Another thing Bergamot has going for it is its comfort level. Though far from plush--with leaky roofs and shared restroom facilities--the fenced complex feels safe. Except for special events when shuttle buses provide transportation from outside parking, visitors can park their cars in the center of the complex and stroll in a quiet, contained setting without encountering panhandlers or having to feed parking meters.
Dealer Rosamund Felsen likens Bergamot Station to a village, where people can walk, look at art, meet their friends and refresh themselves at the cafe. "When people come through my door, they are relaxed, they have smiles on their faces, and they are happy to be here," she says.
Although it's sometimes called Los Angeles' SoHo, Bergamot Station has none of the boutiques, shoe stores and decorator shops that compete with galleries in New York's artistic enclave. And even though Bergamot looks like a shopping center, all the tenants except the cafe are involved in arts-related businesses--which suits the dealers just fine.
* Players: The biggies are Blank, who developed Bergamot, holds a master lease for the city-owned property, has an interest in the adjacent strip of private land and owns the Shoshana Wayne Gallery with his wife, Shoshana Blank; Patchett, who stepped in with financial support and creative energy; Davidson, whose longstanding quest for a Westside Taper venue is bringing a branch of the theater to Bergamot, and Yamagata, who is providing funds to give Davidson a home for his dream.
Equally important is the mix of entrepreneurs who have set up shop at Bergamot. Art world purists complain about a shortage of high-end dealers on the level of veterans Felsen, Faure and Burnett Miller, but most observers agree that variety has contributed to Bergamot's popularity and vitality.
"I'm not a joiner," Faure says. "I like to make my own world. But we have been allowed to do that here. No two galleries are similar."
Visitors find both cutting-edge and relatively conservative contemporary art at a dozen showcases, photography at the Craig Krull Gallery, Peter Fetterman Photographic Works of Art and (beginning in October) the Gallery of Contemporary Photography, prints at the Bobbie Greenfield Gallery, multiples at the Richard Heller Gallery, artist-designed furniture at the Gallery of Functional Art, contemporary African art at the Ernie Wolfe Gallery and glass works at the Patricia Correia Gallery.
Adding to the mix, veteran dealers labor beside relative newcomers at Bergamot. Krull, who opened his first independent gallery at the complex, considers himself lucky to have landed a space between veterans Felsen and Miller. Furthermore, he says, there is strength in numbers: "Art and museum groups approach us about coming here. If we were all working alone, we would be struggling to get people to come."
The public will have more reasons to come to Bergamot if the Taper's plans develop. Ganis hopes to build the Taper's audience among members of the entertainment community who have resisted going downtown.
"It's going to be up to us to get the word out to the part of the industry that knows there is theater in L.A.--kind of--but can't get behind it," he says. "A gigantic clientele [from the entertainment industry] visits the Taper all the time. But there are still plenty who haven't been moved enough yet by the theater experience," who don't understand how the theater can develop new writers and "performers who make you cry on stage and might be sensational on screen as well."
But Ron Sossi, artistic director of the prestigious three-stage Odyssey Theatre (on Sepulveda Boulevard near Olympic Boulevard), predicts that the Taper audience at Bergamot "is basically going to be the same as they have downtown" and that the flavor of the more innovative work will still be less adventurous than that of smaller nearby theaters.
Sossi says he is unconcerned about potential competition from the Taper: "Even if they were doing exactly the same thing as us, there is a huge audience for theater in L.A. Theater feeds theater. I don't feel threatened."
No one can predict the staying power of Bergamot Station in a town that loves nothing more than newness--and in a region where the gallery scene is perpetually scattered and famously fluid.
MOCA's Schimmel, for one, wouldn't bank on Bergamot Station's future.