In down­town L.A., gen­tri­fi­ca­tion 2.0

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Gale Hol­land

Bar 107’s staff hap­pily de­scribed the place as a dive, a hip­ster-friendly place with cheap beer, free happy-hour pizza and tighty-whitey cos­tume nights.

It held down a spot in Los An­ge­les’ re­ju­ve­nated his­toric core, a down­town swath of cen­tury-old of­fice build­ings now boasting mil­lion-dollar lofts and up­scale restau­rants.

Last month, lease ne­go­ti­a­tions broke down. The bar owner, Vianey Del­gadillo, slated a fi­nal blowout for May 31.

At the last minute, how- ever, Del­gadillo de­cided not to go qui­etly. Dur­ing that fi­nal bash, the res­i­dent disc jockey read aloud a ring­ing anti-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion man­i­festo, vow­ing to defy the evic­tion no­tice.

“Many long­time res­i­dents have been pushed out by greedy land­lords,” dee­jay Mor­gan Higby Night said. “We are not go­ing to let that hap­pen. … If the land­lord doesn’t want to give us a new lease, he can take us to court.”

The busi­ness’ open de­fi­ance hit a sweet spot on so­cial me­dia, with res­i­dents and oth­ers com­plain­ing that rapid gen­tri­fi­ca­tion was de-

stroy­ing the last rem­nants of down­town’s dark charm.

Ex­cept that this was not the typ­i­cal tale of a long-run­ning neigh­bor­hood joint be­ing mus­cled aside when rents begin to climb. Bar 107 had been in busi­ness only 10 years, re­plac­ing a gay bar called the Score dur­ing an ear­lier gen­tri­fi­ca­tion wave.

Ur­ban af­fairs ex­perts and long­time down­town ob­servers say new and hip re­placed by newer and shinier is the way things of­ten work in once-bleak ur­ban ar­eas on the up­swing.

“Bar 107 is not the Rosa Parks of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion,” pi­o­neer­ing down­town de­vel­oper Tom Gil­more said. “I see it as a man­u­fac­tured is­sue, and I’m sure they’ll make plenty of dol­lars in the in­terim.”

The ques­tion of au­then­tic­ity and who came first fre­quently dogs dis­cus­sions of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion — a no­to­ri­ously slip­pery con­cept that some aca­demics feel is so broad as to be mean­ing­less.

Bar 107 es­tab­lished a beach­head in the his­toric core dur­ing a down­town re­nais­sance that sprouted be­tween 2000 and 2007, it­self the suc­ces­sor to the arts dis­trict’s 1980s resur­gence, which fol­lowed Bunker Hill re­de­vel­op­ment in the 1960s.

In each it­er­a­tion, peo­ple de­cried the loss of artists and edge, and pre­dicted a cookie-cut­ter fu­ture cater­ing to the gilded set.

“One per­son may be say­ing, ‘Wow, I re­ally miss the dive bar,’ and an­other per­son is say­ing, ‘Wow, I’m re­ally thrilled there is a new cof­fee shop down here,’ ” said Eliz- abeth Cur­rid-Halkett, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the USC Sol Price School of Public Pol­icy, who has writ­ten about gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. “This is the thing that makes gen­tri­fi­ca­tion in­ter­est­ing: It’s re­ally com­pli­cated.”

The his­toric core is cen­tered on Broad­way, Spring and Main streets be­tween 4th and 7th streets. With­out a doubt, the area is get­ting fancier.

In the last two years, a pizza joint on Bar 107’s block was re­placed by an Italo-Ja­panese din­ner house with a “su­per-omakase” menu, and Pete’s, a popular bistro, gave way to a higher-end din­ner house. A.P.C., a French cloth­ier, opened on the dis­trict’s pe­riph­ery.

Bar 107 and its land­lord are now ne­go­ti­at­ing a short­term ex­ten­sion and the sa­loon re­mains open. Vic­tor Vasquez, who man­ages the bar’s space in the Bar­clay Ho­tel on 4th Street for his fa­ther, Rafael, said his dif­fer­ences with the bar were over lease terms, not money.

“Gen­tri­fi­ca­tion has noth­ing to do with it,” Vasquez said. “She’s try­ing to get public opin­ion on her side.”

Del­gadillo said she felt “mis­led” dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions and at the last minute “de­cided I wouldn’t go out with my tail be­tween my legs.”

Del­gadillo — who owns sev­eral other down­town bars, in­clud­ing the New Or­leans-themed Lit­tle Easy gas­tropub on 5th Street — ac­knowl­edges that her busi­nesses are part of down­town’s gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. What she’s try­ing to pre­serve, Del­gadillo said, is the area’s dwin­dling di­ver­sity.

“It’s not just dress codes, mud­dled drinks and ex­pen­sive ap­pe­tiz­ers,” said Del­gadillo, whose lat­est ven­ture is Mat­ta­chine, a gay bar open­ing in com­ing weeks. “I see di­ver­sity dy­ing out in down­town Los An­ge­les. Isn’t that what a city is?”

Out­side the bar Tues­day, the street was lined with Lexuses, In­fini­tis and a Porsche. A black­board by the bar’s key­hole-shaped door read “Days left un­til,” with the num­ber that fol­lowed partly erased.

“Un­til the sher­iff kicks us out,” the bouncer told a passersby who asked how long they planned to stay in busi­ness.

In­side, young men with Amish-style beards sat in the long, nar­row bar room, its walls cov­ered ceil­ing-high with kitsch — a vel­vet pinup paint­ing, taxi­dermy and a schooner made from cut-up Bud­weiser cans — as a “Tom and Jerry” car­toon flick­ered on the TV screens.

The bar­tender said busi­ness had been so crazy she was al­most out of beer. Most of the pa­trons and passersby sup­ported the owner’s re­volt.

“The sense of neigh­bor­hood has been dis­placed,” said Azure, a one-named down­town res­i­dent and street artist, giv­ing the bouncer a raised fist as she passed by.

Todd Young, 38, and Christo­pher Knud­son, 53, de­scribed them­selves as reg­u­lars.

“This is the only place that re­minds me of Mil­wau­kee,” said Young, 38, a psy­chother­a­pist. “Ev­ery­thing com­ing in dou­bles the prices. It’s ob­scene; it be­longs in Bev­erly Hills.”

“My rent has gone up $400 in four years,” said Knud­son, 53. “I’m a me­chanic; it’s not like I’m mak­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars.”

Carol E. Schatz, pres­i­dent of the Cen­tral City Assn. of Los An­ge­les, said she re­jects the whole idea of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. Down­town is al­ways chang­ing, she said, and “the mar­ket will set the rates.”

Still, Schatz said, “I al­ways sug­gest we need more mid-mar­ket busi­nesses in down­town.”

On a smok­ing break out­side the bar, Adrian David, a down­town res­i­dent since 1983, said he prefers to­day’s ver­sion.

“A bunch of crack­heads: not cute,” David said, de­scrib­ing the old down­town. “You al­ways had to be walk­ing on eggshells.”

But his ilk is fad­ing fast, he con­ceded: “I’m just lucky I’m still here.”

Greg Miel­carz, 45, walked in and out of Bar 107

“I miss the seedy, weird side of down­town Los An­ge­les,” he said. “The soul of the city is gone. Or maybe I’m just older.”

Miel­carz’s Uber ride pulled up.

“We’re go­ing to Kore­atown,” he said, smil­ing, as he and his com­pan­ion climbed in the back. “The soul of the city.”

‘It’s not just dress codes, mud­dled drinks and ex­pen­sive ap­pe­tiz­ers. I see di­ver­sity dy­ing out in down­town Los An­ge­les. Isn’t that what a city is?’ — Vianey Del­gadillo, owner of Bar 107

Rick Loomis Los An­ge­les Times

A SE­CU­RITY GUARD checks the IDs of pa­trons en­ter­ing Bar 107 in down­town L.A., which is fac­ing the loss of its lease. The bar’s owner has vowed not to leave with­out a fight, and has hit a sweet spot on so­cial me­dia.

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