Monday, November 18, 2013

What Silver Lake Was Like Before the Meadow, L.A. River Revitalization and More: A Look Back

Silver Lake meadow: one of the new and improved features
Back in 2001, I had an argument with someone who claimed that although Silver Lake was starting to have cool restaurants and boutiques, it would never really get any better because boutiques alone don't help kids, walkers, bikers, etc. I took it as a challenge and called up Eric Garcetti and Lewis MacAdams to help argue my case. Here's my story from Daily Variety's real estate issue, a blast from a past before the reservoir path, before Atwater Crossing, before the river began to be revitalized.

L.A.'s New Eastside Scene Is Going Green

(Daily Variety, December 7, 2001)
When Los Feliz shows up in Vanity Fair as the hottest spot to shop, Echo Park's Shortstop Bar is touted as one of the world's coolest bars, and Silver Lake's Rudys barbershop rates a double page spread in the New York Times magazine, it's clear that L.A.'s Eastside has made it as the neighborhood du jour.
But stroll past the trendy shops, past the atmospheric hills where a half mil buys a tiny two bedroom home and the crisp picture of a robust burg get fuzzy.

The area is low on public facilities and open spaces, and many areas of Griffith Park are outdated and rundown. Sure, the area has plenty of boutiques, but the streetscapes could use a big facelift on the order of West Hollywood's recent redo of Santa Monica Boulevard.

However; there's change in the air as a number of neighborhood activists, entrepreneurs and City Council members are thinking about how to bring the area's public spaces up to par with showcase Neutra and  Schindler homes and cutting edge boutiques.

A few of the developments and upgrades taking place in the area include:
■ Renovating the Griffith Park Observatory for a 2006 reopening.
■ Redesigning the entrance to the L.A. Zoo for aesthetics and safety.
■ Extending the recently built bike path along the L.A. River, and continuing to add pocket parks and other greening features.
■ Implementation of the Silver Lake Reservoir Master Plan, which would open the reservoir to joggers and walkers, with funds recently allocated to start on new paths and fencing.

"There's a lot going on," says Los Angeles City Council member Eric Garcetti, whose district includes Silver Lake and Echo Park. "You're really seeing the whole area blossom. We're really focused on a lot of public works projects."

Garcetti envisions taking advantage of the human capital available in the area and is working on trying to designate part of the neighborhood as an arts district.

Art figures into the revitalization effort at the Taylor Yards project in Elysian Valley, where much-needed sports fields could be combined with live-work loft space. Dual use lofts are also planned for an empty lot at the comer of Glendale and Silver Lake boulevards, a valuable piece of property that for years has hosted only garage sales and Christmas tree lots.

In addition, Garcetti reports that plans are under way for an art park similar to Santa Monica's Bergamot Station in Atwater; and that artists are buying up industrial spaces for renovation in Elysian Valley. Much of the renewal activity focuses on the L.A. River; for years nothing more than an ignored storm runoff.
Several years ago a group of neighborhood activists led by Silver Lake poet and writer Lewis MacAdams formed Friends of the L.A. River which presented the radical idea that the river could be returned to a more natural state and used as a recreational area.

"I want to see all the concrete gone and see more people using it, using the bike paths, and bring the yellow-billed cuckoos back," says MacAdams.

He says seven vestpocket parks already have been built along the L.A. River bike path with the help of Northeast trees and the goal is to expand the urban parkland around the river.

"Eventually people will be able to commute ftom the Valley to downtown by bicycle," says MacAdams, with the addition of a few more bridges. First up is a new bike bridge over Los Feliz Boulevard, linking Griffith Park to the bike path.
"We could regenerate Los Angeles along a new lifeline that we've all ignored," says architect Ronald Altoon of Altoon + Porter, one of the architects on the Hollywood & Highland project. " It simply takes some vision and some political will."                                                   -- Pat Saperstein

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