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YOUR MONEY : HIS VIEW

City Riches

A walk to work on the wild side

July 27, 2008|Patrick McMahon | Times Staff Writer

For years, Los Angeles has been a big city without a city, a town known for its endless suburbs and single-family homes. Reach out your window and pick an orange. Hop in the car and drive to the supermarket for a carton of milk. Subway? What subway?
But with developers converting vintage downtown office towers into lofts, and gas prices still painfully high, the original heart of Los Angeles has become a new urban environment for people bored with the suburbs and sick of the freeway.
For a glimpse into what the new downtown lifestyle is all about, The Times turned to two of its Business section editors, Julie Makinen and Patrick McMahon, who are among the new wave of downtown denizens.
Although they hail from different generations, both were intrigued by the prospect of living in a dynamic community -- and commuting on two feet.

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Since late May I've been living the loft fantastic above busy 7th Street in downtown Los Angeles. Exciting it is; peace and quiet it isn't.

The 5 a.m. chirps of finches that occasionally woke me in the Hollywood Hills have been replaced by belching, heaving, screeching and even talking buses.

From my fourth-floor window, I'm serenaded by the nighttime chatter of people lining up at the whiskey bar nearby and occasional shouts in the dark. And who knew there were so many different kinds of sirens?

It is scandalous how rats are allowed to run free around the open trash bins in the alley across the street. Dozens of them can be seen at night. The city must know that people bed down in that alley.

None of it really seems to stop a good night's sleep, and all in all, I'm settling into a comfy downtown life.

This is a name-happy city. On my new commute, I walk through the Civic Center, Gallery Row, the Historic Core, the Old Bank District, the Financial District, the Jewelry District.

In fact, I live on the edge of the Fashion District. No one who knows me would mistake me for a resident of the fashion district. But how does the "McMahon district" sound?

One of the biggest advantages is the abundance of eating choices. McDonald's, Subway, Domino's and Starbucks are all within a block or two. I've discovered a Daily Grill and a Wolfgang Puck. Wokcano, Zucca, Roy's and Colori Kitchen are new restaurant names that have grabbed me, and old favorites like the Pantry and Cicada are nearby.

For transportation, the Dash buses stop outside my place, and the Metro is two blocks away in either direction. For shopping, there's a Ralphs several blocks away and a brand new 7-Eleven in my building, with fresh fruit and sandwiches. (Important for bachelors like me.)

Rudy's Barber Shop offers a buzz cut for $15, the same price as my old Supercuts. There are a few first-run movies, but no ArcLight. No Nordstrom, but there are two Macy's within four blocks, a Brooks Brothers and a Big Lots.

Best of all, I now walk 10 blocks to and from work, and I have lost maybe 10 pounds in eight weeks. (Just 100 more to go, in my dreams.)

Daily treks through Pershing Square, Grand Central Market and down Broadway are a fascination at midmorning and at mid-evening. Along the way, I see people make their homes in alleys, in cardboard and plastic containers and in lofts, apartments and condos.

My 1995 Jeep Grand Cherokee sits idle for days at a time, harnessed into action only on weekends. No more rush-hour Hollywood Freeway. No more pulling onto the freeway and then . . . stop. Goodbye to the mythical 20-minute commute that too often turned into a 40-minute ordeal.

For two years, my home was a tiny one-bedroom house on stilts way up above Mulholland Drive on Pacific View Drive. It overlooked a woodsy glen, and downtown lights twinkled in the distance at night. Great neighbors, a fine landlord, privacy and silence added to its appeal.

Alas, it was just too quiet for me -- even as I turned 60.

With gas prices rising, my goal at first was to find something within an easy walk to a light-rail station. After I scouted various locations, South Pasadena seemed best, and I zeroed in on a neighborhood next to the Metro Gold Line's Mission station.

For weeks, I scoured the neighborhood block by block, walked everywhere, asked merchants, looked for signs. Talk, talk, talk; no, no, shrug, no, not lately, too costly. Friends dispatched their children to watch for For Rent signs for me on the way home from school. No luck.

Soon my hunt turned to gleaming new buildings downtown near Staples Center. Then, on a last-minute check of Craigslist I spotted my new address. Hmm? Downtown? Why not? Ten days later, I was moving into a freshly restored five-story building where a new world awaited.

The culture and the characters remain intriguing, but the biggest surprise was finding how much money could be saved by moving downtown.

The rent dropped, despite the loft having twice the square footage as the stilt house.

And there were no more separate bills for water, gas, garbage pickup -- it was all included in the monthly rent.

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