. 5, the Los Angeles Chinatown Business Council will host a walking tour of its streets, “Undiscovered Chinatown,” with visits to galleries, herbal shops and antique stores.

Five minutes away via car (a 20-minute walk) is Little Tokyo, where locals line up for sushi at Sushi Gen and the foodies head to Michelin star chef Chris Ono’s recently opened Hansei at the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center (for a nine-course menu that runs $175 per person). Wolf & Crane serves Japanese whiskey close by and the Japanese American National Museum presents shows and screenings (the likes of Paul Daisuke Goodman’s “No No Girl,” a family story exploring three generations of Japanese Americans). Shops like Popkiller and Raggedy Threads offer vintage finds.

Most visitors of L.A. are familiar with Bunker Hill, though they likely don’t know it by name. It’s where The Broad and Museum of Contemporary Art are located on South Grand Avenue. The Conrad hotel garnered buzz when it opened on the block across from the Walt Disney Concert Hall over the summer. It’s where José Andrés chose to have his Spanish restaurants San Laurel and Agua Viva, on the rooftop. Next he’ll showcase Bazaar Meat next door on the sixth floor of the Grand L.A.

Across the way, on Nov. 17, the Walt Disney Concert Hall will host an invitational rehearsal of Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov’s performance of Piano Concerto No. 2 by the late Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. It’s “one of the most technically formidable piano concertos in the standard repertoire,” notes the concert hall, with The Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and Xian Zhang conducting.

MOCA’s show “Henry Taylor: B Side” will have opened by then, starting Nov. 6. Surveying thirty years, it’s a dive into the L.A.-based American artist’s work in painting, drawing, sculpture and installation.

“Everything is inside of you,” Taylor says of his artistry. “It just comes out.”

Meanwhile at The Broad, live programming is back after a three-year hiatus.

In September the museum unveiled “Ü & EYEYE” by Lykke Li. The Swedish singer transformed her latest album into an immersive experience. It was produced by Solana Rivas, with installation design by Nick Verstand and spatial sound mixing by Warren Brown.

“Art in general for me — the art that I like, the art that I respond to — I think the more personal you are, the more direct of a vessel you are,” she says. “I feel like that’s when it transcends and becomes universal.”

Next, in conjunction with the exhibition “William Kentridge: In Praise of Shadows,” The Broad and Redcat will co-present the world theatrical premiere of “Houseboy,” developed at The Centre for the Less Good Idea in Johannesburg, South Africa. The performance is open from Nov. 17 to 20, while the show is on view from Nov. 12 to April 9, 2023.

Launch Gallery: A Stroll in Downtown L.A.

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