With its elegant, Commune-designed interiors and fresh, market-driven cuisine, the restaurant Ammo has been luring art world power players and tastemakers to a semi-desolate stretch of Highland Avenue near Santa Monica Boulevard for more than a decade. The eclectic interior design studio Blackman Cruz, down the street, boasts a similar following. Still, until recently one was more likely to encounter a pack of streetwalkers than a group of art lovers roaming this Hollywood artery. Things are changing fast, however. The area’s many studios and film- storage facilities, rendered obsolete by the rise of digital media, have provided ample space for new inhabitants—like Shaun Caley Regen, who in the fall took over a 20,000-square-foot film-postproduction lab for her gallery, Regen Projects. In the past year, a flurry of galleries, restaurants, and boutiques have sprung up within a few blocks of one another. Just last month, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo (the pair behind “dude food” Los Angeles restaurants Animal and Son of a Gun) and pop-up prince Ludo Lefebvre launched a new venue in a former pizza joint. Word on the street is that more such ventures are on the horizon—in the meantime, here are a few of our current favorites.
Perry Rubenstein Gallery, 1215 N. Highland Ave. (323) 464-1097
When West Chelsea pioneer Perry Rubenstein decided to relocate to Los Angeles, he’d already concluded that “Hollywood is flat-out sexier than Culver City.” The great spaces didn’t hurt. Working with wHY Architecture’s Kulapat Yantrasast, he carved two gracious galleries from this former film stock warehouse, with dark, glossy concrete floors and a skylight framed by the original wooden rafters. Rubenstein kicked off the fall season with Zoe Crosher, presented the West Coast debut of a Mike Kelley installation, and this month is featuring Iwan Baan, who photographed the post-Sandy aerial view of Manhattan that went viral. A rooftop sculpture garden will open later this spring. Such a level of investment, says Rubenstein, “sends a signal to anyone else…We’re not going anywhere.”
Michael Kohn Gallery, 1227 North Highland Avenue 323.658.8088
Opening this summer, Michael Kohn is the third peg in the neighborhood’s power trio of galleries. Conscious of his new community, the L.A. native commissioned Lester Tobias to design both a “malleable” space for art, and an illuminated edifice visible to passing cars. “There’s a synergy between urban life and art making,” says Kohn, whose program includes graffiti artist Retna and the archives of Wallace Berman. “I’m excited to be in a viable part of the city that seems to be a naturally hospitable home for art.”
Free City Supershop Supermat, 1139 N. Highland Ave. (323) 461-2226
In 2010, in search of that elusive “neighborhood” feel, L.A. local Nina Garduno moved Free City from a Malibu storefront to this 3,000 square foot emporium emblazoned with can’t-miss multi-colored stripes. Inside are Garduno’s cult favorite printed sweatshirts and sweatpants, ornate art bikes and motorcycles, books on subjects from basket weaving to Buckminster Fuller, jewelry, chocolate, jam and bread. True to the original inspiration behind Free City, the Danish commune Christiania, the bread, made by downtown bakers Bread Lounge, is free.
J.F. Chen, 941 N. Highland Ave. (323) 466-970
Los Angeles’ premier antique furniture dealer and collector (including over 350 Eames prototypes), J.F. Chen has lately been impacting the world of contemporary art. With 40,000 square feet of warehouse space, the showroom is so enormous that MOCA was able to build a mini Chateau Marmont, complete with pool, inside its walls for James Franco’s “Rebel” show last May. A recent exhibition featured animal-inspired seating by Tijuana-born textile artist Tanya Aguiniga. As founder Joel Chen’s daughter Bianca puts it, “the beauty is in the mix.”
Greg Lauren, 730 N. Highland Ave. www.greglauren.com
Contemporary artist-turned-clothing designer Greg Lauren feels Highland Avenue is “closer to the creativity” of Los Angeles, “without the glitz of Hollywood.” The native New Yorker (and nephew of Ralph) has worked for years out of several studios on the avenue, and last September he opened The Space, an atelier and appointment-only boutique just north of Melrose. Like Lauren’s one-of-a-kind pieces, sold at Barneys and worn by the likes of Brad Pitt, the industrial-chic vibe is as unassuming as its unmarked door.