1. Travel

Downtown Los Angeles: Neighborhood Profile

A General Overview of Downtown LA


Old Historic Photo of Downtown LA in the 1950s
Photo: American Stock Archive/Contributor/Getty Images


Bordered By

  • Exposition Blvd. and Exposition Park in the South
  • 110 Harbor Freeway in the West
  • 101 Freeway in the North
  • Los Angeles River in the East

Find your favorite spots on these maps of Downtown Los Angeles

Downtown Los Angeles: A Brief History

Downtown’s official birthdate is September 4, 1781, when the city of LA was founded by Spanish governor Felipe de Neve (at La Placita Olvera). It was christened El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la reina de Los Angeles del Rio de Porciuncula.

Flavors of old Mexico resounded and continue to resound throughout Downtown. It is home to Olvera Street which began as a small lane called Wine Street. In the late 1870s it was extended in honor of the first county judge of Los Angeles. Old buildings constructed throughout the 1800s line the street. Since the '30s it has been a vibrant Mexican marketplace for garments, gifts, textile products and food.

The population of Downtown LA grew in the late 1800s due to speculators. In fact, Little Tokyo was more or less established at this time when a former sea man from Japan opened his Japanese restaurant in the area. An immigrant community began forming around the vicinity. Not far from there, Chinatown was also founded in the late 1800s. The original Chinatown was located around Union Station.

In the '20s Downtown sparkled as the jewel of Los Angeles. It boasted extensive and comprehensive railways and was fast growing into a major metropolitan area. The Spring Street Financial District became home to Bank of America, the Crocker National Bank, the International Savings and Exchange Bank and the LA Stock Exchange. The famous Biltmore Hotel (now the Millennium Biltmore) was built there during this golden age in the early ‘20s. Also erected at that time were the Ritz Hotel, the Astor Hotel, the Hall of Justice, the Japanese Union Church (now the Union Center for the Arts), the Great Western Savings Sun Drug building, the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing building and the Roosevelt Office Building.

The Broadway area became a central hub for entertainment and shopping. Department stores like Bullock’s and the May Company opened servicing the then-affluent residents of the nearby Bunker Hill Area (which became increasingly dilapidated in the post-war years).

Union Station opened about a decade later in 1939. This was about the same time that Raymond Chandler published The Big Sleep, the first in his famous detective novel series taking place there. At that time LA was on the fast track to becoming the driving city it is today. Downtown became a meeting point for a cluster of freeways. But the post-war years saw a decline in the neighborhood as many businesses left. In the early '40s the LA River overflowed several times causing major floods.

Some facts pulled from Wikipedia

Downtown LA Today

The general feeling amongst LA locals has been that Downtown (despite its official name Central City) is not the center of Los Angeles. For years there has been an attempt by the powers that be to revamp Downtown and finally crown it the capital of LA. In 1974, the Westin Bonaventure Hotel--the largest hotel in the city (and a landmark point in its skyline) was erected. The area is also home to the Los Angeles Times newspaper. Of course Downtown also contains Skid Row, one of the highest steady populations of homeless people in the country.

Yet, one of the most successful efforts to reinvigorate Downtown with importance has come in recent years with the so-called “renaissance” of large portions of the area. The launch of the Los Angeles Metro Line in the early ‘90s was inaugurated in Downtown. Its steady expansion through the years has undoubtedly given Downtown a more important role in the grand scheme of Los Angeles.

One of the key players in this renewal has been real estate developer Tom Gilmore. He transformed some of Downtown’s historical properties into residential units, sparking a migration into the neighborhood. His name is particularly associated with the gentrified loft living phenomenon that has expanded in recent years Downtown.

Frank Gehry’s epic design of the Walt Disney Concert Hall--unveiled in 2003--has also helped Downtown LA (and LA in general for that matter) increase its presence on the global cultural map.

The respected late Mexican born LA sculptor Robert Graham contributed to Downtown’s cultural growth and significance when he created his famous bronze doors for the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.

Another newer marker of Downtown’s increasing relevance in the arts world is the monthly area-wide event known as Art Walk which draws thousands of people to the streets of Downtown for an evening of open galleries and parties. It was founded by local gallery owner Bert Green in 2004.

In the grand scale arena of sports and entertainment, the opening of the Staples Center and Nokia Theater has attracted increasing numbers of tourists and locals from other parts of LA to Downtown. Staples, home of the Los Angeles Lakers, is a world-class arena for sports and live concerts. It even received the Pollstar-CIC Arena of the Year Award.

Historical Sites and Areas of Downtown Los Angeles

  • Angeles Flight Railway
  • Broadway Theater District
  • Bunker Hill
  • The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels
  • Chinatown Gates
  • El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Park
  • Felipe de Neve Statue
  • Olvera Street
  • Los Angeles Times Building
  • Pico Union
  • U.S. Bank Tower
  • Wells Fargo Bank

Restaurants and Bars in Downtown LA

  • Cafe Pinot
  • Cicada Restaurant
  • Clifton’s Cafeteria
  • Corkbar Wine Bar
  • Empress Pavilion
  • Gallery Bar and Cognac Room at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel
  • The Original Pantry Cafe
  • Pacific Dining Car

    Downtown LA Transportation

    • All Downtown DASH Buses
    • Amtrak
    • Greyhound
    • Los Angeles Union Station
    • Metro Lines (Red, Blue and Gold)
    • Metro Rapid #720 Wilshire Blvd.
    • Santa Monica Big Blue Bus #10

    Some Facts Pulled From Experience LA

  • ©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.