Saying Goodbye To DTLA

So life happened and I had to drop out of a project I was really excited about. For about six months Yennie Cheung and I were working on a photography book about downtown LA as part of the 37 Series for En Ville Publishing.

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This is me enamored with Charlie Caplin’s Los Angeles Theater on Broadway

I don’t want to get into details but what happened is pretty simple: I have bipolar disorder and since January I’ve been dealing with a disruptive bout of depression. This is not a new thing, I’ve been dealing with this long enough to know that sometimes I have to let go of things no matter how badly I want to push to continue them. It’s incredibly frustrating but necessary (I haven’t been hospitalized in seven years and it’s a streak I’d like to keep).

Yennie and Julia have both been extremely understanding about the whole thing even though I pretty much fell off the face of the planet. To take my place they’ve brought in our friend Kathryn McGee. She’s perfect for the gig, enthusiastic and sharp, plus she’s an architectural historian for god’s sake! I mean she probably should of been the one working on it in the first place. I know they’re going to be awesome together and can’t wait to see what they do.

I’m sure it was the right decision because I’m finally getting better. It’s like I had all these spinning plates–this blog, WriteGirl, my story collection/submissions, Tongue & Groove, the DTLA book–then they all crashed down. At least that’s how it feels. Now I’m sifting through shards and trying to figure out which one or two things I’d like to put back together the most.

I hate it because I can handle things fine until I can’t and my self-confidence takes a big blow every time and no matter how much I try to side-step it there is always this sharp ache of disappointment in myself.


I started working on an essay about this stuff but I really don’t want this to turn into “my blog about bipolar disorder.” It took a long time to recalibrate my own perception of the disorder so that it wouldn’t define me but there are times when it’s impossible to talk about my life without acknowledging these interruptions. There is always a dual narrative in this “age of sharing” and most of the time I do what we all do: I dash off posts with convenient omissions and shape the image I want to project.

But I also feel somewhat inclined to “come out of the closet” when it comes to my mental illness because I think more people should. Why?

Because even I have a hard time believing in depression. On some level deep down I’ve always thought that it is my fault. That I’m just lazy or a shitty person. Weak. At times I wish there was some physical manifestation that I could see and point to so I could prove it to people but mostly so I could fully believe in it myself. If I myself struggle with misconceptions then I’m sure other people do. I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point where I’ll post status updates about this shit but for now I’m comfortable with this.


If there has been one silver lining to this DTLA book project it is this: Josh and I have both fallen for downtown Los Angeles. We went on five LA Conservancy tours and roamed the streets, tourists in our own backyard. We became those annoying people walking slow and staring up. For once we weren’t just rushing to get to the next thing, we actually saw the place and it was complicated and beautiful and it fascinated each of us in completely different ways. So far this year’s difficulties have slowed us down and brought us close. I can’t even express my gratitude for his patience. I’m lucky.

But since I do have a few hours of interviews and little notebooks filled with scribbles, I at least want to do a little send off about DTLA before I move on, so here goes…

Okay, pretend I have an Anthony Bourdain-type show like “The Lay-Over.” Here’s what I’d show you:

1-The opulent lobby of the Edison Building (not the bar). Green, gold and grandiose. An elaborate art deco design created for one of the city’s few rightful ego-maniac’s while he was at the height of his powers. [For another ego-maniacal DTLA design project see: Charlie Chaplin and the Los Angeles Theater on Broadway].

Edison building

2- Terra cotta. Most of the ornate buildings and theater interiors in DTLA are made with terra cotta, which is a chameleon-like material that can be shaped and dyed to resemble several other types of stone. It seems very fitting for this city of reinvention; even the stone walls are pretending to be something else.

3- Blue and green. There are two technicolor skyscrapers in DTLA: the Eastern Colombia  building and the Sun Realty building, both shine with an unreal brightness, odd and foreign next to the other buildings as though a tornado had just dropped them down from The Emerald City. [For another building that looks like it’s been transplanted from a far away land see Oviatt’s building and then look at photos from the 1925 world’s fair in Paris where he copied it’s designs].

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4- The Last Bookstore. More on this below, but I especially love the section filled with those thick, fancy art and architecture books–they are mostly used so the prices are incredibly low and most are in good enough condition to immediately snob-up your coffee-table. Plus they get “new” used stuff all the time (the store’s inventory is about 70% used books and 30% new).

5- The taco stand next to La Cita, which is across the street from Angel’s Flight. It’s great for quick, cheap, carne asada when the Central Market is too hipstery and crowded. It looks and tastes like they’d definitely except cash only (you know what I mean) but they also take cards.

6- Chiwan Choi (“The Jay Z” of poetry) I was able to interview him and was fascinated by all his insights on the nuances of recent gentrification and how developers are influencing everything from Grant Park to Mariachi Plaza. For outsiders and visitors it’s all for better but for locals like some hispanic and Korean communities it’s mostly for worse.

7- Traxx Bar at Union Station. This is the place to drink something old-timey out of a copper mug, pretend it’s 1920 and watch as commuters move through the Union Station’s marvelous golden lobby.

8-“Mike The Poet,” a local master of both recent and historic DTLA and the Arts District in particular. They guy’s been hanging around since the 90’s and giving tours for over 10 years. I think he does tours for the Architectural Society. Check-out his site here and his column for KTLA. If you do let him show you around he may or may not perform one of  his poems about the city. Fucking awesome.

9- Assemblage Art . For one-of-a-kind gifts and cool decorative stuff for the home I’d check out the shops on the mezzanine at The Last Bookstore, especially the two that are run by David Lovejoy and Jena Priebe. They are the artists behind the iconic labyrinth and arch of books and the rest of the installation art for the Last Book Store. The mezzanine is home to the Spring Arts Collective so the walls are always filled with cool stuff to look at. and the shops themselves look more like works of art then places of commerce. If do you go in there just don’t call their artwork steam punk, it’s not.

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This sculpture in front of MOCA is not by Lovejoy or Priebe but you get the idea…they make stuff into other stuff…wa-la!

10-John Fante Square and Bunker Hiil. The best way to discover historical downtown is to read “Ask The Dust” and if you really want the story of Fante’s downtown check out Stephen Cooper’s book “Full Of Life.” For the DTLA book I tried to pack the essence of this 400 page biography into a 500-character article, like most things I worked on for the book before letting go, it was a pleasurable challenge (and it’s one of the few things I finished that still might make it to print).

We’ll just have to wait and see…

4 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye To DTLA

  1. Lovely and thoughtful piece.

    I used to live in the building behind that MOCA sculpture. Why I moved I’ll never know.

    I’m glad to hear you’re back on the mend.

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