New Marquee Casts Mid-City in Better Light

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Times Staff Writer

It had been more than a decade since the old Del Mar Theatre near Pico Boulevard and La Brea Avenue flashed its neon colors.

But the newly restored marquee once again bathes the area with blue and yellow lights -- a symbol of what officials hope is a revival of the Mid-City commercial district.

The Del Mar Theatre isn’t showing movies again, but neighborhood activists say the building represents how long-neglected structures along Pico Boulevard can be revitalized.


The building is owned by Joe Milner, who runs a business that provides sound effects for movies. He hopes to use the theater as part of his business and perhaps host community art shows there.

“It’s obviously a huge landmark of this corridor, and it had been dark for so long,” Milner said. “When I’m out front, people will walk by and ask when it’s opening up again.”

It’s all part of an effort to beautify and improve Pico Boulevard west of La Brea Avenue. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development granted the nonprofit Pico Revitalization Project about $3 million in 2001 to help spruce up the area. With it, the group hopes to revamp the sagging facades of buildings, plant trees, install old-fashion streetlights, and fix crumbling streets and sidewalks.

“We don’t want [to be] Melrose, we don’t want it upscale,” said project member Roxanne Brown, referring to the trendy shopping district south of Hollywood. “We want to keep the culture [of our area] alive.”

David Dahlke, a landscape architect who helped spearhead the revitalization effort at the end of 2000, said he would like the street to lure residents in the area out for a stroll.

Walking down Pico Boulevard on a recent Saturday morning, Dahlke pointed out a Swedish market, a Scandinavian market, barbershops, a cafe, a Caribbean restaurant, a Catholic church and an art gallery. Some of the buildings were designed in the Art Deco and Streamline styles popular in the 1920s through 1940s.


The place is a cultural goldmine buried under urban blight, Dahlke said. His biggest complaint is the razor-wire loops surrounding the roughly 20 auto-body shops along the strip.

“It sends the perception that this neighborhood isn’t safe, but that isn’t necessarily true,” Dahlke said.

“It just sends such an awful message: ‘Don’t come here. Don’t walk down here with your kids.’ ”

One goal of the effort is a more diverse selection of businesses on the street. Some would prefer fewer body shops.

“We’re not under any illusion that this is going to happen overnight, but we’re in this for the long run,” said Rob Michelson, another member of the project team.

Other sites along the boulevard have caught on. Holy Spirit Catholic Church replaced the yellow exterior with earth tones that more fit the vintage style of the building. Oki Dog -- home of the pastrami burrito -- installed a new sign, and others have repainted their business fronts.


“I think the neighborhood’s changing,” said Father Paul Sustaya, pastor at Holy Spirit Catholic Church. “You have people coming in with a vision for the neighborhood.”

A comedy club now sits next to the Del Mar Theatre. Things are also changing at the theater itself. Milner hosted a performance art festival in April and booked a quinceanera, a girl’s 15th birthday celebration, in June.