Hipsters know it. The savvy media trumpets it. But this tour guide wanted to see for himself. Is Downtown LA really making a great comeback? So my wonderful wife Maria and I rented an Airbnb in the belly of the beast -7th and Broadway in the Historic Core- and took off on foot to see what we could see. What followed was a wonderful urban adventure and a growing respect for a resilent but still scruffy downtown. First the facts
. This itinerary is not for luxury-lovers but for those who like historic buildings, nice restaurants and great views. Our Airbnb lodging at the tiny Rosemary Hotel was spartan, cheap ($89 per night!), and noisy, but clean and convenient. We walked everywhere and had a thoroughly stimulating time. Our verdict on downtown: definitely improving and hopefully the City can ease the homeless problem. That was the one sad aspect to the trip - destitute people lying on sidewalks or shuffling behind crowded shopping carts.
|Maria and I stayed on the second floor right next to the venerable and tastefully remodeled|
Clifton's Cafeteria. The food is great, well-priced and enhanced by a friendly staff.
Cruising Broadway Street - The Historic Core of LA includes Broadway, Spring and Main Streets, and this was our main area of focus. We took off from our mini-hotel and arrived at Grand Central Market at 8 AM just as the gates were opening. This allowed us to beat the ever-present lines at Eggslut and enjoy the tasty "Fairfax" breakfast sandwich. Get the bacon add on!
|The Fairfax features scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, carmelized onions and bacon on a soft brioche roll. Yum!|
Towards the Civic Center: We headed east towards City Hall and visited downtown's newest building - the federal District Court Building. This 10-story floating cube at first turned me off, but I have begun to like the pleated-tempered glass surface and the way the structure sits on a stone podium allowing for a more inviting pedestrian connection between the building and the adjacent Grand Park. The new generation of skyscrapers are using a more-translucent glass which softens their visual impact on the skyline. The lobby of the courthouse is elegant and cold, but the floor-to-ceiling atrium is impressive indeed.
|Like the CitiCorp building in New York City, the new District Court floats on a stone|
podium, softening its footprint at street level.
|The elegant and spacious lobby could be softened with planting or art.|Continuing our civic theme, Maria and I tried to visit the 1920s Beaux-Art Courthouse on Temple and Main. This massive monolith is typical of the sturdy government buildings of this era with Classical references and off-white color. Although its three-part composition - base, capital, and shaft - is somewhat muted, it is a beautiful example of period architecture.
|This massive Beaux Art monolith is typical of 1920s federal building.|
We ended our journey eastward and City Hall and were delighted to obtain Visitor Passes to go all the way to the 28-story observation tower. This gorgeous building - completed in 1928 - combines Art Deco, Classical Revival and influences and was the tallest building allowed by the earthquake codes of the time. The 360-degree observation walkway afforded incredible views.
|Mosaic domes, stunning light fixtures and ornate columns decorate the first three floors|
of City Hall
|The Grand Park has provided much needed open space for downtown. The axial vista from|
the Walter Beckett 1960 Water and Power Building to City Hall is consistent with City
Beautiful open space principles connecting key landmarks.
More views from the tops of skyscrapers!
|Downtown skyline from City Hall's observation deck. You can see the top of the 73-story US Bank|
Building pecking above the other skyscrapers on Bunker Hill.
Evening found us again at or near the tops of buildings. Our pre-dinner drink was 14 stories above Pershing Square at The Perch (French restaurant)upper stories. After a wonderful drink at the 14th-story rooftop bar and restaurant above Pershing Square - The Perch - we rode to the top of the second tallest building on the West Coast - the US Bank Building. The restaurant - 71 Above - has the best views of downtown not to mention delicious food and wine pairings.
|Stunning views from the restaurant 71 Above.|
Our favorite view in the Financial District is from the rooftop bar at the top of The Standard Hotel. This perspective from 12 stories high gave great views of five generations of skyscrapers.
|The skyscraper view from The Standard Hotel is my downtown favorite.|
I'm pointing out the location of our 71st story dinner spot - 71 Above.
LA's Historic Core contains two wonderful streets which are also National Register Historic Districts - Broadway and Spring. The former is famous for movie palaces with the latter known for its historic banks. As we walked down Spring Street, we noticed the many Beaux Art buildings converted to lofts along with numerous cafes, hotels and restaurants. Broadway Street has more big attractions - the Ace Hotel, the Orpheum, Los Angeles and Million Dollar Theatres; Clifton's Cafeteria and Grand Central Market. Both streets are great, and adjacent Main Street is also being revitalized. Of course, we sadly realized that the next street over - Los Angeles Street - forms the boundary with Skid Row with its often destitute population.
The entryway of the Eastern Colombia Building with its sunburst pattern and blue and turquoise
terra cotta tiles make it one of LA's most spectacular Art Deco buildings.On to LA Live and the Grammy Museum -
As we strolled down Broadway past the Orpheum Theatre and the Ace Hotel, it didn't take us long to reach LA Live and the Grammy Museum. The surrounding area , called South Park, is filling up with fairly attractive high-rise residential buildings but is fairly utilitarian. We really enjoyed the interactive exhibits in the Grammy Museum and noticed the LA Live courtyard only really comes to life at night. But this "mini-Times Square" provides some wonderful entertainment and its digital signs and lighting provides a nice contrast to the funkier and dense Historic Core. Vive la difference!
|A music lover's dream and only a 15 minute walk from Broadway, the Grammy Museum is another reason to enjoy downtown LA.|
Summing up a memorable trip: Downtown LA is definitely on the upswing. The Historic Core is livelier than ever and has a lot of attractions - restaurants, theaters, historic preservation, lofts and cafes. Sixth Street between Broadway and Figueroa is becoming a foodie's dream. The Civic Center, the Financial District and Bunker Hill have first class museums and architecture. The area was generally clean and well-maintained although better pedestrian connections and more street trees would enhance the visitor's experience. More than anything, I hope that the recent voter passage (76% yes!) of Measure HHH (an increase in property tax assessment) to build housing for the homeless people will make a true difference. Downtown LA is revitalizing. The last step is to make it a more humane place for all.
|An active entertainment district at night, LA Live has given downtown some sorely needed energy.|