The Lowdown on Downtown

First things first: this is not a tour about beautiful buildings, although they’ll be all around us. Nor is it a tour about brilliant architects, although we’ll gaze upon their works and marvel. What the Lowdown on Downtown is, is a deeply researched “warts and all” history, with a focus on urban redevelopment, public policy, protest and political power.

It is the revealing tale of how the New Downtown became an “overnight sensation” after decades of behind the scenes work by public agencies and private developers. This complicated story will fascinate and infuriate, break your heart and thrill your spirit. So get on the bus for the real Lowdown on Downtown, as no one but Esotouric’s Richard Schave, also the founding director of the Downtown L.A. Art Walk, can reveal it. Our tour begins in the corporate public spaces of Bunker Hill and Pershing Square, each the result of deliberate social engineering. Bunker Hill’s redevelopment displaced 9,000 people, the largest eminent domain land seizure in American history.

Down the hill, we find the formerly positive public space of Pershing Square paved over, rendering downtown’s “living room” into a place where even the indigent become architecture critics. In the historic core, we’ll explore the tragedy of St. Vincent Court, a thriving open-air restaurant district hobbled by the interests of rival property owners. Then down Broadway and Spring Street, where adaptive reuse and the monthly Art Walk have brought life to spaces which have been dead for decades, even as Broadway’s longtime Latino vendors are leaving in droves. The tour concludes in the Arts District, with the bold urban explorers who reclaimed vacant warehouse space at great personal risk, the public policy shift that legalized this creative community, the astonishing growth of the “new” Arts District and what it means for the artists who remain.

WHY “THE LOWDOWN ON DOWNTOWN?” – Having studied under architecture critic Reyner Banham in the mid-1980s, tour host Richard Schave has taken it upon himself to correct his teacher’s gross oversight of downtown Los Angeles, relegated to a dismissive coda in his seminal Los Angeles guidebookLos Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies. Richard and his wife Kim Cooper work extensively with the history and lost cultures of downtown in their bus tours, in their work placing Art Walk into a non-profit, on blogs including On Bunker Hill, In SRO Land and 1947project, and through public lectures on the subject. This tour has a significant walking component. It is broken up, but please be advised to be ready to stretch your legs.

Locations on the tour typically include the following (check the listing for the date you’re interested in booking for special additions):

  • Angels Flight
  • Pershing Square
  • Bunker Hill
  • St. Vincent Court
  • Bradbury Building
  • Grand Central Market
  • Mercantile Arcade Building
  • Bloom’s Square
  • The Dutch Chocolate Shop.

This tour is just one of our California Culture tour series (formerly known as the Reyner Banham Loves L.A. series).

Upcoming Lowdown On Downtown Tours