ITS BEEN a year (or more) since I began stepping up my return visits to the Grand Central Market because I know it will be a very different place sooner rather than later.
I’ve taken quick walk-throughs some days. On others I’ll sit with one friend or another for a leisurely visit and watch the old and new cross and merge — customers, produce, menus and conversations — all of it on display. So many different Los Angeleses on display among the dried chilies and the fresh corn. I miss the old butcher and the curious arrangements of meats (heads and hooves) — but then I think, maybe he’s not gone — not just yet — only around a corner I haven’t turned yet. But then I am distracted by some new site or stand — the deli, the cheese shop, the new butcher. As I walk around now, I am having trouble even remembering what I remember.
The original six-story building on Broadway was designed in 1896 by architect John B. Parkinson (whose firm served as architects for other L.A.-signature structures such as City Hall, Bullock’s Wilshire and the Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal — Union Station). Built by Homer Laughlin an Ohio-based businessman. the building’s first ground-floor tenant was he Ville de Paris Department store, but in 1917 the space was remained as a public market that has been shape-shifting to serve the population of downtown ever since.
Up until the 60s, the market served both downtown businesses as well as the residential communities above along Bunker Hill. Now that Broadway and many surrounding downtown boulevards and adjacent neighborhoods are repopulating with loft and condo-dwellers, just who downtown residents are — as well as what their needs might be — have become much more complex subject of discussion.
Change always seems sudden here in L.A., even if it isn’t really. It might have to do with the way we navigate the city. If you uproot from an old neighborhood or a job the familiar haunts slide away to make room for others. Time shifts and it “seems like yesterday.” But it more time has passed than we think.
I took a writer friend who, though she passed the Laughlin building weekly, hadn’t stuck her head inside the Market for some time. In her head it was the same as it always had been: The fruit signs, the neon, the dry goods, the heads and hooves on ice. But after just a few steps inside she saw not what was there but what wasn’t: the old map of her childhood visits, the vendors she had relationships with (whom she asked after by first name.)
Her reaction was instant and deep. The raw emotion — the upset — surprised even her. At first glimpse, It felt like another impending erasure. Full and total. And it wouldn’t be the first time.
The hope for these visits, I realized, is to be able to slow time down a bit so I can absorb and document change in motion.
I too have been bowled over by complete re-imaginings of locations I have considered to be anchors of periods of my life here, backdrops that I thought would be ever-present like the mountains in the distance behind the skyline.
But I know better now.