Broadway's Spring Street Arcade: Past, Present, and Future

By: Mona Khalifeh

The soft sounds of Spanish words permeate through the air, faint and easily missed along the aisles of a shopping center nearly abandoned. That music is coming form Lopez Videos, one of the last standing stores inside of downtown Los Angeles’ Spring Street Arcade. Louis Lopez runs Lopez Videos with his sister Cecilia. The Lopez family has patiently weathered the financial storm that has come through and destroyed the arcade, leaving their store and just two others in its wake. Plans of construction and major improvements are in the works, but delayed permits and a lack of funding have forced out storeowners and kept those still standing on edge.

Within the next two years, the Spring Street Arcade plans to have completed construction on its building. Vice President of Downtown L.A. Management Corporation Inc., Greg Martin, says that some businesses will be up and running in the next month.

Even with impending improvements, the Spring Street Arcade, located in the financial district of downtown Los Angeles, appears to be run-down, old, closed-even. This historical building in the midst of gentrification has shops lining its halls. Over fifty restaurants, clothing stores, boutique shops, and a barbershop that filled the arcade---all are closed, except a handful of storefronts that have weathered the storm.

The arcade, otherwise known as the Broadway Arcade, welcomes you in with a sculpted stone archway over its entrance. Inside the tall, poorly lit building lies tile flooring that is equally as cold as the ghost-town atmosphere the arcade has taken on. Designed in the Spanish revival style, the arcade has served a myriad of purposes during its ninety-year history. Amongst being a place to live, shop, and work, the arcade has served as a hub for information, being used in the early 1900’s as a site for the announcement of election results posted as bulletins by the Los Angeles Times.

In 2003, the L.A. Times reported that the arcade building was going to be turned into loft-style apartments. The project, spear-headed by Killer Flammang Architects, was delayed due to insufficient funds however, leaving the project incomplete and the arcade in decline.

Today, the arcade, which housed over fifty storefronts, now has only three storefronts open, which include a fast-food restaurant, video store, and clothing shop. The arcade’s plans to expand and revitalize has forced previous business owners within the arcade to close shop and caused hundreds of employees to lose their jobs. V.P. Martin says that business is expanding however, “While the loft apartments were completed in 2010, in the next four weeks, a vegan restaurant, juicer, and gelato shop will be opening. Soon to follow that is an Austrian restaurant, which we hope will bring in a new crowd” said Martin. With liquor license pending and a bookstore among the other businesses hoping to be included in the arcade underway, Martin and his developers are hoping that the hip and gentrifying crowd everyone is talking about, will come to shop, live, and work at the arcade.

One of the storefronts that have managed to survive and plans to remain in business with the coming change is said Lopez Videos. The store sells mainly Spanish movies and movie merchandise. Lopez was knowledgeable about all the movement going on within the arcade. “The building has been waiting two years on permits to start construction. People who couldn’t afford their rent or were not part of the new plans were forced out” Lopez said.

While Lopez remains optimistic despite the wreckage he has seen in the arcade, the L.A. Times is not as hopeful, describing the arcade as an area left behind in L.A.’s effort to become a more trendy downtown city, “But inside the 88-year-old shopping arcade, with its giant curved skylight, arched Spanish Renaissance entryways and Beaux Arts exterior, many of the stores are vacant, and the remaining merchants seem stuck in another era. Bargain-rate clothes, toys, suitcases and DVDs share shelf space with dusty boom boxes and T-shirts from '90s rock bands like Korn and Nirvana” (“As downtown L.A. grows trendier, Spring Street Arcade is left behind”).

Lopez tells us that in three months, that two-year wait is to come to an end, bringing burgeoning businesses and a large restaurant and bar to the arcade to attract a younger crowd to the district. The restaurant, Royal Clayton’s, will do all-day meal service as well as a late-night service in addition to their bar services.

While the arcade hopes to bring in other restaurants and businesses to fill their twenty-three vacant storefronts, it is hard to say that the next three months will break ground in this move towards a gentrified and welcoming shopping center. As V.P. of Downtown Management, Greg Martin stressed, much of what happens in the coming months depends on city inspections and permits.

Hope however, remains intact that the Spring Street Arcade turns into the kind of hip and exciting building that Downtown L.A. needs.

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