The Heart of Downtown: Sunday in DTLA

The Music Center - home to the Ahmanson Theater.
The Music Center – home to the Ahmanson Theater.

Downtown Los Angeles on a Sunday feels different from every other day of the week.  The streets are relatively traffic-free and it’s a great day to drive to one of the nine main districts, find a place to park the car, and take a walk around.

If you get Downtown on the early side of the day, try breakfast at Justice Urban Tavern at 120 S. Los Angeles Street.  Opened earlier this year by General Manager and Larchmont resident, Paul Trevino, Justice offers my idea of the perfect breakfast—you can have the breakfast buffet or order from the menu where your choices include buttermilk pancakes, steel cut oatmeal, Korean bacon & eggs, pastrami and red flannel hash with eggs your way and mustard seed hollandaise, and my must-order-favorite: a half Ruby Red grapefruit with caramelized Turbinado sugar.  The coffee is from Intelligentsia, who has their own roasting facility in Glassell Park on North San Fernando Road.  Even Coco, our dog, loves Justice because they have a big patio with tables where she gets her own water bowl.

My husband, Jay, is a virgin Bloody Mary connoisseur depending on the list of chores the day may hold.  Whatever Mary potion you’re in the mood for, you should plan your time accordingly as you’re likely to stay for more than one, they’re THAT good!  As found in any respectable gastropub, there are big screens so as football season continues, this is a perfect spot to gather friends and hang out for a game.  Justice Tavern is on the ground floor of the Doubletree Hotel but it feels much more like a neighborhood hangout than a hotel restaurant.  Mark Pollard, Justice Tavern’s chef, had previously been the executive chef at the Downtown and West Hollywood Standard Hotels.

Just across Alameda Avenue, heading south east from Little Tokyo, you’ll find the Arts District.  This in another great option for Sunday breakfast or brunch. Head over to  Urth Caffé  at 451 S. Hewitt Street and you may wonder, “Where did all these people come from?”  The answer is there is a thriving residential community in the Arts District and you will be witnessing the renaissance of a part of L.A. where once abandoned buildings are now converted into luxury lofts with other more rustic, artists’ lofts and creative spaces sprinkled in between.

Zinc Café and Market at 580 Mateo Street is another Arts District breakfast option. We love sitting outside at a bistro table amidst the olive trees in the Italian-like garden setting.  Both Urth and Zinc are dog-friendly, too.

And before heading back to the other side of town, we’ll often stop to pick up some fresh bread for the week at Bread Lounge artisanal bakery at 700 S. Santa Fe Avenue.

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

Last Sunday we stopped at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels as we do every Sunday that we’re in town.  This is a very special place for us.  As some of you may know, our 20-year-old son, Nick, was killed on July 27th of this year when lightning stuck on Venice Beach.  He is interred in the beautiful mausoleum that is below the main floor of the Cathedral.  We chose this place because we knew, that as downtown residents, it would be easy to make regular visits but also because we find so much peace from the moment we enter the courtyard of the Cathedral.

mausoleum1_tnThe mausoleum is open every day to anyone who wants to see the beautiful stained glass windows that were taken from the original St. Vibiana’s Cathedral that was condemned after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.  The windows are all placed at ground level and back-lit so that every detail of the artistry, restored when they were moved to this new location, is masterfully preserved.  The limestone walls reflect the soft lighting and wandering through this space and reading the inscriptions on the crypts gives one the sense of the joy that each life remembered brings to those who loved them.

Parade on the plaza of the Cathedral.
Parade on the plaza of the Cathedral.

Joy is also found in the courtyard of the Cathedral where on many Sundays you might find a cultural festival going on with music, dancing and costumes.  Two weeks ago it was a Bolivian festival and this past Sunday it was a regional Mexican celebration.  The Cathedral has a café that serves Starbucks coffee and, I’ve also discovered, they make an excellent tuna sandwich. Tables in the courtyard on Sunday offer a great outdoor space to people- watch and the 5.6 acre grounds include a shady play area for children to climb on stone animal shapes and a meditation garden to sit in quiet contemplation. If you’re lucky enough to be able to reach one of the figs on the nearby fig tree—they are delicious.

Cicley Tyson and Devon Abner in 'The Trip to Bountiful' at the Ahmanson Theater. (photos from 'The Trip to Bountiful' website.
Cicley Tyson and Devon Abner in ‘The Trip to Bountiful’ at the Ahmanson Theater. (photos from ‘The Trip to Bountiful’ website.

Just a walk across Temple Street from the Cathedral and down Grand Avenue is the Ahmanson Theater.  Last Sunday we went to see the matinee performance of “The Trip to Bountiful” with Cicely Tyson, Blair Underwood and Vanessa Williams.  The access to such incredible talent in our backyard is another gift that DTLA offers.

On stage at The Ahmanson Theater  [left to right Hallie Foote, Devon Abner, Jay Fagnano and Jan Lindstrom (high school friend of Jays)]
On stage at The Ahmanson Theater [left to right Hallie Foote, Devon Abner, Jay Fagnano and Jan Lindstrom (high school friend of Jays)]
This performance was particularly special for us since Jay’s high school friend, Devon Abner, had two roles in the play—the station master and the sheriff.  Devon is married to Hallie Foote, the daughter of Horton Foote (March 4, 1916-March 14, 2009)  who first wrote “The Trip to Bountiful” script in 1953 for a NBC-TV screenplay and later adapted it for film in 1985, and then the stage production.

Hallie was responsible for bringing Cicely to the role as she had envisioned the play cast with black actors in the leading roles.  Cicely had always said to her agent that it would be the role of a lifetime for her, but her agent had never acted on Cicely’s request.  It was Hallie going directly to Cicely that made her dream role come true, living up to Cicely’s comment that she could retire once she’d had the opportunity to play Carrie Watts, the woman who longs to return to her hometown in Texas.

on stage viewHallie and Devon gave us a backstage tour after the performance where we saw how the sets roll in and off the stage and what the house looks like when you’re on the stage.  We checked out Devon’s dressing room with his costume changes neatly arranged and we had the honor of running into Cicely as she was leaving to greet a large entourage watching football in a waiting room nearby.  Ms. Tyson was wearing a Trip to Bountiful T-shirt and a comfy blue cardigan with her hair wrapped up in a scarf.  Her smooth skin without make up and her sparkling eyes made it all the more apparent that she is truly ageless and remarkable in how she shines in this performance day after day.

Our Sundays on Bunker Hill are always special.  This one was particularly so, being with friends and sharing a rare experience of going truly behind the scenes at one of our Downtown landmarks.

For some, a trip to the small town they grew up in is the re-connection to memories of all variety. For us, traveling the streets of Los Angeles between Hancock Park, Sherman Oaks and the districts of Downtown holds the memories that we’ll forever treasure.

Writer Mary Fagnano is contributing a regular series “The Heart of Downtown” giving a look into what’s pumping life into the nine key districts that make up the center of our city.

 

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About Mary Fagnano

Mary Fagnano, during her 20 years living in the Hancock Park area, ventured downtown primarily when jury duty called, Prince or U2 was performing at Staples Center or there was something really good at the Ahmanson or Mark Taper. Now she lives and works in a loft in the Eastern Columbia Building on 9th & Broadway, walks everywhere and shares her love for all that’s new and old in downtown Los Angeles through her blog www.downtownboomer.com.

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