It’s been 100 years since downtown L.A.’s Grand Central Market first opened its doors. Owner Adele Yellin and city officials celebrated the occasion Friday with a massive 100-layer cake (made with 390 pounds of butter), free rides on the recently reopened historic railway, Angels Flight, and live music.
Before addressing the crowd of hundreds, Mayor Eric Garcetti weaved through the market, making his way from the Broadway Street entrance over to Hill Street. He walked past new and established vendors, past the ever-snaking line at Eggslut, the falafel shop Madcapra and up the stairs by the China Cafe as a band played jazz in front of a recently created neon art installation.
Garcetti began with an anecdote of visiting the market with family in his youth. “All of us have those stories, coming here … to experience the taste and see the incredible diversity of this city,” Garcetti said.
The diversity in food choices at Grand Central Market represents the essence of the city, said L.A. Assemblyman Miguel Santiago. “The ability of different cultures to work together to be side by side, this is what makes this great city beautiful.”
The market opened on Oct. 27, 1917, at the foot of the Angels Flight Funicular, which carried residents of the Bunker Hill neighborhood to the commercial district below. In the early days, the market was filled with produce, butchers, delicatessens and other staples.
Waiting in line for a slice of cake on Friday was 81-year old Kenneth Provost from East L.A. He reflected on visiting the market as a young child to buy groceries. “I could spend $5 and get a full sack of food,” he said.
Mother and daughter Carmel Campos, 80, and Debbie Dagostino, 58, also waited in one of several lines for a slice of cake. In the 1950s, Campos said, the market was the go-to spot for produce and Latino food, which she couldn’t get in her Glendale neighborhood. Dagostino fondly remembered accompanying her uncle to the meat market and carrying a goat’s head.
In 2013, the market underwent a major renovation, spearheaded by Yellin. Now upscale vendors like the sleek PBJ.LA, which sells craft sandwiches that can go for $8, operate close to vendors like Roast To Go, a Mexican snack joint that’s operated in the market since 1952.
“It’s changed tremendously,” said Karen Johnson, 58. She stumbled into the celebration when she stopped to grab a cup of coffee. It was the early 1980s when she first came to the market to buy fresh produce. Now, she says, there is a greater focus on health consciousness among the food vendors.
While some have bemoaned the changes, relating them to the rise of gentrification downtown, Dagostino says the market wouldn’t survive without them.
“It’s a good change for this age,” she said.