LOS ANGELES TIMES
Thursday June 16, 2005
HOME: URBAN OUTDOORS
Those playgrounds in the sky
* In the burgeoning new downtown of lofts and condos, these private aeries offer a place to party, relax or work out -- with great city views. Not everyone is thrilled with the development.
You can't see Christopher Ulrich, but he can see you. Scan the twilight streets of downtown
Downtown has become a hip place to live, no doubt about it. Loft prices have skyrocketed, and most Angelenos know at least one transplant who talks nonstop about the merits of this gritty frontier. Drop by the renaissance after work, however, and you'll be lucky to spot a dozen of the estimated 24,000 residents downtown.
"The streets are bustling with activity all day," says Ulrich, a 32-year-old artist who lives in a
For many downtowners, rooftops have become the new ground floor. When the streets are empty, "rooftops come alive," says Adam Martin, an events designer who lives in a penthouse in the historic core. "It's almost like 'Mary Poppins,' where you see the chimney sweeps on the roofs. All of the sudden you see Dick Van Dykes dancing across rooftops, all over downtown."
Residents say that sunny days and balmy evenings entice them upward, that even the most industrial-looking rooftop -- crowded by pipes and air-conditioning modules, covered with asphalt -- hosts sunbathing, stargazing, birthday parties and barbecues. Invitations are usually posted in elevators: party, tonight, come.
On "drive-in movie nights," Martin and neighbors watch films projected onto the elevator box protruding from their 4,000-square-foot rooftop. They organize casual concerts. Members of the L.A. Philharmonic once drew a crowd of 100.
They've even staged a rooftop wedding for one of their own: Martin decorated his penthouse with dozens of candles and set out food stations, seating and heat lamps on the rooftop beyond. Neighbors served as bridesmaids and ushers. Financial district skyscrapers glowed in the background.
Developers have been quick to capitalize on the skyward trend, and many of downtown's newly renovated buildings boast a surprising variety of amenities. When
"This is new for
Though rooftops are most often associated with
Residents of downtown's Toy Factory Lofts choose between barbecuing on a rooftop garden filled with colorful flora and soft grass, or luxuriating poolside on the uppermost rooftop. On cool evenings, residents warm themselves around a gas fireplace by the pool and take in the panoramic view.
Designers and developers say that the tops of downtown buildings are becoming as malleable as their interiors.
"Now that people have seen a few of these rooftops, there's a tremendous amount of support for imaginative processes like these, for the kinds of things which might originally have been delegated to the Frank Gehrys of the world," says Mia Lehrer, a landscape architect who crafted the rooftops for
Successful designs "don't pretend that this is something other than a roof," says developer Gwinn. Pipes and other industrial-looking oddities snake unapologetically among even the fanciest amenities. "They remind you that you're not in a resort, that this is a special 'found place,' that it's something that you've stumbled upon."
Long a prime illustration of a stagnated city center, downtown
Not everybody is thrilled. These rooftops are "private heavens," says Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, chairwoman of the urban planning department at UCLA. "What concerns me is the increasing tendency to take activities which were for hundreds of years part of the public realm, and privatize them. Then we'll have parks only being used by low-income and minority people, and affluent people will use private parks.
"This is not only a moral issue; it is also a practical one. The cost is the vibrancy of the city. The more we segregate cities, the more fear there is that we'll never become a community of citizens, that everybody will follow their own individualistic interests."
Landscape architect Ed Gripp sees the rooftop he's designing for the Pacific Electric Lofts -- slated to include a pool, hot tub, fire pits, cabana areas, gardens, sundecks and a dog run -- as "a way to escape." The lavish space was a major draw for Candice Pascal, 28, who will move downtown from
"I am very reluctant to walk around here at night, and in some parts, even during the day," Pascal says. She plans on holding monthly rooftop gatherings.
Josh Gray-Emmers, who lives in the
Now the 27-year-old events planner organizes his own rooftop shindigs: 300 friends crowded onto 2,000 square feet last Halloween. It's a simple space -- just Astroturf, tables and chairs, an herb garden, tomatoes in the summer. But, Gray-Emmers says, "It's ours. It's our rooftop community.
"You wouldn't believe how many times I've brought people up here who've spent their whole lives in big mansions in
Downtown is one of the few places in
Residents worry about noise, neighbors worry about privacy. For the moment, at least, a good majority of Angelenos remain tucked inside their houses instead of frolicking on top of them.
As for downtown, there's no indication of downward motion. Residents and designers fantasize aloud about sky-high bridges that would make rooftops accessible to everyone. References to the Jetsons and the futuristic film "Blade Runner" often follow.
On Saturdays, Hal Bastian stokes the flames. The vice president of the Downtown Center Business Improvement District begins his bimonthly housing tours on the ground, but they inevitably drift upward.
On the rooftops, "mouths are agape," Bastian says. "Even the most dyed-in-the-wool suburbanites say, 'Oh, I can do this.' "