A hot spot on high

Times Staff Writer

JUST before sunset on a recent Thursday evening, residents of the Toy Factory Lofts trickle up to the rooftop pool deck to enjoy some wine and a potluck dinner. The sun slides behind the downtown skyline, and shafts of warm orange and pink light fan out across the sky.

As residents pile their offerings onto a folding table -- a box of Pellegrino, bottles of red and white wine, chips and guacamole, tossed salad, fried chicken, grilled pita bread -- one thing is clear: With its comfortable cabanas, faux wood deck and cozy fireplace, the pool has become the center of their building’s social scene.

Poolside gatherings like this one are happening at many loft, condo and apartment complexes throughout the city. As Angelenos give up their backyard gardens for urban communal living, they find that their private pool decks are oases in the concrete jungle. And what’s more, they’re conducive to impromptu cocktail parties that can, and do, happen at all hours of the day and night.


Downtown Los Angeles is arguably the epicenter of this trend. The area now has about 30,000 residents and is home for more than a dozen loft and apartment buildings with private pools already open or soon to be.

And these pools, while often not very deep, are nothing to scoff at. Located in buildings that possess distinct hotel-like vibes and cater to people who relish the sense of being chaise-longue tourists, they are amenity-laden and tend to take on the flavor of private bars or clubs.

The Pegasus Apartments on Flower Street, just across from the Standard Hotel (which has its own off-the-hook rooftop pool scene), throws poolside parties that former resident Alan Tsai describes as “really crazy.”

“They always had DJs and sometimes a live band, and they had caterers come with free food and the bar was open.”

The Market Lofts above the new Ralphs supermarket on 9th Street has a pool and a spa as well as an adjacent social room equipped with a kitchen, a living room, couches, tables and a TV. Nearby on 11th Street, the fourth-floor pool that will be shared by the Elleven and Luma lofts will feature outdoor speakers, changing areas and four barbecues.


TSAI recently moved to the Biscuit Co. Lofts, which are directly across the street from the Toy Factory. Because the two buildings share the same developers and the Biscuit pool hasn’t opened yet, Tsai has privileges at the Toy Factory pool. He reclines on a gray lounge chair with an Asahi beer and watches the potluck pick up steam. Residents from toddlers to retirees -- with a preponderance of thirty- to fortysomething professionals -- gather around the table and dip into the food.

“Hi, I’m John,” says a newcomer with a tiny brown dog inside a green messenger bag that’s strapped to his chest. A young woman in denim shorts shakes his hand, and they begin to chat. Sandro Polo and his wife, Sara Kurzenhauser, burst onto the deck with their 2-year-old son, Enzo, and their 4-month-old baby, Ophelia. Enzo is a blur of energy and motion, and Ophelia begins to cry.

A plucky older woman named Ruth Stern approaches the family. “Oh, my, she’s getting big, isn’t she,” Stern says. “Bundle her up; she’s cold. I know babies; I have an instinct with babies,” she jokes.

Stern is no newcomer to the loft scene. She says she purchased a loft in New York City on Broadway and Bleeker Street in 1978 and laments that she sold it in 1994, “right before the real estate boom.”

Her husband, an artist named Jim, has painted the view from the Toy Factory. He looks on with a smile before moving away to pass out invites to his upcoming show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Someone lights the fireplace, another bottle of red wine is uncorked and residents break up into small clusters. The sound of intimate chatter rises into the chilled night air.

Brian Beaver, a creative director wearing a fabulous, bright orange belt and shoes to match, moved to the Toy Factory Lofts from San Francisco. He jokes that no such scene existed in that city. “The idea of a rooftop pool is so new to me. People do organized parties here, but, generally, things happen more organically. On the Fourth of July it was just viral among all the residents to come up here.” On a more practical level, he added, “In L.A. there are so few outdoor gathering places, so rooftops are sort of the last islands where you can literally raise yourself above security concerns.”

Every resident seems to have their own scene going. Artist Fumiko Amano and her husband, David Baker, like to share a late-night glass of wine and a bowl of sweet berries under the heat lamp of a cabana. “It’s like the Standard Hotel without the prices,” Amano jokes. “Here we can just bring our own beer and wine and have a drink.”

Interior designer Carrie Kravetz comes up to swim and meet her neighbors. And just the other night she brought a date up. “He bought a bottle of wine from the market downstairs and we sat by the fireplace. It was very romantic.”

Then there are the ladies who sunbathe. Heidi Richman, who works in marketing and promotion, says she and her neighbors meet regularly to soak up rays.

“Me, Val and Luciana -- we’re the sunbathers. We know each other, we bring cocktails, we bring snacks, we bring our iPods.”

Paul Solomon, one of the Toy Factory developers, says a 10 p.m. curfew is posted but only to keep things from getting rowdy. “In the beginning, people thought it was a big party place, but they got the idea, and we don’t have any problems.”


STILL, depending on the building and the age and disposition of its residents, partying is very much in order beside rooftop pools. At the Villa Cezanne apartments in West Hollywood, for example, just off the Sunset Strip behind the Viper Room, a group of young residents regularly throws rooftop parties with elaborate barbecues, a DJ and plenty of booze.

On a recent Friday night, 26-year-old photographer David Heisler struts around the pool in “Miami Vice”-worthy white linen pants, a black tank top and flip-flops. He zealously greets each guest, many of whom live in the building, as they arrive. “What’s up, girls?” he said to a couple of cute twentysomethings. “How’s that whiskey treating you?” he asks a friend. “Molto bella,” he says to Diana Niven -- a stunning Italian and fellow resident -- before air-kissing her cheeks with an exaggerated smacking sound. “Muah! Muah!”

Niven gives Heisler a wry look. “I come up here and have a glass of wine and a Jacuzzi. If they are here, I stay for maybe half an hour, and when it gets too crazy, I go down,” she says. “But it’s a good crazy,” she adds.

Heisler’s extreme sociability was sound-tracked by techno beats played at a moderate level on turntables by DJ Erik Turns, 25. Turns says the rooftop parties started off as low-key gatherings and snowballed into regular happenings as residents started to catch on to the scene.

A group of giggly women dance by the hot tub as Heisler strips off his shirt and jumps, pants and all, into the pool. The group laughs as Heisler whoops. Ryan Davis looks on, bemused. The 29-year-old is reminded of the time a partygoer, he won’t say whom, jumped naked into the pool wearing only designer boots. “I should remember the brand, but I can’t,” Davis says.

Laura Capron, a 24-year-old fashion designer, is used to crazy antics but insists that everyone remains respectful of each other. She feels she can speak with authority because she has spent a lot of time by the pool. “Last year I hung out with David every weekend. We were always on the roof. The first time we met was in the pool.”

Turns takes Capron’s sense of residential camaraderie a step further when he refers to his friends in the building as his family. “The neighborhood just sort of comes together here,” he says.

“We’re all broke. Who wants to pay for a bar tab when you’ve got all these great people to hang around with? What’re you gonna do? Just come up to your roof.”