News quickly circulated this weekend that all the businesses along Main Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets received demolition notices without any prior information. This stretch includes several arts establishments, the most legendary being DIY rock venue The Smell. The story first broke when the venue posted a photo of the notice they received on Friday to their Facebook page. The notice made reference that a demolition permit could be issued in as little as 30 days. The timing of this made for mayhem. Heading into a holiday weekend, building ownership was difficult to reach, leaving only questions and speculations to cyclone through Memorial Day.
We got in touch with the ownership this week, Joe's Parking, who had some fortunate albeit cautious answers. Having purchased the buildings last year, Joe's contracted a third party vendor to take care of due-diligence for the building site, including making initial preparations for a hypothetical yet completely unplanned development opportunity. Joe's Parking was problematically unaware that in the City of Los Angeles, buildings that are thirty years and over are required to receive a posted notification for any permit applications of this kind. "Unless somebody came in and made some insane offer to buy it up, I can't see anything being developed here anytime soon," Joe's Parking GM Kevin Litwin assured us. While Joe's Parking is a major land developer in Downtown LA, they have never forced anyone out in anywhere near a month's time. Their only Downtown-area demolition in recent history, a car wash on 7th Street, was given over a year from the time of notice to make new plans, according to Joe's. "I'm building a community garden on the backside of The Smell. The last thing I want to do is ruthlessly kick people out. That's not how we operate," Litwin added. That being said, he also forecasted that The Smell's future lacks surefire permanence. "While we have no immediate plans for the site, I doubt it's gonna be a basement punk rock bar forever," noting that with the current trends of Downtown LA development, it might be a wise opportunity for The Smell to explore an eventual relocation.
We're very glad that The Smell and its neighbors are here to stay for now. Though this lapse in communication is deeply concerning. It highlights the critical need for property owners to regularly communicate with their tenants and vice versa. Developers need to better understand the impact of their decisions, which the City should help make as clear as possible. Notifications like demolition, which wields traumatic and debilitating implications on a small business owner, should not have to come as a surprise to anyone involved. •
As our Recommended Reading selection suggests, a heap of the press has been published in the past few days about The Smell. A punk rock institution operating in Downtown LA since 1999, The Smell has earned its place as a famous landmark by being an anomaly of a modern concert venue - volunteer-run, alcohol-free, (and thus) all-ages.
Though most of these articles completely gloss over the fact that that The Smell is not alone in this predicament, and is hardly the only business of merit on the block. Its next-door neighbor, the Downtown Independent, is Downtown LA's only independent movie theater. First opening in 1925 as the Arrow, it became the Linda Lea Theater in the 1950's, eventually rising to prominence as a place for Japanese film. A modern redesign transformed the now glass and steel cube-shaped building in 2007. Alongside indie film, the Downtown Independent serves as a critical local space for talks and performances. Another icon is the New Jalisco. Operating as the Jalisco Inn for several decades in what was once the Crystal Theatre, the bar serves as one of the last prominent stomping ground for queer Latinos and their allies in the Historic Core. Its perhaps most notorious and beloved for its nightly drag shows. On the south side sits Five Star Bar, one of the area's last great combo dive bar restaurants. The bar boasts a wooden stage underneath their second story perch where local bands regularly perform.
The Smell deserves the legendary status its been bestowed, as well as credit for taking this issue to the public through its social media. But to only report on one venue creates the perception that this is a single tenant versus landlord issue. In reality, a decision like a block-long demolition has a much larger cultural and community impact that should be at the forefront of the story. •
by Ari Simon