What Was The Arts District of Los Angeles And What’s To Come

There’s a neighborhood on the eastern edge of Downtown Los Angeles. It’s boundaries stretch from Alameda Street on the west, which blends into Little Tokyo, First Street on the north, the Los Angeles River to the east, and Violet Street on the south. It was a gritty area that has given new life to old industrial buildings whose history dates back to the early 20th century. Art galleries have opened in the area that was once just factories and over time the area has come to be known as LA’s Arts District. But have you ever wondered how or why Los Angeles’ Arts District came to be?

The Back Story

In the 1950’s many manufacturing companies fled oversees or were overtaken by larger manufacturing companies, resulting in vacant buildings that brung property values down. Artists who were struggling to pay rent in the city started moving to the Arts District in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Before 1979 the Arts District buildings had been zoned for industrial use only. It wasn’t until 1979 that the State of California passed a live/work legislation and in 1981 Los Angeles passed the bill Artist-In-Residence (AIR). This new bill AIR would allow artists to live legally in the areas that could no longer be used for industrial use as long as they attained a business license.

What’s There Now?
Street Art in DTLA
Street Art in DTLA

LA Artcore, founded in 1976 by Lydia Takeshita with the purpose of exhibiting local artists, exists today in locations at the Brewery Art Colony and in Little Tokyo. Cirrus Editions, the first gallery to open downtown, also remains open. Cornerstone Theater, an enterprise that brings community theater to locations all around the country, still resides on Traction Avenue.

Around the corner, on Hewitt at 4th Pl., the non-profit ArtShare offers lessons in art, dance, theater and music to urban youth and features a small theater often used by Padua Playwrights. Padua stages plays around the city, often in non-traditional environments, and hosts play-writing workshops.

Street Art DTLA
Street Art DTLA

The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), resides in a quarter-mile-long (0.40 km) former Santa Fe Freight Depot built in 1907 that has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Across the street is a 438-unit apartment complex, “One Santa Fe,” that opened in 2014 and was designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture (MMA).

The following list has registered landmarks in the Arts District that were provided by the Los Angeles Conservancy.


  • Pickle Works/ Citizen Warehouse: 1001 East 1st St.
  • Challenge Dairy Building: 929 East 2nd St.
  • Southern California Supply Co.: 810 East 3rd St.
  • Southern California Institute of Architecture: 960 East 3rd St.
  • American Hotel: 303 South Hewitt St.
  • Toy Factory Lofts: 1855 Industrial St.
  • Biscuit Company Lofts: 1850 Industrial St.


What’s To Come?
Angel Wings by Artist Colette Miller
Angel Wings by Artist Colette Miller

Because of gentrification, the Arts District will also see new changes in the near future. The area is expected to build Pedestrian Plaza at Merrick St. and 4th St., a controlled pedestrian crossing at 4th St./4th Place split, bike lanes on Santa Fe Ave. and Mateo St. down to 7th St., bike lanes on Traction Ave., and a pedestrian walkway and plaza space on 6th St Bridge frontage road which came from a 15 million award from the Active Transportation Program.

This follows a proposed 2 billion 1.95 million sq. ft. mixed-use development project by Suncal which includes two 58 story buildings designed by Hezorg and de Meuron. The project is called 6 am and it will be located along 6th street between Mills and Alameda .The live/work space, will include 1,700 apartments and condos, shops, offices, hotels, charter school, and underground garage.


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