Makeup artist Sonia Lee fell in love with the neighborhood first--Echo Park Lake and its giant pink lotus flowers--before setting foot in the old store that has been her home for three years.
Her Realtor introduced her to the three-level property that steps down a hillside in Angelino Heights, an area of Victorian homes and the city's first historic district. Old-time neighbors recall shopping at the simple flat-roofed market until the '70s; hearsay has it that it was a former trolley stop as well. According to the late artist Leo Politi's book, "Angeleño Heights," a trolley driver named Jack was so accommodating that he would
let riders off in front of the store; he also used to stop when he needed to run up the market's outside staircase to use the "man's room." A fire has since destroyed the stairs as well as the upstairs "facilities."
In 2002 local property developer Princess Bovlanna purchased the boarded-up, graffiti-scarred store, a local gang haven, to save it from further harm, and when Lee moved in there was little left of the original market. "It was pretty much a rectangular box with rows of empty shelves at the rear, an old deli scale for weighing meat and a cash register set up near the center of the room," Bovlanna recalls.
She gutted the space to create an open-plan room and removed the rotted ceiling, leaving the second-floor joists exposed. The old wood floors and ceiling add a warm patina to the living quarters, decorated in a minimalist Asian style. A short wall partition toward the rear dates from the original 1906 store; the area behind it serves as Lee's small pantry and kitchen. The formal dining room is one floor below.