LA’s Unsung Landmarks Hidden in Plainsight
One part illustrative-documentation and one part personal/communal history, part of a larger project of an interactive illustrated map of Koreatown.
Strip mall signs, hole-in-the-wall restaurants & liquor stores aren’t what come to mind when one thinks about famous LA landmarks. But these places in K-Town, while they look weathered and sometimes neglected on the outside, contain thriving businesses and local culture that have survived throughout the years and continue to contribute greatly to the vibrant & unique culture of Los Angeles. For the locals, the images speak to their personal memories. For others, a familiar landmark in the background of their day-to-day. And for those unfamiliar, it’s an invitation to explore & appreciate Koreatown beyond “K-BBQ, NRB & soju”.
KOREATOWN COFFEE SHOPS
Before I found my studio space, like many creatives in LA, I used to hop from one coffee shop to another. And during this time, a close friend encouraged me to do a coffee themed illustration that eventually led to my Koreatown series. So thankful for the wonderful coffee shops in LA, especially in Koreatown, that have kept me well caffeinated through the years.
Each coffee drink drawn is what I ordered that day from each shop, spanning 5 weeks.
KOREATOWN EXIT OFF THE 10
Not local to the neighborhood, for years my entrance into K-Town was via the 10 freeway. I've always felt some kind of way whenever I see this sign.
I'm still learning a lot about the history of how K-Town came to be and of the current residents and diverse culture it holds. There's so much to be absorbed, understand & experience.
6TH & BERENDO
A local late night favorite where you can get your Korean pub food, drink & NRB on in one spot. But also a reliable liquor store to get the basics, hair, nail shop, a cleaners & small restaurant that serves food like how umma used to make.
8TH & BERENDO
Before 산 (San) moved to 6th St., my college friends and I had a ritual that called us to this tiny spot every new year to eat their 전복죽 (Jeonbok-Juk) & 삼계탕 (Samgye-tang). But I was drawn to their dish-ware & their 장조림 (Jangjo-Rim), which both reminded me of home.
Later on I started bringing my skittish rescue pup to 뭉치애견 (Mungchi) since they were the only ones that could handle him & make him look like the freshest pup in all the land.
Lots of changes in this small plaza with businesses coming & going. Drips & Swirls replaced a duck roasting shop that I never got to try. The Mandarin House is now gone. And right next door, a new building is rapidly getting built up, (as of May of 2019).
WILSHIRE & ALEXANDRIA - THE BROWN DERBY PLAZA
Perhaps one of the best examples of K-Town’s history & culture. The 3rd floor retains the original dome hat of the architecture of The Brown Derby, a restaurant chain popular in the beginning of the Golden Age of Hollywood in the late 1920’s. A combination of the decline of LA’s booming economy after WWII & the Cold War, redlining coupled with the GI Bill, and white flight to the suburbs caused many of the buildings & real estate properties to be abandoned in the 70s & 80s, creating spaces for non-white communities to take root, however undesirable it was at the time with decaying infrastructure, gang warfare, & drugs. So this plot of land went from shuttered restaurant business, to a parking lot, then to a shopping plaza with the Derby dome intact.
Now it’s one of the most popular and busiest plazas in K-Town. With businesses like Boo’s Philly Cheesesteaks—authentic Philly cheesesteak sandwiches made by a Korean American family from Philly, Neri’s Filipino food, Southern BBQ, 85 Degree Taiwanese Bakery chain, and the latest addition, Strikezon—digital screen baseball bar & restaurant from Korea.
In the late 90s & early 2000s, I had my first dining experience at Wako Donkatsu—grinding up the roasted sesame seeds in my personal mortar & pestle. It was where the cool kids hung out and took sticker pictures afterwards.
Looking at the plaza sign with its collection of various restaurants, many of which are family businesses of immigrants, makes for a far more interesting history that’s still breathing and living than the one that ends with the stagnant, dusty Golden Age of Hollywood.
6TH & KENMORE
Legend has it that this plaza’s small business owners moved fast during the ’92 LA Uprising to board of their store fronts with panels and were one of the few buildings that didn’t burn to the ground or get looted. If you look carefully, you still might see the holes left from the screws.
Kong Ji’s family owned is one of my best friend’s favorite.
OLYMPIC & FEDORA - KIM'S HOME CENTER
BAE (before anyone else) Target, Home Depot, Daiso—we had & have Kim’s Home Center. Still family owned. One of the few places where you can get your hands on hot home items from Korea. From underwear to blankets to rice cookers to that specific foot stool that’s the perfect height to help your tiny sized umma so she can reach her American sized kitchen sink without hurting her back—all for a reasonable price. Trust that same foot stool that’s only found in Kim’s will run 3x or 4x the cost anywhere else (I know cause I’ve looked).
WILSHIRE & KINGSLEY - BCD
Might be the 2nd most popular entry point into Korean food, right after Bulgogi and Japchae. Soondubu. But BCD made it into a well-oiled, fast & consistent experience. From the oysters used in their kimchi to the delicious fried fish with every order, any time is a good time for BCD, hence the 24/7.
When the Line Hotel had the nigh club scene (do they do that anymore?), the after party was at BCD to sober up & check up on the hotties to see if they still held up under bright dining lights.
WILSHIRE & NORMANDIE - LINE HOTEL
From being in the center of K-Town, to Roy Choi’s multiple residencies, to hosting the coolest local orgs & events, such as K/RC, the LINE Hotel has become part of the neighborhood. There’s no doubt the location is prime if you’re hoping to visit K-Town sans automobile. Let's just hope they keep K-Town first.