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Dazzling Los Angeles

Suddenly, everyone is flocking in: start-ups, galleries, think tanks, top-flight chefs. The second-largest city in the USA, once readily dismissed as a superficial dream factory, today throbs with the desire to take control of its future. 

Text:
Beatrice Schlag
Photos:
Reto Guntli, Agi Simoes
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Wasn't Los Angeles Always Unique?

Nobody really knows when Los Angeles started to be hip again. Did it begin when star architect Frank Gehry finally gave the city a landmark it could be proud of in the form of the Walt Disney Concert Hall? Before that, there had just been the misaligned white letters of the HOLLYWOOD sign up in the hills above the city – and while the whole world might recognise it, it’s not even lit up at night. Plus it’s been looking increasingly antiquated ever since American TV series have become so good that Hollywood can only rarely manage to hold its own against them.

The most popular mall in California, the Grove is a firm favourite with moviegoers, bookworms, hungry diners and dedicated shoppers alike. Every December, it plays host to the tallest Christmas tree in the city.
Contemporary art from Jasper Johns to Jeff Koons: since The Broad opened last September, visitors have been queuing every day to admire pictures and sculptures from the private collection of real estate billionaire and philanthropist Eli Broad and his wife Edith.

Was it when Google followed the example of Facebook and YouTube and decided to open an office in Venice? And to locate it not just anywhere, but in Frank Gehry’s renowned Binoculars Building in order to make it plain that even techies have a sense of culture. Or when the erstwhile hippie hub suddenly became flooded with start-up companies and the stores on Abbott Kinney Boulevard, Venice’s main drag, suddenly started selling cashmere T-shirts and handblown wineglasses instead of flip-flops and surf boards? Did it help that chef Nancy Silverton, long a celebrated figure in LA, received the USA’s Outstanding Chef Award two years ago? Or was the deciding factor the increasing number of artists and gallery owners who now live in Downtown Los Angeles, making the city of interest to art lovers who had previously looked no further westward than New York?

Cowboys don’t travel by streetcar. Reopened recently in striking new guise, the Petersen Automotive Museum houses more than 100 valuable supercars, such as a 1957 Ferrari 625/250 TRC, and vehicles formerly owned by celebrities, like Elvis Presley’s De Tomaso. They testify to the Angelenos' long-nurtered dream of happiness on four wheels.
Like world-famous Chateau Marmont on Sunset Strip, Shutters on the Beach also pays architectonic homage to a bygone age. In both hotels, luxury is measured less in terms of room size than in the details, the service and the discretion they offer. Unbeatable privilege at the Shutters: guests can pop barefoot out of their rooms before breakfast and stroll across the sand to test out the warmth of the Pacific.

DTLA AND SILICON BEACH

We believe it was a combination of all the above: an unplanned boom simultaneously occurring in a var­iety of areas which has made Los Angeles immensely attractive and thus a magnet to even more artists, chefs, investors and visitors. Both native Angelenos and incomers who have lived here for decades have been somewhat surprised by the development. The once ailing area of Downtown Los Angeles has been rebranded as DTLA and is virtually unrecognisable. 

Construction work on Frank Gehry’s masterpiece on Bunker Hill in DTLA took 16 years. The enthusiastic applause at its grand opening was as great for Yasuhisa Toyota, who was responsible for the concert hall’s superb acoustics, as for the star architect himself. Guided tours also take visitors through the hall’s gardens, which are not visible from the outside.

The food vendors in Grand Central Market alone make a trip to DTLA worthwhile. Referred to by many as Silicon Beach, Venice is abuzz with activity – but rents and boutique prices are exploding. The fact you can now grab lunch from the food trucks parked outside every large office block at midday doubtless represents culinary progress when compared with the sandwiches of yore. But despite all this, wasn’t Los Angeles always unique?

Nowhere else could you lie on the beach in your swimsuit and soak up the rays on a Sunday in January while enjoying a view of snow-capped mountains in the distance. Or go skiing in Big Bear. Or follow in the footsteps of the Rat Pack and play golf in the desert oasis of Palm Springs. “LA has it all,” is what they used to say here years ago.

Downtown LA from above with its ubi­quitous film publicity. When you descend, you are struck by the surprising number of pedestrians and cyclists on the move in the hip Art District. Tip for foreign moviegoers: the more monumental the LA billboard advertising a film, the less likely it is to be worth watching.

Art is everywhere

Last September, The Broad opened its doors right next to Gehry’s Disney Hall: a private museum of contemporary art funded by billionaire Eli Broad. In March, the internationally acclaimed Hauser & Wirth gallery, in collaboration with Paul Schimmel, ex-curator of MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles), opened a sprawling new gallery complex in DTLA that already had critics raving even before its inauguration. Almost exactly between these two openings, the huge old Petersen Automotive Museum presented its new face to the world.

Palm trees seem as much a part of Los Angeles as the beach and the clear blue sky. But originally there were none at all growing in the city. Some 70 years ago, big property owners who moved their homes out here from the East Coast had them imported as the perfect symbol of a relaxed lifestyle.
This is as far west as it goes: the last place on the mainland of the western world – at least, that’s how LA sees it. Malibu Pier is a favourite surfer venue when the waves are up and a popular spot to relax thanks to its good cafés and restaur­ants.

Admittedly, this is a monument of strident taste: undulating curves of sheet metal bulge boldly out above its bright red façade creating what one critic compared to a crushed can of Red Bull. Everyone found it hideous, but hardly anyone could really get seriously up in arms about it. After all, how is a city that is constructed around the automobile going to dedicate to that vehicle a museum which is discreet? One of the city’s most joyous characteristics is that it has never attempted to appear genteel, despite the fact that this is precisely what it also is – among all its many other attributes.

You could also be interested in:
FIVE QUESTIONS FOR JONATHAN GOLD, FOOD CRITIC AND BOOK AUTHOR 
1 In 2007, you became the first food critic in the USA to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize. How do you differ from other food critics?

I was happy about the Pulitzer because the award recognised food criticism as cultural criticism. You can talk a lot of hot air about culture. But it’s impossible to lie about food. A breakfast egg is either good or it isn’t. Eating is my way of learning more about the culture of Los Angeles and the changes that are happening here.

2 Why do you find tiny eateries run by Indians, Uzbeks and Peruvians just as important as the city’s expensive restaurants?

Because it’s my mission to stop people being afraid of their neighbours. When I was a student, I visited every place cooking food along the 25-kilometre length of Pico Boulevard. There’s one group of immigrants after another living on Pico. I learnt that there isn’t any one single Mexican cuisine, but countless different Mexican regional cuisines. The same is true of all the countries the immigrants come from.

3 Why is Los Angeles nowadays being lauded as the culinary Mecca of the USA?

A few years back, the second generation of immigrants, who are also familiar with American food culture, began combining the food of their parents with local cooking. These are the most exciting places to eat in the city at the moment.

4 Where would you recommend visitors to go to eat?

The Lukshon in Culver City. The chef there – Sang Yoon – learnt his trade under some of the leading chefs in France and prepares the Korean dishes of his forefathers using French techniques. Another great place is Cassia in Santa Monica, where chef Bryant Ng enhances French food with Vietnamese ingredients. And we shouldn’t forget the food trucks. The tastiest food comes from Wes Avila’s Guerrilla Tacos and truck pioneer Roy Choi’s Kogi.

5 What is a must for every visitor to LA?

The Museum of Jurassic Technology on Venice Boulevard. There’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world because only about half the exhibits on display are authentic. The rest are fakes. And nobody tells you what’s genuine and what’s not. It’s a surreal experience.

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