When I first moved to Los Angeles ten years ago in 2005, I had no idea that Downtown L.A. had so much complicated baggage. As a New Yorker, my idea of "downtown" is simple -- it's the bustling metropolis where you go to find all the good stuff. When you want to go out to a nice dinner, see a movie, go shopping or visit a museum, you go downtown. In most large cities, downtown neighborhoods really get action-packed and come to life after dark. In Los Angeles in 2005, however, I found that this downtown was just the opposite. Although I had heard a lot of talk about the area's revitalization, I noticed that after five o'clock, the busy streets quickly went through a stark transformation. The typical downtown hustle created by working professionals going about their day, began to disperse. After hours, downtown became desolate, deserted, inundated with the homeless and, frankly, a little scary-looking.
But what a difference ten years makes...
The vision that the city had for revamping downtown into "New York West" is finally coming to fruition in 2015. Downtown is filled with trendy new restaurants, clubs, cafès, parks and fancy high-rise condos and apartment buildings. Homelessness is still a major issue for the area, but as new businesses and residents continue to move in, there is at least an ongoing dialogue about how the city can best address the problem. Hopefully the solutions offered will be ones that benefit both the residents and the homeless population.
In the Meantime...
I had the pleasure of getting a closer, more informed look at the "new" and old downtown by taking a guided walking tour of the area with DTLA Walking Tours. Our guide, Neel, who owns the company, takes his tours very seriously and is highly knowledgeable about the history and gentrification of the neighborhood over the years. He founded the company in 2009, after having worked as a volunteer at L.A.'s Union Station and recognizing that tourists were extremely interested in the culture, history and architecture of downtown Los Angeles. Currently, DTLA Walking Tours offers five different guided public tours:
Old & New Downtown LA
Downtown Architecture Tour
Hollywood in Downtown LA
Holiday Lights Tour
Neel is also happy to customize a private tour for individuals, groups and special occasions. My family and I chose the Old & New Downtown LA tour and it was fascinating to learn so much about downtown's history and to see up close exactly how (and why) the area has changed through the decades. I was especially excited to learn about little known and formerly famous streets and landmarks, some of which are currently experiencing a well-deserved renaissance. Even in the heat and with a group of at least 12 - 15 people, Neel kept the tour moving steadily along and was very interactive and engaging along the way. He clearly knows his stuff and has studied a lot about the various buildings, streets and historical sites. He truly has a keen understanding of how this complicated and diverse neighborhood has evolved, and managed to thrive through the years, in spite of the mass exodus of residents to the suburbs in the 1950's. I left the tour with a new appreciation for downtown's past struggles and recent growth, as well as a list of cool new places I can take out-of-town visitors to check out.
DTLA Walking Tour Highlights
The Angel's Flight railway was built in 1901 as a way to take residents up to their homes on Bunker Hill. I was closed down in 2013 after a wheel came off. It is currently awaiting plans for a walking path to be built before it re-opens. The sprawling and crowded Grand Central Market was one of the first movements towards downtown gentrification. It features a meat and produce market and is filled with some of the city's best eats, treats and coffee.
Once known as the Million Dollar Theater, this location was built by Sid Grauman, who went on to build the famed Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 1927, making that area the center of the film industry. The Bradbury building is the oldest building in Los Angeles. It was built in 1893 and features an open atrium in it's center.
The Los Angeles Times building is, ironically, owned by The Chicago Tribune.
City Hall might be recognizable to fans of the Superman movie franchise. It served as the exterior location of the Daily Planet. Also, a little known fact is that visitors can head up to the building's observation deck on weekdays and take in one of the best views of the city of angels.
Clifton's Restaurant is a famed, iconic downtown landmark undergoing a major renovation for a late 2015 re-opening. Clifton's was famous during the Great Depression for offering customers free meals. *Sponsored Post*, courtesy of Downtown LA Walking Tours. All photos are my own and the opinions contained in this article are based solely on my genuine impressions after experiencing a tour. For more information or to plan a visit with your family, see their website.