York Boulevard, Highland Park: A hub of hip, really


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Anyone who heard reports of Highland Park’s revitalization a few years ago and headed to York Boulevard likely would have noted all the auto-body garages and the marijuana dispensaries operating with varying degrees of legality and asked, ‘Really?’

At long last, even a skeptic would concede: Really. The York gastropub and Cafe de Leche coffeehouse that set anchor on York Boulevard have been joined by new home decor boutiques, a glass studio with classes for DIYers and a vinyl music shop that draws DJs from coast to coast. Indie furniture maker Jay Dunton, above, augments his own designs with affordable accessories and some vintage pieces in Meridian Mercado Deseño. Another furniture maker plans to be doing something similar at Sawhorse. Matters of Space has small ceramics by Highland Park potter Lily King, starting at $15. The piece pictured here? Just $40, plant included.


New restaurants include HPK (short for Highland Park Kitchen), which held its opening party last week, and the forthcoming country French spot Ba, which has been putting the finishing touches on its baroque-meets-’80s-punk interiors. Times restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila recently offered praise for the new Maximiliano down the street.

Pop-Hop, a bookstore and print studio, and the Highland Cafe also are prepping to open. And though the street’s vibe is still ruled by urban grit, for better or for worse not one but two storefronts have been claimed as the future homes for that symbol of neighborhood renewal: the wine bar.

If the gentrification gets you down, you still can get a sad face inked on your arm at the Vintage Tattoo Art Parlor. Or you can submit to change. Head to York this weekend for Second Saturday, when food trucks roll in, no-name art galleries throughout northeast L.A. open their doors, and stores on York keep late hours to accommodate crowds.

View York Boulevard, Highland Park in a larger map

Katerina Gabbro, left, and PJ Roden opened Matters of Space on York Boulevard in March 2011. They live in the area and waited about a year for the right space to open up for their interior design consultation business.

The retail operation at the front of their space was conceived as a way of encouraging their target clientele -- first-time home buyers seeking affordable design consultation -- to access the office in back. ‘We just love the energy here,’ Roden said of York’s evolution.


All of artist Lily King’s bud vases and pots at Matters of Space are just $15 to $40.

Matters of Space also sells the furniture designs of owners Gabbro and Roden. These little side tables are walnut boxes with lift-off lids, so magazines, coasters and remote controls can be stowed out of sight; the bases are powder-coated steel. The tables are made in Los Angeles and sell for $250 apiece.

A few doors down, furniture craftsman Jay Dunton opened Meridian Mercado Deseño in November. After closing his Beverly Boulevard decor store Shelter, the Highland Park resident continued to design and fabricate his own furniture. He built the steel-and-glass room divider specifically for his store but has been fielding requests to replicate it ever since he opened.

Dunton blackens steel to emphasize the rolled metal’s original mill marks, so the surface has a grain, almost like wood. He then waxes and buffs the tables by hand.

Dunton augments his store with vintage finds and well as art, including sculpture that he welds using remnant pieces of steel from his furniture fabrication.

Meridian Mercado Deseño opened in a York Boulevard space that had been a shop selling the creative combination of medical supplies, Avon cosmetics and Sanrio trinkets.

Continuing down York, we met up with Sarah Brady, shown here holding a sweater by Soyun Shin, who works under the brand name Soyer. Brady, formerly a trend forecaster, and husband Alex Cole, an art director and production designer for commercials, opened Platform last April in what had been a marijuana dispensary. The couple, who live in the neighborhood, stock their store with housewares and decorative accessories, many by local artists, plus jewelry and clothes.

Part of the mix at Platform: vases ($100 to $120) by local ceramist Roger Lee.

Platform also has a few of Lee’s serving bowls, hefty pieces on sale for $120 apiece.

Platform stocks the work of Los Angeles textile designer Rachel Craven, who hand-blocks Italian linen and finishes the pieces with metallic threads.

Also at Platform: Ermie scarves were designed by local artist Jennifer Perry Dodge and sewn in Highland Park. Each is 100% silk that has been digitally printed.

Dan Sandvick parlayed his success selling vintage clothes across town at the Melrose Trading Post into his own York Boulevard store, Possession Vintage. Among his offerings: vintage sunglasses refitted with new lenses.

Sandvick opened Possession Vintage about a year and a half ago.

Wombleton Records opened in September 2010 and was crowned by L.A. Weekly as the city’s best indie record store. The tiny shop is full of surprises, from the esoteric original-pressing LPs selling for $130 apiece to the Victorian decor. Custom record bins with turned wood legs sit under vintage-inspired wallpaper.

The frilly “W” stenciled onto the front door welcomes customers into the time warp that is Wombleton.

One of the newest additions to York Boulevard: HPK, short for Highland Park Kitchen. A round of neighborhood applause for the new window linking the interiors to the street scene.

The brick-walled main dining room is complemented with a patio space in back. This photo was taken while a DJ set up for the opening party last week.

Cross the street and you’ll find a different vibe at Ba, a country French restaurant preparing to open. Owners Julia Latané and James Graham let us peek inside at what Latané describes as baroque-meets-1980s-punk-rock interiors. Formerly a house framer and now head preparator at the Autry National Center, Latané not only conceived the design but nailed molding, wired chandeliers and did most of the other decorating work herself.

The cotton-candy pink walls and jet-black framework help the restaurant feel ‘artist made and handcrafted,” Latané said, adding that her inspiration for the design was the Sofia Coppola film “Marie Antoinette.” Graham, the chef of Ba, said the restaurant doesn’t have a target opening date other than ‘soon, I hope.’

At the Glass Studio, Cathi Milligan not only sells handmade beads of her own design but teaches classes. DIYers can enroll in classes on torch work (for making baubles and beads) and kiln work (for ‘slumping’ and folding projects such as tiles and plates).

The evolution of York Boulevard started with the York, the bar and restaurant that opened in summer 2007, and Cafe de Leche, the coffeehouse pictured here, which opened in fall 2008.

The mural in Cafe de Leche was designed by David Freeland of Freeland Buck, the firm behind the look of Maximiliano down the street.

The chartreuse letters for the cafe: a sign of modern life in an old L.A. neighborhood.

As mentioned near the top of the post, this is merely a sampling of sights along York. We’ll keep tabs on future openings, and we’ll be exploring other evolving neighborhoods throughout Southern California in the months to come. Suggestions welcome.

Corrected: An earlier version of this post misindentified the designer of the sweater at Platform.


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-- Craig Nakano