Like the Echo Park Lake that reopened last June, the neighborhood surrounding Echo Park Avenue has experienced a sense of renewal with the addition of several new retail stores and restaurants.
"We're in a golden moment right now because the neighborhood has changed, but not too much," said artist Peter Shire, who has lived north of Sunset Boulevard for more than 60 years and worked there for several decades.
Chango and Fix Coffee have been joined by chef Miles Thompson's restaurant and bar Allumette and the new tea house and retail space Valerie Echo Park from popular pastry chef Valerie Gordon of Valerie Confections. And in what some locals hope will be a welcome alternative to dense condominium projects, architect Barbara Bestor said she expects to break ground on Blackbirds, an 18-home small-lot ordinance development within the next month.
Shoe designer Beatrice Valenzuela has lived in the neighborhood for 11 years and has experienced the transformation firsthand. "It is sad to see some of the changes. But there have been positive ones too," Valenzuela said. "Now you can get a gourmet meal around the corner at Restaurant Cortez and purchase a beautiful vintage dress at Tavin. The new stores have integrated into the neighborhood seamlessly."
Graphic designers Marisa Suarez-Orozco and Rachel Berks opened Otherwild on Echo Park Avenue last March in Shire's former studio. "When we discovered the spot on Echo Park Avenue, we were totally enchanted by the surroundings as well as the space itself," Berks said. "We loved that it was part of a real neighborhood and not simply within a commercial district. We loved the mix of houses and trees and families with other small businesses." The store's artist-made goods include Ram Fam Pottery, Maricolous wall hangings, delicate ceramic planters by Jo Boyer, bold Gravel and Gold textiles and weavings by Nightwood in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Over the last year, the designers have hosted dance performances, live music, readings, cocktail parties, a food swap and vintage pop-ups. They have also hosted craft workshops (leather jewelry making, beeswax candle dipping) and hope to mount more.
Valenzuela opened her eponymous showroom in October next door to Cookbook, a bustling green grocer that sells organic produce along with burrata, olive oils and prepared foods. Valenzuela augments her shoe line with handcrafted home accessories from Puebla and Chiapas, Mexico. Look for pottery and basketry from Mexico, stained-glass accessories by David Scheid, delicate textured pottery by Materia Lumina and handmade hooks and tables by Valenzuela's partner, Ramsey Conder.
Scott Barry and Brooke Intrachat originally launched Ouli as a pop-up shop for the holidays but now plan to keep the tiny gallery, showroom and retail space open year-round. Limited-edition treasures include Echo Park Pottery handmade ceramics, collages by Brendan Timmins, ceramic plates by Pasadena artist Sydney deJong and contemporary cashmere and wool throws by Sorcha. The pair also sell their own line of polished-steel furnishings, including fun magazine racks, a pin slide table and Minimalist lamps.
While some may grumble about gentrification — the strip's independent gas station has been replaced with a Chevron — the quiet residential street retains its funky, diverse vibe.
"The more I'm there, the more I'm seduced by the neighborhood," pastry chef Gordon said. "The community is so friendly and welcoming, and people are always out walking. It's a charming neighborhood filled with adorable babies and amazing dogs."