This post was written by KCRW’s Saul Gonzalez.
When talking about the British capital, the 18th Century British essayist and biographer Samuel Johnson is reported to have once said,”Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
With apologies to London, the same words could be applied to one of L.A.’s most famous streets, Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. The street, which cuts through the heard of downtown, is block for block, maybe the most interesting and historic thoroughfare in the city, a street where generations of Angelenos have gathered and where so much of L.A.’s civic history has played out.
Currently, Broadway is in the midst of a commercial and demographic shift as new stores open and people move in.
Broadway is one of the oldest streets in Los Angeles, dating back, according to some accounts, to a city plan laid out in 1849. The historic core of Broadway, stretching from 1st Street to Olympic Boulevard, was long L.A.’s main commercial street, home to glittering department stores and movie palaces. Many of Broadway’s buildings, like the Bradbury Building, are on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
The turquoise colored Eastern Columbia building at 849 South Broadway is considered one of L.A.’s best examples of Art Deco architecture. Built in 1930, it was the corporate offices for the Eastern Outfitting Company and the Columbia Outfitting Company. It’s now a swanky residential tower with a high-end Swedish clothing store soon to open on the ground floor. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
In the post-war years, Broadway’s demographics changed. The street became a favorite shopping destination for L.A.’s growing Latino population. On weekends, the sidewalks are packed with families shopping for clothing, electronics or jewelry. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
As Broadway’s commercial landscape changes so to do its demographics. Like with the rest of downtown L.A., more young people are coming to the street to live or work. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Broadway is now in the midst of a commercial boom, with hip national chains like Urban Outfitters, opening. The Philadelphia-based company has opened its Broadway store in the old Rialto Theater. The building dates back to 1917 when opened as a nickelodeon theater. Broadway is home to the highest concentration of movie palaces in the world. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Changes along Broadway also include Grand Central Market located on the street’s north side. The market, with it’s massive floor space and distinctive neon signs, has long been an affordable culinary crossroads of Los Angeles. But like the street in front of it, Grand Central Market is going upscale with trendier eateries opening up. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Despite Broadway’s current commercial renaissance, sometimes changes don’t extend beyond the ground floor. According to the organization Bringing Back Broadway, there’s a million square feet of vacant commercial space along Broadway, mostly on upper floors of buildings. New commercial reuse guidelines have been announced to get tenants into all that vacant office space. What’s empty today could be tech companies, boutiques and yoga studios in the years to come. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)