Back in the early part of the 20th century, Washington Blvd., between Crenshaw Blvd. and Western Ave., was a streetcar line and thriving, neighborhood-serving business district. As the streetcars died and trends in both commerce and neighborhoods changed after World War II, however, the street’s fortunes changed too. And in more recent decades, this stretch of Washington has been home to many more industrial-flavored businesses, including auto repair shops, restaurant-supply wholesalers and others.
In the last five years or so, however, Washington Blvd. has started to once again become home to many new small businesses, which – along with some longtime stalwarts – are hoping to renew the business potential and neighborhood interest in the street. On Saturday, June 30, the United Neighborhoods Neighborhood Council, along with the Arlington Heights Neighborhood Association, sponsored a walking tour of this stretch of Washington, where old-school barber shops, upholstery and sheet metal shops still thrive and now rub elbows with perfume, fashion and art galleries, yoga studios, escape room venues and more.
As a Buzz publisher, I’m always interested in how our local and local-adjacent neighborhoods are evolving, and as a resident of West Adams Heights ( just a few blocks east of Arlington Heights), this area is within walking distance, so I had to check it out…and was very glad I did. Although I drive through the area every day, and was aware of many of the nearly 30 featured businesses, many others were still new to me…and getting to meet them up close provided some lovely surprises.
Among these were the new location of Dynasty Upholstery, a very friendly longtime business that recently moved into its current digs at 2503 W. Washington. Owners Cesar and Victor Negrete had lots of samples of their work on display (more available at http://instagram.com/dynastyupholstery) and word quickly spread along the street that they were also giving out free throw pillows to tour participants (mine now has a cozy new home on one of my favorite reading chairs).
At 2525 W. Washington, we stopped into one of my favorite old buildings on the street, a restored 1920s Cadillac showroom that is now home to Radha Yoga, Evil Genius Escape Rooms and a flooring company. The yoga studio was the only business open on the tour, but it was fun to see their light-filled space, and to peek into other nooks and crannies in the old building.
At Washington and Third Avenue, we couldn’t resist stopping in at the new home of Surfas Culinary District (where they were handing out delicious gourmet pizza samples), and pause for a moment to listen to the terrific musicians playing there.
Just across Third Avenue, we visited the tiny Mother Culture gallery, 1819 3rd Ave., and then the slightly larger Ochi Projects gallery, 3301 W. Washington, where we sat for a few minutes to watch a visually compelling video installation by artist Young Joo Lee.
A couple of doors west, we were disappointed to see that Regime des Fleurs perfume, Eckhaus Latta clothing, and the Bookshelves “literary gallery” didn’t seem to be open as promised, but a few doors down, we were welcomed by the Print Plus Now copy and print shop, 3313 W. Washington, and the wonderfully named Shoot the Lobster art gallery, 3315 W. Washington, which is now featuring “Slinky,” an exhibit of very small objects by artist Deborah Hede.
From that very modern-feeling space, however, it was just a few literal steps to a huge jump back in time at the Arlington Barber Shop, 3317 W. Washington, where the amazing vintage barber chairs, shoe-shine stand and back room, papered with photos and newspaper clippings celebrating African-American history over at least the last 40 years or so, have clearly been around longer than almost anything else on the street. This place definitely has stories to tell…and I wish I’d had more time to stay and hear some of them.
A few blocks west, we crossed the street and started going back the way we came, stopping first at the Mi Pueblo Viejo nightclub, 4000 W. Washington Blvd., which is in the only Googie-style building left in the area. Sadly, however, the interior has been altered and no longer shows any trace of the exterior’s mid-century exuberance…but the proprietors had a large table of Salvadoran appetizers available for tour guests, and they were delicious.
We also enjoyed a taco and agua fresca at Izzy Tacos, 1901 8th Ave., and then proceeded to the Underground Museum at 3508 W. Washington.
I’ve been hearing a lot about this space for a while now, and it was great to finally explore the gallery, intriguingly-stocked bookstore (where I wish I could have spent more time), and the lovely Purple Garden, a contemplative and event space that also serves as a memorial to founder Noah Davis, who passed away from cancer shortly after the business opened. Hoping to return soon, I also grabbed a schedule for the museum’s Purple Garden Cinema Friday night film series (next up: “Coco” on July 13).
Making our way back east along the boulevard, we stopped to sample some ginger beer at the Natraliart Jamaican restaurant and market, 3426 W. Washington, and then poked into the Kristina Kite Gallery, located in a grand old (I’m guessing) bank building at 3400 W. Washington Blvd.
From there, it was on to Hatch Escapes, 1919 3rd Ave., a new escape-room venue located in a 1920s storage facility that’s still owned by the original family that built it (over the decades, it’s been home to furs of the rich and famous, as well as archive materials from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences). Hatch’s new escape experience positions participants as lab rats trying to escape a series of cages and mazes, and their Yelp reviews so far look promising. (I have a teenager with a birthday party coming up. Hmm….)
Finally, we stopped in at 2426, an architecture-focused gallery at 2426 W. Washington, which is between shows at the moment…and the Big Pictures gallery, just next door at 2424 W. Washington. It’s another small space now featuring an eye-catching exhibit called “Transmutation,” in which everyday small objects take on new appearances and identities.
And from there, it was just a short jaunt home, with a great discussion about everything we’d seen that day – old and new, and all just a short walk from our own back yard.