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Is Downtown in the Middle of a Summer of Love?

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Wednesday, July 22, 2009, at 05:48PM
IMGP3542 Ed Fuentes

Spirit Vine at Bloomfest 09.

In the year that marks Woodstock's 40th anniversary, Downtown may be having its own summer of love.

This week we recalled how two years ago Ralphs returned to the Downtown home where the chain was founded in 1873. It was also two years ago that friends and family first gathered to memorialize Arts District pioneer Joel Bloom, who passed away from cancer.

The tribal gatherings continued, and this Saturday the neighborhood held its inaugural Bloomfest. "Hey, that's sort of groovy that this stuff happens in Downtown now," said a bass player after his 70s psychedelic music band played a set.

Downtown's revival could be heard elsewhere this same past weekend. As a double-checker bus carrying Eric Lynxwiler and his bullhorn-guided Museum of Neon Art Neon Tour turned the corner at Main Street to head into Little Toyko and Chinatown, live sounds from Grand Performances and Cuban born singer Albita bounced off the towers on Grand Avenue while the California Plaza Watercourt was bouncing under cha-cha heels.

"The concrete was swaying up there," said Councilwoman Jan Perry, who was making the rounds around Downtown. She also made a stop at the opening of the Pershing Square Downtown Stage Concert Series with Upground and El Chicano. El Chicano's Fred Sanchez introduced the band, noting they will be playing at San Francisco's WestFest, the West Coast concert that will celebrate Woodstock. Sanchez looked out to the lawn filled with people and added a shout about Pershing Square's music series: "It's a free concert!"

This Downtown love-in began with June's victory celebration for the Lakers 15th NBA championship. Fans filled Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as they waited for their team to make their way down Figueroa from Staples Center and L.A. Live. It was their 10th title since moving to Los Angeles; the 4th since moving Downtown, and 15th crown over-all.

The memorial tribute for Michael Jackson earned Staples Center its own international celebrity and the adjoining Nokia Plaza was a massive press pit. While a large crowd didn't show up thanks to LAPD promises of no access, some Jackson fans still had a street party on corners around the perimeter. By the end of the four days of rest-in-peace, love and music, the five large banners in front of Staples Center with the image of Jackson in a pop pose were filled with messages signed by fans. Days later, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa denounced the call for donations to cover the tab for police and services; the civic equivalent of standing on stage and declaring "It's a free concert!"

This past week saw the loss of photographer Julius Shulman, whose images of the city's architecture, including Downtown, formed an frank identity not influenced by Hollywood myth.

Poetically, "500 Days Of Summer" opened the same week, a film in which the romantic hero is moved by Downtown's architecture. The scruffy city isn't disguised, and singing and dancing over love makes underused public space look like a park, and people outside downtown are believing its a city.

Yes, there is still despair in Skid Row, and businesses are closing here as they are everywhere. Those who have moved to the city in the last two years –– marked in time as post and pre-Ralphs––may not know of the previous stabs for an urban renaissance. This current revival of Downtown has countless seeds and the roots may have finally taken hold.

It remains to be seen if this is an ongoing reality. So far in this brief flashback to the first part of the summer of 2009, Downtown Los Angeles has been like, you know . . . in the moment, man.

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