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Ritzing Silver Lake

A posh hotel is planned in the neighborhood, which tiptoes between hip and haute.

July 26, 2006|James Verini | Special to The Times

DRIVE around Silver Lake and you quickly see why the neighborhood has become a geographic byword for hip. Old storefronts abut sleek new businesses, comfortably ramshackle bungalows sit next to million-dollar Modernist architectural gems. At night, you feel just safe enough to walk along Sunset or Silver Lake Boulevard from dinner at a new local restaurant -- one seems to open about every month now -- to a show at dingy, dependable Spaceland, or, if you like, to the new gelato parlor up the street, but just unsafe enough to make the walk a little thrilling. You might cross paths with musicians Beck or Flea or with "24" star Kiefer Sutherland, all local residents.

In other words, Silver Lake is a place prancing on that thin line between coolness and gentrification.

But Silver Lake is missing one sure sign of an up-and-coming high-end urban locale: a posh hotel. Hollywood has its Roosevelt and soon a W, downtown its Standard and soon the Gansevoort West, a California sister to the popular Gansevoort boutique hotel in Manhattan's meatpacking district. Silver Lake has a Holiday Inn.

That may soon change. In mid-June, the Department of City Planning approved the renovation of the Sunset Pacific Motel, a shuttered flophouse on Sunset Boulevard. Its proposed replacement is the boutique Silver Lake Hotel, which, according to the architectural plans, will be a stylish affair with a restaurant-bar, spa and rooms going for as much as $255 a night.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday July 29, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 67 words Type of Material: Correction
Silver Lake: An article in Wednesday's Calendar about the changing nature of Silver Lake referred to a local bar as Lucky Joy. Its name is Little Joy. The article said Little Joy and another bar, Short Stop, were in Silver Lake. They are in Echo Park. Additionally, the article said Silver Lake was home to a Holiday Inn. That establishment is now the Silver Lake 250 Hotel.

Behind the hotel is Dana Hollister, an entrepreneur who has made it her life's work to contribute to Silver Lake's face lift. She has two restaurants, two bars, a design boutique and a salon to her credit. She's renovated the Paramour Estate, Silver Lake's architectural crown jewel, and hopes to turn it one day soon into Silver Lake's first five-star lodging, the Bel-Air Hotel of Silver Lake, as she envisions it. A 5-acre spread that was built for oil heiress Daisy Canfield in the 1920s, the Paramour was later converted into a girls' school and was serving as a decrepit nunnery when Hollister discovered it 15 years ago.

Hollister likes to dust off old gems in a part of L.A. that is littered with them. Like her planned hotels, she is a symbol of a rapidly changing and conflicted place. She is a savvy businesswoman and a bleeding-heart philanthropist. She charges $24 for a piece of halibut at her newest restaurant, Cliff's Edge, a gorgeous space that was a forgotten hole-in-the-wall before she resuscitated it, but she gives the restaurant over at no cost for charity events. She has a knack for attracting crowds and making money, and she's made a lot of friends and a few enemies in Silver Lake.

"It's that thing where you see a place and realize that it could be just a little bit better," Hollister said. "That feeling. That's why I do it."

Her success raises that eternal urban question: Can a neighborhood be at once cool and gentrified?

Silver Lake, named for its most notable point of geography, the Silver Lake Reservoir, has a history of mixing L.A. tradition and idiosyncrasy. Its overgrown hills have long been home to revered Rudolf M. Schindler houses, inhabited by artists and musicians, sitting right near beat-up stucco boxes housing recently transplanted Mexican families.

It was the location of the early silent film studios of Tom Mix and Mack Sennett. Later, it became the seat of L.A.'s alternative music scene, with members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pavement and the late Elliott Smith living there. It also became a center for alternative cultures from gay to gang. It has grown into a hotbed of architectural experimentation, has its own eponymous film festival and music conservatory (founded by the Chili Peppers' Flea). It is home to some of L.A.'s most attractive new restaurants, such as Cliff's Edge, the Edendale Grill and Blair's, but still supports beloved, seedy dive bars like the Short Stop and Lucky Joy. At the same time, Silver Lake had, until recently, one of the worst crime rates in the Los Angeles Police Department's Northeast Division.

Until recently -- that is a phrase one hears often in discussions of Silver Lake. As in, "Until recently you could see Rilo Kiley play at Spaceland without having to call ahead," or "Until recently you could rent an apartment in Silver Lake for under $1,000."

Indeed, it is the area's skyrocketing real estate values that more than anything seem to be driving Silver Lake's rejuvenation. According to broker Brock Harris of Brock Real Estate, home prices have gone up 17% in the last year. In the last five years prices have tripled or more, he said. A house in Silver Lake that might have sold for $200,000 to $250,000 in 2001 will now fetch $700,000. Homes on the high end go for $1.5 million. Certain optimistic sellers are even asking for $2.5 million.

"Silver Lake has a terrific brand recognition as a community," Harris said. "It represents that artsy, diverse, a little rustic, progressive, gentrified but not too gentrified feel."

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