The Arts District, Los Angeles has done to an old industrial center what only art can. The area’s primary road, Vignes Street, is named for Jean-Louis Vignes, an adventurer, and vintner who settled the area in 1831 and planted 104 acres of Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc vines that have been imported from the south of France and thrived in the rich SoCal soil and climate. By 1849 the Vignes Vineyard was the largest producer of wine in California. While the grapes have since gone from the area, visitors can still catch a glimpse of Vignes’ and the vineyard’s history at the San Antonio Winery, which sits just north of the community.
By the 19th century, Vignes vines gave way to sprawling citrus orchards. If you take a trip to the Japanese American Plaza, located off of San Pedro Street and Azusa, you’ll find the last remaining grapefruit tree still towering over the area. The citrus industry brought with it freight companies and commercial enterprise, which eventually gave way to factories, then rail freight, and then the trucking industry. The Arts District was all but lost until the 1970’s when a handful of artists discovered they could afford to live in the empty industrial buildings and began a movement to colonize the area. The result was a surge in artistic activity that by 1980 had brought artists such as Linda Frye Burman, James Croak, Merion Estes, Joe Fay, George Herms, Paul McCarthy, Margaret Nielson, Richard Newton, Margit Omar, Lari Pittman, John Schroeder, Andy Wilf, and Takako Yamaguchi to the community.
In 1981 the City of Los Angeles officially passed the “Artist in Residence” ordinance which granted use of formerly industrial and commercial zoned buildings for residential living. In 1994, the Downtown Arts Development Association was founded; a nonprofit group that hosted exhibits for more than 400 artists between 1994-1998.
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