Saturday, June 03, 2006

Decade In Los Angeles: Go East, Young Man

When I moved to Los Angeles in 1996, I needed a place. Fast. It was the summer, so I figured I'd look for sublets around UCLA. I settled on a house across the street from the Westside Pavilion (in "Rancho Park," to be exact). It was an uncomfortable set up -- The owner of the house lived there with his girlfriend and ferocious dogs, but rented out the home's two other rooms to me and a UCLA student. You were concious at all times that this was the owner's house -- so tread with caution. I think he also resented that the dogs freaked me out -- they were pretty damn ferocious, after all -- and that I'd requested that they stay in the back yard.

At night, I'd sometimes hop in the car and explore. Not knowing anything better, I'd drive west. I'd frequently head to Santa Monica and check out the ocean. I'd drive down Santa Monica, Olympic or Wilshire, and search in vain for the city's center. Was it Westwood?

When my friends moved to town, we searched for homes and apartments to rent and finally found a place in West Hollywood, at the corner of Santa Monica and Kings Road (across from the Shakespeare Theatre and Hugo's). I still didn't really know what was east of Highland, other than occasional trips down Los Feliz Blvd. to Costco. But my migration east had begun. Slowly, through work events or other social gatherings, I ventured past Highland, Cahuenga and even (gasp!) Vine. I still remember talking one night to someone who had purchased a space in Hollywood. "The revitalization is going to happen. Just you wait." It took ten years; I wonder if that guy held on to his real estate there.

Another friend bought a house in Laurel Canyon for around $281,000. I thought he was nuts. That was a lot of money. That house is now probably worth at least $1 million.

One night in 1999, my friend Pang-ni called me at home. She and a group of people were heading to the Good Luck Bar on Hillhurst in Los Feliz. Would I join them?

I was in my PJs, watching cable. Why not. I headed down there, and started talking to the girl sitting next to them. She seemed pretty cool. She designed CD packages at Rhino Records; her name was Maria; she wouldn't give me her number. I was intrigued.

Maria lived in Los Feliz. We split our time between West Hollywood and Los Feliz for a few years, but when we got married, it was no contest. I was walking distance to the Sunset Strip, Basix (excellent thin-crust pizza), Hugo's, 24 Hour Fitness and Gelsons. But from Maria's apartment you could see the downtown Los Angeles skyline, crisp and clear. Plus, we could walk to Electric Lotus and Palermo. Maria won.

We had a chance, before we were married, to buy a home in Los Feliz for $599,000. Nice house. Across the street from our apartment. But we weren't married yet. And $599,000 seemed like a ridiculous amount to spend on a home. That house is now probably worth at least $1 million.

When we finally started looking at homes, we had several criteria. One was to find a way to stay as close to the Los Feliz/Silver Lake area as possible. When Maria first showed me Adams Hill in Glendale, I was pleasantly surprised. Why hadn't I ever seen this place? It seemed like a nice secret -- one that Los Angeles magazine shared in January 2005, as "One of the Best Neighborhoods You've Never Heard Of."

Adams Hill is east and slightly north of our old 'hood, but it's still close enough that we patronize the same Trader Joe's, go to the same church and frequently pass by our old apartment.

Having gotten this far in ten years, I figure I'll be living in Azusa by 2016. But I must say, my journey east has been an impactful one. I slowly became obsessed with Los Angeles history, with preserving L.A.'s fragile landmarks, with discovering new restaurants (hole-in-the-wall and famed alike), with trying to get the message across that Hollywood is just one tiny aspect of the nation's second-largest city. Ten years later, I'm not searching in vain for the city's center anymore. I find it everywhere I go.

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