Around the country, gritty industrialization is giving way to industrial chic as derelict warehouse districts are being revitalized into thriving art enclaves. These aren’t just hipster hangouts of vegan food trucks and green markets. They’re areas that have undergone a process known in urban planning circles as adaptive reuse. The idea being that structurally sound and historically significant buildings are reclaimed, repurposed, and reborn as the linchpins of creative new zones of commerce and tourism. Credit usually goes to young folks and artists who are drawn to these regions by the low cost of housing. Then, as the districts gain critical mass, preservationists, developers, and urban planners take notice, and previously forlorn neighborhoods evolve into places worth visiting. Art is often still the economic driver, but food and lodging tend to be cutting edge as well. Here are seven once-shunned areas now enjoying architectural and cultural renaissance.
Los Angeles’ Arts District
When you spot graffiti-covered walls and giant outdoor murals, you know the Los Angeles Arts District is in your line of sight. This neighborhood of aging warehouses, food-processing plants, and low-rise manufacturing facilities on downtown’s eastern fringe gained traction with artists who unofficially moved into vacant buildings in the late 1970s. The city eventually gave its stamp of approval on these live/work spaces when it passed an Artist in Residence ordinance in 1981.
The billboards on display are the antithesis of the corporate kind you see along the highway. They’re a robust collection of street-art murals including some by Europe’s elite artists: Banksy (England), JR (France), and Aryz (Spain).
As America’s entertainment capital, LA is the place artists from around the globe want to be seen. A few blocks west of where the artists live is where many of their works are displayed in the Historic Core neighborhood. In a city of automobiles, locals joke, the BMW stops here. Only in this area will you see 40,000 Angelenos get out of their cars and talk to each other face to face.
When to go: Second Thursdays of every month for the Downtown LA Art Walk.
Where to eat: Bäco Mercat, a small-plate favorite. Try one of the stuffed flatbread sandwiches with a glass of custom-made tamarind and mango pop. (408 S. Main Street; 213-687-8808; bacomercat.com)
Where to stay: AirBnB is the place to experience life in a true downtown loft for less than the cost of a hotel. (airbnb.com)
Don’t miss … a nightcap at The Varnish. Head for an unmarked door at the back of Cole’s restaurant for a vintage cocktail at this speakeasy-style watering hole (118 E. Sixth Street; 213-622-9999; 213nightlife.com/thevarnish)