THOUGHTS N FEELINGS

Re-finding The Flats

There's an increasingly popular area budding in Downtown LA; it's one we feature often for its many art galleries. Some vernacularly lump it in with the Arts District, some refer to it as Boyle Heights despite its clear aesthetic and cultural differences. We call it by its historic name, The Flats. To many Angelenos, the name is new. Yet its origin precedes almost all other neighborhood names around Downtown. The Flats - as opposed to the Heights of Boyle Heights - is the low-lying area situated east of the LA River and west of Boyle Avenue. Prone to destructive flooding from the river, the area remained largely uninhabited until 1905, when it became home to a large Russian population that arrived in Los Angeles that decade.1 The name "The Flats" began appearing in writing in the 1910's and continued to have use until the mid-1930's, and the term was most often associated with the poor living conditions of the area. With an economic boom and expanded rail system in the 1920's, demand for industrial spaces by the tracks along the river began to encroach upon the residential immigrant community. It's a funny contrast to today, nearly a century later, as so many formerly industrial spaces along the LA River and elsewhere are being flipped to residential and commercial uses. With so much major art market influence pouring into the area - from local new spaces like MaRS (Museum as Retail Space) to more established ventures like NYC-based Maccarone Gallery - it's important to recall what the area once was in order to be most thoughtful with its sure-to-evolve future.

The Los Angeles River in 1938 looking from The Flats towards the 6th Street Bridge amidst paving construction. (photo via LA Public Library archive)

The Los Angeles River in 1938 looking from The Flats towards the 6th Street Bridge amidst paving construction. (photo via LA Public Library archive)