A proposed design district for Historic Filipinotown

Historic Filipinotown, located between Echo Park and Koreatown, may get its own design district. The community is mixed about the idea. Activists say it will lead to gentrification, but some residents want to see the area become more pedestrian friendly.

When you hear the term “design district,” what comes to mind? Maybe a neighborhood of fashion boutiques, fine art galleries and furniture and lighting showrooms like those lining Melrose Avenue, Robertson Boulevard, and Beverly Boulevard in the West Hollywood Design District.

Well, it turns out that the LA neighborhood of Westlake, located between Echo Park and Koreatown and encompassing MacArthur Park, is slated to become a design district. At least, that’s the vision of Councilman Mitch O’Farrell and his planning team.

An ordinance submitted to the Department of City Planning proposes creating a “North Westlake Design District,” which means approving more mixed-use buildings, adding pedestrian bridges at the expense of parking spots, and imposing regulations on everything from signage and design to the paint color of the buildings.

It’s part of a broader agenda to rezone L.A. toward pedestrians instead of cars. The changes would be focused on three major arteries: Temple Street, Beverly Boulevard and Third Street.

The original Tommy’s Burgers in Historic Filipinotown

The only problem? The neighborhood already has a name – Historic Filipinotown – and a strong cultural identity. Activists who created the Coalition to Defend Westlake in an effort to defeat the ordinance argue that it would exacerbate gentrification and lead to the displacement of low-income tenants in the historically immigrant community. The Coalition to Defend Westlake recently hosted two community meetings to discuss how the plan will affect the neighborhood.

Residents point to some of the radical changes that have changed the character of neighboring Echo Park, from the renovation of its lake to third-wave coffee shops lining Sunset Boulevard.

Some residents like the idea, like Joselyn Geaga-Rosenthal, a founder of the Historic Filipinotown Improvement Association. She says her family has lived in the neighborhood for more than 50 years and believes the ordinance would create safer streets. “This ordinance will help develop street-level businesses, pedestrian-friendly edifices that will encourage me and my neighbors to walk at night,” she said.

A typical block in the Westlake neighborhood of Los Angeles.

The project is still in flux. City planners insist that there’s no concrete timeline, and are very open to hearing more input from the community. They say there will be additional workshops and fielding feedback in the coming months.

Reporter Jennifer Swann talks to DnA about the mixed reaction in the community, how the ordinance might change the neighborhood and why some residents, like Arturo Garcia, are prepared to “fight” a design district “up to the end.”