Love Downtown LA
The following was written several years ago by D.S. Cahr. BOLT BARBERS Founder
Mohawk Matt, a native New Yorker could not agree more with D.S. Mohawk’s own sentiments about Downtown LA are perhaps best expressed through words engraved in the Pershing Square Monument which ends….
Today, many tourists in New York will be lured into thinking that the Big Apple
was always a shining alter to consumption, filled with outlandishly wealthy traders and perfect little children dressed up like English dolls herded about the city by nannies. New York in the 1980s was not like that. It was a filthy, depraved (yet fun!) cesspool of creative class weirdos, ethnics with uncertain job prospects, high-powered investment bankers, criminals, marks, prostitutes and gang members. Much of Manhattan, despite the reputation as the “city that doesn’t sleep” became uninhabited after close of business each day. Residents would play “Good Block/Bad Block” as they wended their way from one neighborhood to another. Graffiti was everywhere, and while you might stumble into the hippest party you’ve ever seen in SoHo, you might also get rolled for cigarettes in Alphabet City a few short blocks away.
But how, you might ask, can I experience that type of artsy delinquency now that New York has become a pleasant, safe place to live? Where can I see real working class gloom alongside clever art galleries? Downtown Los Angeles.
Yes, you heard me. The city that is often described as a cancerous suburb is also the proud owner of a once swanky downtown that fell on incredibly hard times. The central city, with the iconic US Bank building, is all glass and granite, but step even one block past Pershing Square and you find stores selling ratty socks, hole in the wall stores with no apparent merchandise, strange looking people with nothing in particular to do standing in front of storefronts that have been transformed into galleries. At least two movies were being shot in the neighborhood this evening as I walked over to Little Tokyo to get a big steaming bowl of spicy miso ramen. This type of authentic decrepitude is perfect for the visual arts. I stopped in two galleries, each of which was genuinely interesting. Meanwhile, a man and a woman argued about who needed to pay the bail bondsman on Spring Street. A man in a very expensive suit walked out of a loft building onto a cracked sidewalk with his adorable little dog. Homeless people milled about in beautiful 80 degree sunshine (no smog!) while several fashionably dressed bohemian women walked into a divey restaurant (is there a rule, by the way, that all women in Los Angeles must have tattoos on their lower backs? Note to self: look into it).
In any event, if you’re looking for insight into New York in 1986 or so, just jump on a plane and head to LA. But don’t go to the obvious places — head downtown. It’s skeevy, yet interesting. Compelling, yet vile. Exactly what should be attractive about the urban experience.
Gotta love it. I’m sure it will be gone within five years, so better hurry up…