L.A. Now

Silver Lake renaissance attracts newcomers, worries locals

In its recent ranking of popular spots, CNN's business website called Silver Lake the nation's second-best big city neighborhood. It's "a haven for families as well as hipsters ... packed with shops and hotspots, defying the 'no walking in L.A.' cliche."

There is indeed plenty of walking on Silver Lake's main drag, but that's because there's practically nowhere to park along that busy stretch of Sunset Boulevard.

Look up the hill along Hyperion Avenue and you'll see those visitors' cars — hogging spots that local residents have long considered theirs.

A surge of new restaurants, bars and boutiques has helped make Silver Lake a national darling and sent real estate prices in hilltop enclaves soaring.

But the fallout of that popularity lands on apartment-heavy streets nearby, where three-quarters of residents have no place to park because so many of the old buildings lack driveways or garages.

In car-centric Los Angeles, that's considered a violation of a fundamental right.

"Almost every single night, I have to search for parking," complained Hyperion resident Julie Adler. It can take 20 minutes to find a spot that might be blocks from her apartment. "I'll drive around and drive around ... thinking that it's not so cool to live here anymore."

As a tourist from Northridge, it seems cool to me. We don't suffer from parking problems. You can visit Ralph's, CVS and Starbucks without leaving the chain stores' parking lot. But we lack the sort of variety I discovered on a walk along Sunset, past the Circus of Books, an upscale clothing boutique, a marijuana dispensary, the Rough Trade fetish shop and the Mohawk General Store.

With its funky vibe and bohemian aura, Silver Lake has always been popular with artists like Adler, who moved there 13 years ago, long before Sunset got its makeover.

Now, she said, "it has lost its community, its identity, to so-called hipsters and shoppers.... The residents here have been neglected and forgotten."


Not everyone sees it that way, of course.

The parking flap reflects other issues: a fading sense of comfort and safety, and growing unease over the onslaught of strangers — whether they're buying $400 shoes from the new clothing boutique or spreading out their sleeping bags in the growing disorder of nearby Triangle Park.

The latest lightning rod for residents' angst is a plan by a well-known local entrepreneur to convert a long abandoned church into a trendy boutique hotel.

Developer Dana Hollister, a Silver Lake resident whose bars and restaurants helped burnish the region's image, has been working for more than two years on her "ridiculously cute" and relatively tiny project to turn the Pilgrim Church, on a residential corner a block from Sunset, into a 25-room hotel with a rooftop pool and restaurant and room rates that start at $265 a night.

The mixed reception among its neighbors is playing out on local online forums. Some welcome an upscale venue for out-of-town guests; an alternative to the Comfort Inn next to the foot doctor on Sunset. Others worry about noise, crowds, drunken revelers and, of course, the shortage of parking.

The posts reflect the tug of war over what Silver Lake is and will become.

"I am so tired of the old farts and the stroller-pushing suburbanites who lament any business that doesn't close down its doors after 5pm," one man wrote in support of the project. "If you don't want to live in a community that is alive and kicking with visitors and social life, please move to the Valley."


Adler isn't old, nor does she push a stroller. She's an artist who lives in a lovely apartment at the top of a hill overlooking Sunset.

And she remembers a different Silver Lake, when the Intelligentsia coffee shop was a carniceria and a Laundromat stood on the tiny lot where patrons of the Black Cat bar now valet park their expensive cars.

The neighborhood was a little dicey back then, "but at least we knew what to expect," she said.

That's not true anymore. Last week, her neighbor's new pickup truck was stolen from the street in front of their building. Two weeks ago, Adler spotted a stranger peeping in the window of her apartment. Now when she gets home late at night, she asks a neighbor to walk her from her car. Her landlord has begun keeping the front gate locked and installed motion-detector spotlights.

The night I was interviewing her on the sidewalk, the father of a state assemblyman was shot to death in his home two miles from her apartment. It was Silver Lake's first homicide in 18 months. On Friday, the LAPD had no suspects, but said an aggravated assault and vehicle theft had been reported nearby the night before.

It's not frightening exactly, Adler said. "But it feels not good, on the edge of bad."


Parking is the sort of first-world problem that is easy for outsiders to mock and difficult for locals to solve.

It's a window into bigger issues challenging Silver Lake: the pace of change, the lack of foresight and the inevitable fracturing of a community that's increasingly divided by geography, mission, income, mindset.

The newcomers tend to love the new Sunset. "They wanted to move into a vibrant community, where they could walk to a restaurant, a coffee shop, a bar, a bookstore," said Renee Nahum, a board member on the neighborhood council who supports the hotel project.

She's lived in Silver Lake for 25 years. These changes have happened so quickly, she said, they caught old-timers off guard.

"The new restaurants, the upscale clothing places.... They're bringing in people from the outside. You want that for the economy, but for the residents who've lived here, it's become a burden. And it needs to be addressed."

Adler's solution might not set well. No more trendy restaurants and bars, or stores that sell $400 shoes.

"When is enough enough?" she said. "We're fine. Why do we always think we need more?"

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