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COVER STORY

The good life, night life -- new life

Downtown Fullerton still has the historic facades, but it's getting younger by the night. There's rock, Top 40, jazz, more rock, and all the bars are full.

May 18, 2006|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

Even some of the scream-o rockers headed to the Alley are getting antsy. Recent bookings at the all-ages music venue have been spotty, and Eroik Estrada, 18, from Downey, wants to make sure the club's open. "Are you sure it's open? We want to get in tonight, but sometimes the place is closed," says Estrada, who plays guitar in the band Beneath the Hands of Betrayal.

For teenagers like Terry Stinson, a 17-year-old Fullerton High student, the city's nightlife is an iffy proposition. Recently the Alley was closed, then reopened for live bands, but now it prohibits dancing. And a second venue a few blocks away was shut down for a mix of violations, including curfew, fire code and permitting.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday May 20, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Fullerton restaurant: A Calendar Weekend story on downtown Fullerton misidentified the cuisine served at Table Ten. The eatery is a California grill, not Italian.

"It's hard to party anywhere anymore," Stinson says.

As 10 p.m. rolls around, the Tuscany Club at Harbor and Commonwealth begins to stir with people lining up to get in.

"After 10, it's the college students," says Patrick Sullivan, the Tuscany's manager. "That's when we change our tunes to Green Day and play industrial. And the beers switch to shots of Jager Bombs."

For the uninitiated, Jager Bombs are a mix of Jagermeister and Red Bull. "It goes down smooth," advises a local who goes by just "Barney." "But if you have three or four, better watch it and let the designated driver take over."

Sullivan has been with the restaurant two years, and in that time he's seen at least eight new bars open. The club's flier says it all, advertising promotions including a reggaeton night, the live band El Manifesto, rock, karaoke and DJs.

To underscore the city's new appetite for entertainment: When a used-clothing store next door closed, Florentine gobbled it up, knocked the wall down and turned it into a poolroom for patrons. When the owner of an old comic book shop called it quits, they bought that and turned it into a dining area for Florentine's. An old VCR repair shop? Gone -- it's getting a makeover to become the Palapa Grill, a third restaurant for Florentine, all within feet of one another.

"When it's done, I'll be the only restaurateur in town to have three venues serving different food," Florentine said.

FROM its rustic beginnings in the 1880s, when Southern California's land boom was sparked, in part, by promotions for the railroads, Fullerton has enjoyed a kind of suburban anonymity that befalls most communities in the shadow of L.A.

But lately, the downtown area has morphed into a place to be seen. There's more than one Hummer waiting for valet parking, and now velvet ropes at the hippest clubs block doorways flanked with giant bouncers.

Oddly, the railroad again plays a role. The city's Fullerton Transportation Center, with Amtrak and Metrolink tracks, has become a bustling commuter station.

Though the last Metrolink pulls in at 6:40 p.m., service every 30 minutes until 11 p.m. is planned. For L.A. denizens, Amtrak is an option, with the last train headed north to Union Station at 11:30 p.m. on weekends.

A transit-oriented village is springing up too, to be followed soon by a large redevelopment project spanning 35 acres that will add to the downtown's revitalization and pedestrian scale.

Unlike in much of Orange County, planners and city officials didn't rely on creating massive entertainment and retail malls to stimulate nightlife. They let downtown, with its historic charm, percolate.

A short walk along Commonwealth near Harbor Boulevard and up to Chapman is where visitors can find at least 10 historic buildings, including the Williams Building, housing the famous Imperial Ballroom, where dressed-up couples come from miles around to strut to the tango, swing and salsa.

"This is a well-known dance venue," said Carl Yamaguchi, a San Diego dentist who visits the ballroom as part of Southern California's dance circuit. "I'd rate it very high. It's got wonderful atmosphere and good music."

A block or two up on Wilshire is the Chapman Building, the county's tallest structure when it was built in 1923. Its five floors are occupied by a bank, financial investment offices, doctors and attorneys.

The city embraced this mix of old and new for the new downtown. Soon, modest high-rises will occupy the area with business space on the bottom for retail stores and apartments and lofts upstairs for work-where-you-live entrepreneurs.

It's "reurbanization," said Robert Fishman, a professor at the University of Michigan's Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. He argues that as the fourth migration to suburbia is now ebbing, a back-to-the-cities movement he calls the "Fifth Wave" is beginning.

"I think people want a different lifestyle that gives them an opportunity for pedestrian-based interaction," he said. "It gives them an attraction. The American small city used to have a wonderful pedestrian-based life around the old Main Street.

"With Orange County's interurban rail line, you have kind of built into the structure a pedestrian-based world. What we thought was obsolete is now a part of the future."

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