Thursday, February 26, 2009

Eagle Rock and Bourgeois Bohemia Imperiled

ON a crisp winter day, with snow glinting on the san gabriel mountains, air cleansed by a recent rain, and mighty oak trees looming over the quiet streets above colorado blvd, eagle rock can seem like the kind of place '60s bands used to write songs about. but these days, people aren't singing -- or if they are, it's in a bittersweet key.

over the last few years northeast LA has become a kind of socal brooklyn, with craftsmans and palm trees instead of  brownstones and maples. but things are slowing here as they are everywhere else. HERE is my new york times story on this neighborhood and how it may or may not survive the recession. (and here is a brief piece from the LAT written for the 2007 opening of larkin's, a new-wave soul food joint.)

i only regret that the tight pages of a newspaper means i didnt have room to mention by name some of the places that give ER its identity -- whether old (casa bianca pizza) or new (colorado wine company, auntie em's bakery/cafe, vegeterian restaurant fatty's, cool bar the chalet.)

my story suggests that this and other neighborhoods will suffer with the economic downturn -- this is a case where i am entirely happy to be wrong.

tonight, by coincidence, is what i hope is not the last-stand of hipster culture in eagle rock: the elusive kogi korean/taco truck is parking outside colorado wine co. to accompany a massively sold out tasting.

it looks like ABC news may be following the story as part of a larger package about the awful california economy.

what do my distinguished readers expect will happen to this and other on-the-verge eastside LA neighborhoods?

Photo credit: Flickr user 30 and Colorado Wine Company


nittany said...

When I read the piece in the NYT, I was GLAD you didn't name Casa Bianca. The lines would only get longer. Here in Studio City, the "Piken Realty" signs are popping up in empty storefronts. Gonna be a long time to turn this around, and as the President has warned, it will get worse before it gets better.

Carolyn said...

I found your blog by googling... I thought your article was (hopefully not unintentionally) hilarious, and horribly sad at the same time. So much so that I googled you. The Decemberists in a continuous loop, A+. I'll be forwarding your insights on bohemian sprawl to friends and family, thank you.

Scott Timberg said...

as for nittany's comment: i really wish i'd had room to mention casa bianca (and auntie em's, and larkin's, and colorado wine co, etc) by name since it's a major symbol of the pre-bobo eagle rock -- but you are not kidding about those lines!

i love that place, even if it sometimes tries my patience by making me wait a full hour even WITH a reservation....

melweb said...

I actually found this article to be irresponsible and potentially damaging, especially when published in a forum such as the New York Times. Journalists seem to have a habit to of coming up with a thesis and then selecting evidence to support their case, rather than looking at the whole truth, which is inevitably more multifaceted and not easy to explain in a small article. This is a letter to the editor I submitted to the New York Times.

“The article “When the Next Wave Wipes Out” appearing in the New York Times on January 25th was a perfect example of the unbalanced, irresponsible journalism that pervades today’s media. Journalism 101 teaches writers not to pick and choose examples just to prove a thesis. One has to do their research and look at the whole picture. You don’t use a town, a town that people love and are invested in financially and emotionally to prove a thesis that you have about how this recession is having an effect on gentrification. Eagle Rock cannot be boiled down to a “Bourgeois Bohemia”.

Many young families moved to Eagle Rock within the last five to ten years because they wanted a nice place to live – a place to raise their children away from places like Silver Lake and Los Feliz. Mr. Timberg ignored a host of businesses that are doing very well in Eagle Rock. The Colorado Wine Company, Auntie Em’s, The Coffee Table, The Oinkster? Where were they represented in this article? The stores he does mention I don't think were a great fit for the Eagle Rock demographic. Many were way too specialized. I don't know how much of a draw high priced Australian products are. I haven't worn vintage clothing since my college years. A knitting store is extremely specialized and the knitting craze was very 1990s. And of course Regeneration doesn't have a lot of foot traffic - it is far from the hub between Eagle Rock Boulevard and Casper. This article turned out not to be about how the recession is taking a toll on the small business, if it was it would include the stores closing all around (Larchmont, Silverlake, Echo Park, Old Town Pasadena). It focused, rather, on the failure of gentrification to be an altruistic act of repatriation to the blue-collar roots of a community, using Eagle Rock as its model.

I don’t see Eagle Rock as a place where it is us vs. them. Many of the people who moved here are young families who wanted to be a part of a nice, small friendly community. What is wrong with wanting that community to have a place where one can get a decent cup of coffee? I do feel like Eagle Rock is a complicated place, however, and I do get extremely frustrated with the politics. Many restaurants did try and open up in the past five years, but community groups with their own agendas and high rents thwarted many. Mr. Timberg decidedly ignored many of these aspects of the story, because that would have destroyed his thesis. Eagle Rock is guilty of not coming together as a community to try and figure out the issues surrounding various stores openings, for example, how to accommodate public parking and navigating Los Angeles bureaucratic permitting and licensing systems. Maybe an article should be written about why it has been so hard for businesses to even open their doors on Colorado. That issue, and now the recession, is the real story of Eagle Rock.

I hope that the successful businesses in Eagle Rock will be around after this recession. Many Eagle Rock residents are making an effort to support these businesses during these hard times - we are keeping it local. Maybe Mr Timberg should write about that, instead of promoting the premature death of a community. Places where people can gather and be a community is a good thing and Eagle Rock DOES have that. Has Mr. Timberg stepped into Swork on a Saturday morning? Packed. Stepped into the Colorado Wine Company on a Friday night? Packed. I could go on with a number of other examples.

In an area of Los Angeles that is bordered by communities fraught with gang violence, does Mr. Timberg really want to dig Eagle Rock into a premature grave? As far as the old businesses such as Tritch Hardware and the copy shop prevailing, it is not a war. Why does every community have to be labeled as the next this or the next that? Why can’t it have its own identity, someplace that everyone can live, some place where one coffee shop can exist in a sea of dojos and vacant auto supply stores. I am a mother with a young son. I love Eagle Rock. It is where I live. It is my community. How dare Mr. Timberg turn my home into just an example to prove his ill-conceived thesis of a failed attempt of a “Bourgeois Bohemia”. Do your homework and don’t boil down a complex situation and community down to a trite generalization. In these tough economic times, some of us are barely holding on. We need hope for our communities, not articles announcing the death of them. And besides, most of us that you describe in this article as infiltrating Eagle Rock own houses here. We aren’t going anywhere, we can’t, and most of us don’t want to. We all belong to the community of Eagle Rock, not just to those of us who wore plaid flannel shirts before Nirvana popularized them.”

Scott Timberg said...

well, this correspondent and i have two things in common. 1, we seem to like the same restaurants and coffee shops -- those are all great places. tho some of them are hurting. 2, we dont know what the future will bring.

i see an article as the initiating of a conversation on a group of topics, not the end. as a journalist, i have to call it like i see it. as someone who lives near eagle rock, i hope that locals use these problems to rally behind these businesses. i would love to see them prove any dire forecasts -- by me, my sources, or anyone else -- wrong.

tok said...

Heya Scott,

As objective as I would like to stay, I have to say that I agree with melweb. I am a newbie to Eagle Rock (bought a home here two years ago), and I haven't seen a decline in all that you mention in your article. Instead, I’ve seen a dramatic increase! I can think of 7-10 restaurants have opened since I arrived, and I now know many of the owners personally. They are candid with how they are doing, and though sure they worry right now (we all do!), they are still surviving and even thriving. Yes, new development is slowing, but things are moving on…

You mentioned in the article that there may be nothing left to do in Eagle Rock when the wave crashes, but your examples of what was closing were exceptionally niche stores like the Australian import store. I don’t recall the last time I planned a Saturday night or Sunday day around the Blue Heeler (Australian import store), nor had I ever even set foot into the other small boutiques you mentioned closing.

Instead, I plan my weekends around places to socialize: Lemongrass, or Larkin’s, or Brownstone Pizza…Blue Hen, Coffee Table, Auntie Em’s, Spitz, Taco Spot, occasionally the Oinkster…when I’m feeling a little wild, perhaps Dave’s Chillin’ and Grillin’. I also might go to Casa Bianca, Colombos, Fatty’s, Mia Sushi, The Beauujolias twins, Camilo’s, Thai Eagle Rox… Drinks at the Chalet, the York, The Coffee Table Lounge… These are the types of places that tie our neighborhood together! Sure’ it’s nice to have a local spot to buy Crumpler bags, but I’d hardly say not having that changes the unique vibe of my neighborhood!

And on a somewhat irrelevant to Eagle Rock side note, when I’m not thinking about eating and socializing, I head to the numerous gardens Huntington, Descanso, LA Botanical), parks (Eagle Rock Rec, Scholl Canyon, San Marion), and cultural locals within ten to fifteen minutes’ drive of Eagle Rock.

You hypothesize that the ability to walk to many of these places may disappear. Are you saying that all of these locations are going to dry up and we’ll be forced to head to Pasadena for food? Is it possible that the restaurants in Pasadena might not also dry up? What will we do then?

The problem I suspect (but only you would know!) is stated in your response to melweb! You mention that you live NEAR Eagle Rock. When I read the article, I wondered to myself if the author had ever been to Eagle Rock! I do hope you did some thorough research on this piece, because as being a resident and talking with a lot of these business owners, the severity of your language seemed a bit askew from what I hear every day.

Yes, you call it as you see it. But you have to remember, that when you call it, perhaps millions are seeing it! I was forwarded this article from (not kidding) almost every corner of the country…And many different spots within the city. And though every person that sent this message to me is struggling as much as I am, the perception is that this tiny little vibrant neighborhood is falling off the wave…when in fact, we’re all falling off the wave…from Silverlake to the Palisades (yes, I understand you sort of imply that).

We’re all going to lose some of the stores that were on the fringe of surviving… But they were on the fringe of surviving for a reason! To say we’ll be left with nothing to do and that the hardware stores and muffler shops will return in full force, well, that feels a bit extreme.

Perhaps that’s what all those in Eagle Rock are objecting about. We work hard at keeping our community tight, and to have someone from Adams Square cast us in such a negative light, it just doesn’t feel right. Perhaps your tone is too dark. Perhaps we are looking for more of a happy ending to the article. Perhaps we would’ve appreciated language from an outsider to be a little less extreme. You have to remember that perception matters to momentum, as much as we like to think that it doesn’t… Just ask the Governator…. You say that you want this piece to be a conversation starter. We just want the piece to be a bit more objective to kick off the converstation…!

And by the way, we’re happy to have you in Eagle Rock. We just hope you’ll put in the good word ☺

Scott Timberg said...

this last post has a lot of interesting comments in it... while i should not name any names here, i've had conversations, some of them off the record, with the owners or employees of many of the places he names... i'm not guaranteeing, and not hoping, that more places go down -- but it would not surprise me. look at that sad minimall up toward trader joe's -- it's not just fancy boutiques and it's got like 5-6 vacancies.

most likely the ones geared to a budget and not luxury trade will be more likely to survive -- the wine shop, for instance, has been quite smart about recession specials and so on.

as i hope i made clear in the article and in this forum, it's not like ER is uniquely afflicted. everyplace is hurting, especially in LA Co, where unemployment has topped 10%. what makes ER particularly poignant is that it is "on the edge" in several senses. that is, the inland empire is in terrible shape, the westside will do okay -- these hoods like ER, highland park, atwater, etc are somewhere in btw and it will be interesting to see which way they fall.

and at the risk of repeating myself, the article could have the effect of getting locals to rally around the businesses they want to save. i'm still a bit stung by the sudden disappearance of dutton's books, even on the affluent westside, pre recession -- we had no idea how bad that place was hurting and then suddenly it was gone. in LA, especially, it can happen very fast.