Neighborhood Spotlight: Koreatown is a bustling city within a city

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Dense, diverse and undeniably L.A., Koreatown today is a dizzying hub of all-you-can-eat barbecue spots, karaoke bars, high-rise condos and 24-hour spas.

In the 1920s and 1930s, though, the neighborhood was the stomping grounds of cravat-sporting men and of women who wore their diamond rings over the fingers of their elbow-length satin gloves. These high-society folks would guzzle Champagne by the magnum and while away their days darting around town in their massive chauffeur-driven Duesenbergs.

But the area has evolved beyond its days as a simulacrum of the Upper East Side into a vibrant, polyglot neighborhood that could exist only in L.A.

It all started with Wilshire Boulevard, which was built by Henry Gaylord Wilshire in the 1890s to connect his new luxury subdivision with the city. One selling point of his development was that streetcars were forbidden on the new road.


Wealthy Angelenos flocked to the area, building grand mansions on the boulevard, which now acted as a sort of gateway drug for Westside living, dragging the city’s center of gravity out of clamorous, trolley-clogged downtown and toward a future when the city limits would end on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.