Downtown LA (Week 8)

Grand Central Market
In Grand Central Market

Oma, the cheese for week 8, came from DTLA Cheese in Grand Central market in the elusive heart of Los Angeles. In the mid-90s, the effort to revitalize downtown Los Angeles was in full swing. The Public Library had reopened, Pershing Square had been redone, there was a museum of neon art, the new metro stations shone and sparkled with public artworks and Angels Flight had just been brought back from the dead. Twenty years later, those efforts seem to be bearing fruit: there are more restaurants and bars, a great many lofts, some green spaces and there are plans for a do-over of Pershing Square which, in its 90s guise turned out to be somewhat of a bust.

To me, the intersection of Broadway and West 3rd Street is a place where, then as now, revitalization is necessary only in the slightest sense – there is no real need to make huge improvements on what’s there, because it has always been an interesting and colorful corner. There is the beautiful Bradbury Building from 1893 that’s been used in many movies (most famously in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner) with its cast iron stairwells and elevator shaft and the enormous skylight. As you exit the Bradbury onto West 3rd Street, you are face to face with an enormous mural of Anthony Quinn, who is dancing as Zorba the Greek. The mural is on the side of the Victor Clothing Company, where Quinn supposedly was a loyal customer. The Bradbury’s other rear exit leads to Biddy Mason Park, where a wall created by Sheila Levant de Bretteville recounts the remarkable life of Ms. Mason, who was born a slave, but eventually became one of the founders of L.A.’s First AME church. Additionally, Mason worked as a nurse and ended up owning quite a bit of property in the neighborhood. Across Broadway from the Bradbury is the former Million Dollar Theatre, which opened in 1918. Sid Grauman (yes, the one of Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard) had it built as one of the first of its kind in the country. It marks the northern end of the stretch along Broadway that has a great number of theaters, some of which are barely used anymore, and others that are being rediscovered. The L.A. Conservancy, which busies itself with protecting architectural icons of the past, has a great program every summer called Last Remaining Seats. They stage movies, often with live music or a Wurlitzer Movie Organ, in these old gems. For a few hours, anyone with a (reasonably priced) ticket can relive the glory days of L.A.’s own Broadway. It is worth it showing up on time, as the seats are all sold at the same price and late comers end up in the seats right under the ceiling…

The Million Dollar Theater has been part of the lineup for Last Remaining Seats in years past. The building also was known for years as the home to the Farmacia Y Botanica Million Dollar , but early in 2016, that business closed. It did not just sell basic drugstore items, but focused especially on votive candles, rosaries, saint statuettes, amulets, potions and spells. Anyone with great expectations or concerns in love, money, career, family or all of the above could go here and get the necessary spiritual accouterments needed to ward of the bad and bring in the good. Alas, it is all gone now, just like the plaques in the pavement honoring Latino greats from the movies, such as Pedro Armendáriz and Dolores del Rio.

Chiles Secos Grand Central Market
Chiles Secos !

Next door, though, the Grand Central market is thriving as it is currently trying to navigate the pitfalls of gentrification. The oldest market in Los Angeles, dating back to 1917, still sold day-old conchas, pigs ears and knuckles, fruit with blemishes and Chinese herbs when I first visited in the 90s. Today, the breakfast line for Eggslut is out on the street, there is a McConnell’s Fine Ice Creams outlet, a place where they cure salmon and other fish and a stand which offers German Currywurst. But some of the low-end merchants are still there, the produce is still inexpensive in many places, and Chiles Secos still sells mole – there is hope! Let’s pray that we won’t have to join in the Big Yellow Taxi refrain any time soon for any of these places that derive so much of their authentic charm from being a little worse for wear, a little tattered, a little rough around the edges.

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Yong Kim and fans
Yong Kim and fans

On this week’s visit to downtown, we also fulfilled one of Charlie’s recent dreams when we visited Seoul Sausage, a restaurant he had heard of because he watched the Great Food Truck Race on Netflix. A few years ago, three young Korean guys won that show – they had been Charlie’s favorites throughout all episodes. Yong Kim, one of the three stars of the reality TV-series was there and Charlie had his picture taken – ah, and of course we had the sausages and the famous rice balls. We also picked up a t-shirt with a profound message: “Make sausage, not war”. Peace, everyone.

Seoul Sausage
Sausage, not war
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