Since moving to the Downtown LA Arts District in the summer of 2010, I have become fascinated with the original warehouse buildings in the area and the history of the neighborhood. I live at Santa Fe and 2nd St., directly across from the new One Santa Fe complex, which is scheduled to be completed in late 2014 or early 2015. I also live about two blocks away from the former Pickle Works building, which was the site of the very first artist occupied live-work lofts in the area. (top: East side of Pickle Works building, showing full south end under construction.<br />Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy)
When I found out that the Los Angeles Conservancy was going to offer a walking tour of my neighborhood I was very excited at the opportunity to find out more about the history of the buildings surrounding my home and to get a chance to look inside some of them. Our first stop was the former California Vinegar & Pickle Company, later James K. Hill & Sons Company Pickle Works at 1001 East First Street, architect unknown, 1888-1909. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get a look inside the building due to construction and safety issues.
The Pickle Works building was the former home of the Art Dock (aka the Drive-By Gallery in the early 1980s), and was the first live/work home for artists in the Arts District. In 2005 the building was shut down and seventy-five feet of the oldest section was removed by the city to make way for Metro Rail. (The First Street Bridge needed to be widened to accommodate the train.) The city wants to demolish the rest of the building, but the neighborhood council, the Los Angeles Conservancy, and the majority of the community would like the Pickle Works building restored to house artists once more. At the moment this historic property, determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, stands vacant – awaiting its fate.
The second stop on the tour was the Challenge Cream & Butter Association at 929 East Second Street, Architect: Charles F. Plummer, 1926. This building is somewhat generic from the outside, but once you get inside its something else altogether. With wide-open spaces and magnificent views of the city, the Challenge building is definitely an enticing work or studio space. This building was one of the first to be converted to artist lofts in the early 1980s. We toured the enormous loft of clothing company Design Syndicate Inc., which included a wall-mounted fountain designed by artist Eric Orr that was original to the buildings design. Upstairs was the workspace of artist Jim Morphesis, who had many works on view. It was a treat to see his work in person. He was very courteous and greeted all who wanted to say “hello.” The last space we visited in the Challenge building was the owner’s loft, which he kept open for private parties and filming. Although the Conservancy volunteer couldn’t tell me what films or TV shows had been filmed in the space, I was still very impressed with the two-level loft. At over 5,000 square feet, it incorporated the old loading doc for the dairy on the ground floor.
Some historic photos of the Challenge Cream & Butter Association building.
The third and last location I was able to make it to that day was the Southern California Supply Co. at 810 East Third Street, Architect: Richards-Neustadt Construction Co., 1910. The first workspace we visited was artist David Hollen’s studio in the basement. Hollen’s partner, Frank Theobaldt gave us a tour of the space, which had no windows and had to be vented with industrial fans. It suits Hollen’s work, however, since he uses materials such as steel and sheet metal. The space was large and had a gallery area in the back where Hollen had his work on display. Theobaldt showed us some work in progress sketches on the wall and described a new piece titled Clouds Over the Great Plains, which will be an 11 x 11 foot sculpture laser cut from sheet metal. Theobaldt said that they don’t live in the space; they commute from their home in South Pasadena. But he said they pretty much just sleep in Pasadena and spend most of their time in the studio. Theobaldt said they have been working in the Arts District building since 2006.
Since there is no elevator in the Southern California Supply Co. building, we hiked up three floors to A. S. Ashley’s loft on the top floor. Ashley space was crammed full of surreal canvases brimming with pop culture references and crazy assemblages apparently created with a punch line in mind. One of the first things that caught the eye when we first came into the space was a shrine to Ernie Kovacs’ Nairobi Trio. Consisting of monkey skeletons, a TV set with a clip of the Nairobi Trio skit on a loop, and some framed photos of Kovacs and other actors from the show, this creation seems more like it was created to amuse Ashley than as a work of art. I thought it was amazing, but I wondered what people who weren’t familiar with the Nairobi Trio would think?
After spending some time looking at everything in Ashley’s loft, we finally dragged ourselves away and headed to the nearby Pie Hole for some lunch. With stomachs full of apple pie and chocolate crostata, my companions headed over to Angel City Brewery. Unfortunately, I had to call it a day. But I highly recommend taking the walking tour yourself. You won’t be able to go inside the private spaces, but there are some public buildings, like Angel City Brewery that you are welcome to go inside. You can find a PDF with information on all of the buildings on the route and a map on the Los Angeles Conservancy web site.
All photography by Wendy Sherman except the first Pickle Works building photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy
Thanks to: The L.A. Conservancy: Cindy Olnick, Erin Cullerton, Sarah Weber, Jessica Hodgdon, Marcella Riberio, and all the volunteer tour guides; The artists, including: Jim Morphesis, David Hollen, Frank Theobaldt, and A. S. Ashley. I’d also like to thank all the landlords and businesses who opened their buildings up to the public so we could all come inside and take a peek at these magnificent structures and the treasures within.