From the first-floor coffeehouse in the San Fernando building at 4th and Main streets to the impromptu alley flea market across the way, there is evidence of an evolving community.
Its residents are boosters of a trend in Los Angeles living--downtown style.
On Sunday afternoon, these urban trailblazers opened their spacious lofts in an effort to show that the much-talked-about revitalization really exists.
Almost 300 people spent three hours taking self-guided tours of the lofts in downtown's Historic Core, bordered by 3rd and 9th streets on the north and south and Main Street and Broadway from east to west.
And while most visitors were curious, few said they were in the market for a downtown pad.
"I don't think we're quite ready to come down here yet," said Morgan Grether, a marketing executive for USC who toured the lofts with his wife, a freelance writer. "We're waiting for the next upgrade."
Many shared his feelings. The light-filled rooms with 18-foot-high ceilings and super-hip furniture were offset by a neighborhood where locals push shopping carts full of empty bottles and personal belongings.
For some tour-goers the amenities, or lack of, didn't justify the $790-$6,000 monthly rents in the area.
"I need grass for my dog," said Scott Dewees, a film location scout, who lives in West Hollywood. "I don't think I could pull it off down here--it's too urban."
Others wondered about the lack of grocery and hardware stores. These are exactly the concerns that the tour sponsors hope to quell.
"Many people have the erroneous perception still that downtown is dirty or unsafe and not an attractive place to live," said Ken Bernstein, director of preservation issues for the Los Angeles Conservancy, which sponsored the $20 tour. "The purpose [of the tour] really is to both make the public aware of what has already been built downtown . . . and hopefully entice additional Angelenos to want to live in the heart of the city."
Those who have already taken the plunge are an eclectic mix of artists and 9-to-5 professionals who sought character in a neighborhood and space in a dwelling.
Jacob and Lisette Schoenly, whose Hellman Building loft was open for the tour, wanted a large space as a backdrop for their collection of '60s and '70s furniture. Viewers milled around the couple's plastic red and white European furniture, venturing out to the patio they share with five neighbors.
"It's been up and down," Jacob Schoenly said. "There have been a lot of frustrations being the first tenants in the building."
The Schoenlys moved to their 900-square-foot, $1,300-a-month space in February. They had to stay in a hotel for a week because the space wasn't ready, then discovered on moving in that they didn't have heat.
Growing pains aside, the couple is happy, though they plan to buy a home next year in Palm Springs. Others who flocked to the area with dreams of chic urban living soon discovered that the neighborhood has a long way to go.
"Everybody wants it to change so fast," said Raina Roessle, who works the counter of Acapulco Gold, the local coffee shop and resident hangout. "A lot of people are impatient."
Some of them, many with one-year leases that ended in August, decided to move on, Roessle said.
"I think it's just a matter of getting more people down here, and people will see that it's not as scary as people think," said Amy Anderson, coordinator for the Broadway Initiative at the conservancy.
But for now, people were content to look--to nod and approve the brick and terra cotta facades and the Art Deco renovated interiors--then jump in their cars and leave urban living to the urbanites.