Makeup artist Sonia Lee fell in love with the neighborhood first--Echo Park Lake and its giant pink lotus flowers--before setting foot in the old store that has been her home for three years.
Her Realtor introduced her to the three-level property that steps down a hillside in Angelino Heights, an area of Victorian homes and the city's first historic district. Old-time neighbors recall shopping at the simple flat-roofed market until the '70s; hearsay has it that it was a former trolley stop as well. According to the late artist Leo Politi's book, "Angeleño Heights," a trolley driver named Jack was so accommodating that he would
let riders off in front of the store; he also used to stop when he needed to run up the market's outside staircase to use the "man's room." A fire has since destroyed the stairs as well as the upstairs "facilities."
In 2002 local property developer Princess Bovlanna purchased the boarded-up, graffiti-scarred store, a local gang haven, to save it from further harm, and when Lee moved in there was little left of the original market. "It was pretty much a rectangular box with rows of empty shelves at the rear, an old deli scale for weighing meat and a cash register set up near the center of the room," Bovlanna recalls.
She gutted the space to create an open-plan room and removed the rotted ceiling, leaving the second-floor joists exposed. The old wood floors and ceiling add a warm patina to the living quarters, decorated in a minimalist Asian style. A short wall partition toward the rear dates from the original 1906 store; the area behind it serves as Lee's small pantry and kitchen. The formal dining room is one floor below.
"I love living in the old store--it feels splendid," Lee says. "My neighbors often tell me they used to shop here." A native of Seoul, she notes that Korea "has 5,000 years of history, but here we like everything modern." Not Lee. "Old places should be revered. I'm very happy it didn't get torn down."