Downtown L.A.'s Grand Central Market is undergoing a major overhaul intended to catapult the landmark community marketplace into a new food-retail age. The nearly 100-year-old open-air market on Broadway near 3rd Street houses more than 40 food stalls, which will be updated to reflect a changing downtown and the next generation of vendors while staying true to its legacy, planners say.
Owner Adele Yellin, president of the real estate development company started by her late husband, Ira Yellin, is spearheading the project and has hired consultants Joseph Shuldiner, who founded the Institute of Domestic Technology and Altadena Farmers Market, and Kevin West of Saving the Season. BCV, part of the design collaboration behind the Ferry Building Marketplace in San Francisco, is the architect, and Rick Moses is the developer.
Shuldiner and West say the renovation of the 27,000-square-foot market, built in 1917 on the ground floor of the Homer Laughlin Building, is a multi-phase, multiyear project that will fill empty stalls, attract new vendors and rejuvenate longtime retailers.
West and Shuldiner say they hope to install local chefs and entrepreneurs, including retailers of bread, coffee, cheese and wine as well as sustainably raised meat and fish and farmers market produce, while keeping on as many current vendors as possible, some of whom have long-term leases. Of the 45 current and potential stalls in the market, about 30 are occupied.
Among the first restaurants to sign on is Soi 7, a modern Thai restaurant downtown, which will set up a street food stall called Sticky Rice in the former La Mamma Burger space on the south side of the market. Carnitas specialist and longtime market tenant Las Morelianas also has committed to a new lease.
The first phase of the renovation of the market is a “deep cleaning” that already has started, taking place at night when the market is closed -- walls, columns and ceilings are being repainted and the floors cleaned and polished. This is expected to be completed by the fall when Shuldiner and West hope to have put a dozen new vendors in place by then.
Among Shuldiner and West’s first ambitions is to remake the Hill Street seating platform by creating “a community market version of a hotel lobby,” Shuldiner says, or, “downtown’s living room."
“With free WiFi and power outlets, maybe low couches,” adds West, who says the market hours (now 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.) will be extended. “You can get a cheese plate and glass of wine, bring it here and hang out. Have a cup of coffee and a pastry and read the paper in the morning.”
In Grand Central Market’s 12,000-square-foot basement, Shuldiner says he plans a “foodcrafting space” to be called the Basement at Grand Central Market, where potential beer brewers, charcuterie makers, cheesemongers and wine purveyors could set up shop and take advantage of an additional 16,000 square feet of walk-ins. At the center would be an exhibition kitchen for classes, tastings, studio shoots and private dinners. “It’s a wonderful world down there,” says Shuldiner, who adds that they are still in talks with architects about conceptualizing the space. “My fantasy is a pocket cafe or sushi bar under the stairs.”
West and Shuldiner said they do not know how much the overhaul of Grand Central Market will cost.
The changes at the market have been prompted by downtown’s changing demographics, says West. The population in Central City has risen from an estimated 18,652 residents in 1998 to nearly 50,000, according to the Los Angeles Downtown Business Improvement District. But also a generational shift marked by the retirement of the Grand Central Market’s former manager after 40 years. “This is happening naturally," says West.