In 1833, French winemaker Jean-Louis Vignes brought the first European vines from Bordeaux and was "the father of French immigration to Los Angeles".   He planted the grapes on 104 acres of {what is now} the downtown Arts District of Los Angeles, moistened by the seasonal river, ocean mists and sparse rains.  

The hardy Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc vines imported from the south of France thrived here and by 1849 the Vignes vineyard was the largest producer of wine in California.  The grapes are gone, but the San Antonio Winery, started by Italian American, Santo Cambianica in 1917, just north of the Los Angeles Arts District is a reminder of the area’s past.  

Jean-Louis become the founder of California's wine industry and Vignes Street was named after him.  This street winds through the edge of the Arts District today, next to the cement trench memorializing the famous L.A. River.  A plethora of historic film scenes have been shot at the LA River, like the classic car race in Grease.  Come on the right night and you might catch a group of similar cars beautifully restored by local artists.  



By late 19th century, citrus groves replaced grapes.  Growing Santa Fe freight depots and warehouses created to serve the citrus industry’s shipping needs would determine the economic character and architecture of the neighborhood.  By the 1920s, Los Angeles became the fifth-largest city in the US and the seventh-wealthiest in the nation. Key manufacturers in the area at this time were producing bakery products, women’s clothing, foundry and machinery goods, furniture, printing and publishing materials, automobile parts, and rubber.  

By World War II, factories began to replace the fruit groves.  Railroads and manufacturing were established to service the emerging trucking industry and support large numbers of people moving to California.  As railroads gave way to the trucking industry, large trucks had difficulty accessing the smaller streets that were once railroad spurs. Manufacturing plants grew larger in size, yet land parcels in the neighborhood were small.   

Companies had to purchase several adjacent lots to build larger plants, making property acquisition difficult. Newer, outlying cities such as Vernon and the City of Commerce could better accommodate the needs of modern industries.  As companies moved to build larger, modern factories, the warehouses of the Arts District Los Angeles stood vacant and the neighborhood began decaying.



By the late 1960’s and early 1970’s these businesses consolidated or closed.  The area became a vacant, decaying urban neighborhood not unlike other American cities of the time.  Local artists saw this as an opportunity and began to colonize the neighborhood, renting space as cheaply as three cents per square foot.  Galleries, cafes and performance venues followed.  In 1981, the City of Los Angeles acknowledged the emergence of this neighborhood and passed the Artists in Residence ordinance seeding the beginnings of the modern day Los Angeles Arts District. 

While history will move on and more changes will come, we can preserve pieces of the past.  A few architectural firms are doing their best to save the souls of the old buildings. For example, The Arts District will soon have two private clubs; one in the old Challenge Cream & Butter Company building; another in the David Harvey Building to be SOHO Warehouse, where I used to practice music with band mates in the late 90's.  At Mateo, the new open air mall almost complete, has done an excellent job and went as far as using reclaimed bricks from old buildings.  We have a wide range of architecture, art, restaurants, artists and people here.   Please explore the site, visit the neighborhood and connect with us when you like.  


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