Tag Archives: DTLA

Day Spa Coming to Hill Street

DTLA Hill Street location 1st expansion for Sunlight Day Spa?
DTLA Hill Street location 1st expansion for Sunlight Day Spa?

A new retail  location on Hill Street between 8th & 9th is going to be a day spa. It’s part of the complex created by LEVEL, the luxury extended stay concept that houses SoulCycle on the ground floor at the corner of 9th and Olive.   Parking above ground is designated for LEVEL guests which, hopefully, will also be available to those spa-goers not within walking distance.

Behind those papered windows are cubicles with individual dry saunas partnered with marble showers. One might guess the rest of the space will include treatment rooms for massages, facials and other well-being services.  A similar concept is based in Overland Park, Kansas by the name of Sunlight Day Spa , with a parent company, Sunlighten , that manufactures saunas using an infrared technology that claims to have added wellness benefits to the basic sauna experience.  Perhaps this DTLA  location is the first expansion of Sunlight Day Spa’s concept?  If so, another kudos to  DTLA in attracting new businesses that see our downtown boom as the place to grow.

LEVEL's pool deck and basketball court sit on top of parking structure with new DTLA day spa on street level.
LEVEL’s pool deck and basketball court sit on top of parking structure with new DTLA day spa on street level.

We won’t know for sure until the sign goes up, but regardless of what company is behind this innovative, and much welcomed destination for residents and visitors, it’s exciting! We could all use a calming escape as we continue to endure the cranes, blocked sidewalks and promises of better bike routes.   And if it IS Sunlight Day Spa out of Kansas, they also support the American Heart Association…any business with a cause is always close to my heart.

DTLA Holiday Shopping

If you haven’t yet ventured downtown for shopping, now’s the time  with 54 awesome retailers to discover!  DTLA is where you’ll  find the most unique items and have the most fun and adventure in the process.  Give yourself enough time to stop along the way…maybe start the day with breakfast at Pitchoun Bakery & Cafe across from Pershing Square and be sure to ignore the sign and DO walk into Please Do Not Enter next door.  Wander in and out of some of the jewelry stores in the neighborhood and if you’re looking for diamonds, my go-to guy is Mervyn at Los Angeles Diamond Factory, 607 S. Hill Street, Suite 302.  Tell him Mary, the napkin ring lady, sent you. He’ll know.  From Hill Street, head one block east to Broadway and south to 9th Street.  In this neighborhood  you’ll find fabulous shops at the intersection of 9th and Broadway.  By the time you’re done in this part of town, you may be ready for lunch.  Any of the restaurants in this area are good, but my favorite is  L.A. Chapter at Ace Hotel.  After a relaxing lunch you’ll be ready to head down to   South Park.  But whether you Uber it, Metro Bike it, or go on foot..be sure to  walk across the street from Ace Hotel and pop into Formerly Yes for a curated selection of well-priced modern gift options .  I could go on and on… but just take a look at the map below and have fun planning your own shopping adventure.  And if your excursion takes you downtown after December 17th, don’t miss the new Brigade store in South Park on the street level of the Marriott Courtyard building on Olympic Blvd.  They have the best selection of all your favorite brands.  And you’ll most likely have to set aside another day to cover all the great shopping territory there is in the Arts District!

Where to Shop in DTLA
Where to Shop in DTLA


The Future of Urban Retail



The definitive report on the current status of retail in DTLA and the excitement of what's to come.
The definitive report on the current status of retail in DTLA and the excitement of what’s to come.

I recently had the privilege of working with the DTLA Downtown Center Business Improvement District  to write a special report on the Future of Urban Retail.  If you haven’t noticed it yet, DTLA is quickly becoming  THE place to go for restaurants, entertainment… AND NOW…SHOPPING!  The report takes an in-depth look at  DTLA’s 8 key districts and profiles what’s hot in DTLA retail right now along with what’s going to define the personality and excitement of these districts in the months to come. Stay tuned…the story just keeps getting better!

Bringing Back Broadway Celebration Tonight in DTLA

DTLA Celebrates the 7th Anniversary of Bringing Back Broadway Tonight!

Tonight’s going to be another reason why we love living in DTLA.  Since we moved to the Eastern Columbia Building in May of 2013 we’ve seen the changes on Broadway continue to accelerate and the ride just keeps getting better.  Council Member Jose Huizar is the catalyst for this change and I’m actively supporting his re-election and getting involved in my precinct to get everyone registered to vote so they can cast their ballot for him to insure that his initiatives continue to move forward.  It’s critical that we have a representative that appreciates the history of Downtown Los Angeles and wants to see it preserved as well as put to good use.

According to the book Downtown in Detail, with captivating architectural photographs of DTLA by Tom Zimmerman and foreword by Linda Dishman,  “Los Angeles has the most intact pre-World War II downtown in the United States.”

Downtown in Detail by Tom Zimmerman Foreward by Linda Dishman
Downtown in Detail by Tom Zimmerman Foreword by Linda Dishman

On the 7th Anniversary of the Broadway initiative here are a few of the reasons the book gives us to appreciate and continue to revive and make use of  the architectural treasures we have here in DTLA:

  • While several buildings on the west side of Downtown were demolished in the 1960s to build the Harbor Freeway, there was no reason to tear down the Historic Core because there was no desire to build anything new there.
  • in 1979 The Historic Core–Main, Spring, Broadway and Hill–was being drained of tenants as businesses and residents sought space in new, modern buildings, but the area became partially protected in 1979 when the Broadway Theater and Commercial District from Third to Ninth Streets and the Spring Street Financial District from Fourth to Seventh Streets were accepted on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • From the  late 1970s on the Historic Core was intact but largely vacant.  At street level, Broadway was the thriving center of Latin American culture and retail, however, the buildings were empty above the second floor.
  • The south end of Hill Street was rescued by the burgeoning jewelry district that took over buildings and theaters while the buildings on the north end of Hill were abandoned.
  • The big change came in 1999 when the Los Angeles City Council (note the importance of a City Council with vision!) passed an Adaptive Re-Use Ordinance allowing conversion of former office buildings into living quarters.  This was a key stimulus to the current loft revolution and reuse of the ornate architectural buildings constructed from 1908 to 1935 –all of which were still standing to be resurrected as apartments and condos.

So if you want to take a peak into all the old theaters on Broadway, experience the life of the city and celebrate our history as well as our progress, come downtown tonight.  See you under the neon lights…on Broadway!

Home Sweet Home
Home Sweet Home


DTLA: Geological Testing in Lot Behind Eastern Columbia Building

Geological Testing in 9th & Hill Parking Lot
Geological Testing in 9th & Hill Parking Lot

For the past two days there have been rigs testing the soil in the parking lot behind the Eastern Columbia Building at 9th & Hill.  At one time a new  building was in the plans for this space.  Now it looks like construction might be back on the table.   I’m feeling like one of those “Not in my backyard!” types.  I love to see all the progress going on but when it hits this close to home and I think about looking out on another building I get a little nervous.  But at the same time, this is one of those lots that was bound to get re-purposed at some point.  I’ll definitely be at the hearing once the official plans are proposed!

DTLA’s Renaissance Men Share Their Vision

Last night I attended a “Fireside Chat” with Hal Bastian and Brigham Yen.  the two men who have been the most passionate voices and citizen activists in the renaissance of DTLA . The lounge-y lobby of The Standard Hotel was full of residents, the just curious, and the big investors who all hung on Hal’s and Brigham’s every word .

Brighan Yen (left) and Hal Bastian talk DTLA Renaissance at The Standard Hotel
Brighan Yen (left) and Hal Bastian talk DTLA renaissance at The Standard Hotel
The enrapt and wall to wall audience gave an enthusiastic response to all the good news about DTLA's progress
The enrapt wall- to- wall audience gave an enthusiastic response to the good news they heard about DTLA’s progress

Hal recently launched his own firm, Hal Bastian Inc., after spending the past 20 years in commercial real estate followed by 13 years as the Director of Economic Development for the Downtown Center Business Improvement District (DCBID).   While at DCBID, Hal was instrumental in bringing residential and  retail development as well as friendly dogs and their owners to the streets of downtown that were once, not terribly long ago, deserted after 6 p.m.

Brigham told us about how he got his love for DTLA which started when his dad took him on a Greyhound Bus trip from Utah to Denver to Chicago to New York with each city destination getting another “really” in front of the “big.” His dad would preface their arrival at each destination by saying, “Son, this is a  (add 1 REALLY for Denver, 2 for Chicago and 3 for New York) big city!”  At one point Brigham was hired by Hal to work for the DCBID and now he focuses on DTLA real estate  as well as his blog,  DTLA Rising,  where he uncovers all the latest news on what inquiring minds want to know about new developments, retail construction and renovation within each of the downtown districts.

Hal and Brigham, in many ways, reflect the two generations that are the embracers of the DTLA lifestyle–babyboomers and  millennials.  Both demographics have  already discovered why downtown is so great.  At the same time Hal acknowledges that the future of downtown must include  better public schools such as Metro Charter School, that was started by DTLA parents a few years ago, along with more parks and activities for young children such as the annual Halloween Party in the FIDM Park.  The goal is to make it attractive for parents to continue to live downtown when their children reach school age.  Hal argues that young parents who work downtown  might  rethink the time they could lose with their kids due to commuting vs. the trade-off of the house and the back yard (not to mention upkeep!).

Brigham, a Cal Berkeley grad, said he could never understand why his Bay Area friends were always so down on LA.   While he realized as a college student that Los Angeles was still lacking the  city vibe that  he found in San Francisco,  he still wouldn’t give into the jibes.  He described an enjoyable moment of vindication  that came  the other day, when he ran into two  old friends from the Bay Area, one of whom  owns several restaurants.  Brigham said that he asked him, “Hey man, what are YOU doing here in DTLA?”  “I love it here,” his friend replied, “There’s so much cool stuff happening.”  For Brigham that was one of those ultimate reassurances of knowing that what you’ve been working so hard for has materialized.

Hal gave us a great quote from Teddy Roosevelt, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  I could think about this one for hours.  Which of these two pictures is better?  I don’t think it matters.  I think we just embrace the change.

Before Los Angeles repealed its building height limit in 1956, flatness prevailed in the city’s skyline. Circa 1940 photograph courtesy of the Dick Whittington Photography Collection, USC Libraries
As a result of a recent policy shift in the outdated LAFD fire code, the new Wilshire Grand Tower will be allowed to have a spire and reduced helipad structure (Photo: AC Martin)
LA Skyline in 2017 when the Wilshire Grand Tower is completed Photo: AC Martin

The photo above shows what the DTLA skyline will look like when the 1,100 Wilshire Grand Tower is completed at 7th and Figueroa in 2017.  This photo was pulled from Brigham Yen’s DTLA Rising blog.

So yes, we can certainly compare one era to another, but we also revel in the uniqueness of our city.  It’s not just the old and it’s not just the new, it’s how the pieces are all working together like the Broadway Trade Center building, formerly May Co. Department Store, formerly Hamburger’s Department Store.  This structure bordered by Broadway, Hill & 8th Streets has been purchased and is going under a major renovation.  No one has the definitive on what or who will occupy the building but the rumors are all intriguing.  I’ve heard that one floor will be the world headquarters of Beats by Dre which is owned by Apple.  Another inside scoop is that the ground floor will be a “world’s fair of mindfulness.” There have been talks of high-end retail, residences and creative office space within this structure which takes up nearly an entire city block.   Most importantly, this building is just a spectacular piece of 1906 Beaux Art architecture that’s been a long time coming in being re-appreciated.

Originally Hamburger's Department Store, then May Co. and soon to be creative office space and more
Originally Hamburger’s Department Store, then May Co. and soon to be creative office space and more

Hal loves to tell how long it took to convince a grocery store to come downtown and finally Ralphs agreed.  7 1/2 years later, this store does $1 million a week in sales and is the #1 take-out deli in the entire Kroger corporation (parent company of Ralphs).  While on the topic of grocery stores there were cheers from the audience for Whole Foods that’s currently under construction at 8th and Grand and Trader Joe’s that agreed to build, not exactly downtown, but rather in the new University Village project by USC.  And we were reminded to be grateful for City Target and Smart & Final Extra…both incredibly clean, well stocked, and super helpful.  Except, and I ask your indulgence here… I still don’t like the idea of having to bag my own groceries the way they expect you to at Smart & Final.  And while I’m on the subject,  I think we’ve all gotten pretty good about bringing our own bags BUT, If I did happen to forget my bags, I am really annoyed with the ten cent, or whatever it is, charge after I’ve spent $50+ on groceries.  Why don’t all the stores who have to abide by this new law have a jar for charity and if you have to buy a bag, put a donation  in a jar for the homeless–don’t make me have to give it to the store!

Now back to the chat:  Brigham said people used to say that LA  “had no soul” referring to no appreciation for the history of the city and vibrancy of life in those historic areas.  Let it be said, the soul of LA is awakening.  It’s happening in the revitalization of the old and the boldness of the new,  including the Broad Museum and Plaza along with new residences and fun places to congregate like Pez Cantina at 400 S. Hope.

No conversation about DTLA is complete without a discussion of the homeless, the lack of affordable housing and the scarcity of owner-occupied buildings vs. rentals.  These are conditions that affect every income level and the complexion of the city.  The housing issue is under constant discussion by the city while the County of Los Angeles as well as the State of California needs to step up and get more involved.  The care of the homeless should not just be left to the City of Los Angeles to figure out.  Drugs, alcoholism and mental illness are conditions for which the County Health Departments must find solutions and provide relief.  Unfortunately it’s the urban locales that bear a disproportionate number of these cases which lead to homelessness.

The Midnight Mission is one of the most active resources for the homeless in DTLA .  They bring together DTLA residents and volunteers for an annual event in The Old Bank District that gets everyone involved in supporting the great work of this 100-year-old  center dedicated to helping the homeless get off the street and become productive citizens.

“Vacant parking lots suck the life out of the city,” was  one of my favorite Hal Bastian observations of the evening.   He’s so right but I never thought about it that way.  Of course this led to one of the other items on the wish list of everyone who cares about DTLA –more green space.  Grand Park has been a tremendous asset but south of that there’s a big need.  I must say, though, that I have a hummingbird feeder on my 8th floor balcony and I’m visited daily by a shimmering green little avian .  When I look out my window and down to the trees on the street  below, I sometimes catch a yellow butterfly flitting among the tree tops .  Just think what we could have if a few more parking lots were turned into parks!  I’m anxiously awaiting what we’ll see when the building across Hill street, which I see out our window,  finishes the pool and community deck. I have high hopes that I’ll be looking out on planters and trees.

Which leads me to what Hal and Brigham shared about the 5,000 new residential units that will all be completed by the end of 2015.  Only 68 of those 5,000 were for-sale units and they were in The Barker Block in the Arts District.  The reason for this disparity, according to Hal, is that lenders are still stinging from the real estate fallout that resulted in so many short sales and foreclosures.  They want to go for occupancy first, which hopefully will be followed by residents being offered the eventual opportunity to buy.

Here are a few more of the good things that we learned:

  • Elysian Park just above DTLA has tennis courts, baseball fields, picnic areas, an awesome view of the city and great hiking trails.  Hal is working on getting a corporate sponsorship for a DASH bus to take downtowners back and forth to this lovely place.  Knowing Hal, he’ll make sure dogs are allowed on the bus, too!
View of Downtown from Elysian Park
  • DTLA is the hub of a multi-billion dollar mass transit system.  Union Station is a pretty impressive confluence of transportation options.
All existing signs will be replaced by new updated wayfinding signs
Union Station: DTLA’s answer to Grand Central…in our own unique way! Photo from DTLA Rising blog

And with all this good news, instead of taking Uber home, I decided to walk and see for myself what the streets of DTLA were like on a relatively “quiet” Thursday night.  Who knew that Bill Nye the Science Guy would bring out a crowd that stretched down Broadway and wound around 7th Street.

The Palace Theater was sparkling and a line of science geeks wound around the block for Bill Nye the Science Guy
The Palace Theater was vibrant and a line of science fans wound around the block for Bill Nye the Science Guy
and the line kept winding






More science geeks.
And still winding








line 1
And the geeks go on and on standing in front of Clifton’s Cafeteria..which is destined to be the long awaited re-opening of an LA landmark. It looks like it  is getting closer














It’s always fun to discover something going on–like Bill Nye the Science Guy–  that you didn’t even know about.  And the gorgeous high ceilings in Clifton’s that were visible by night gave me a peak at what this long-awaited, multi-level restaurant and bar has going for it in the way of a landmark restoration and destination attraction to Broadway.

As I walked I started thinking retail…remembering Hal’s and Brigham’s claims about everything that’s been opening on Broadway including the newest: a Gap Factory Store, and the others that have come along in the past year or so such as Acne Clothing,  Aesop, Tanner Leather Goods, Oak, and Urban Outfitters.  “What else haven’t I noticed?” I wondered.

Urban Outfitters on Broadway and 8th built in the building that was once the Rialto Theater
Urban Outfitters on Broadway and 8th built in the building that was once the Rialto Theater

In the 700 Block of Broadway I came across a project in the works.  The store used to be Rainbow and I actually bought a sundress there for $10 the first summer we lived downtown.  The dress held up pretty well but it looks like some deeper pockets have an even better idea for what they want to do with this space.

The storefront of what was once Rainbow
The storefront of what was once Rainbow
What's going on inside the former Rainbow store
What’s going on inside the former Rainbow store

I have high expectations for what I see happening here .

A block further south on the corner of Broadway and 8th, I noticed some art had gone into the three store fronts along 8th street (but tonight there was paper covering these windows so we’ll have to see what’s next).  Here’s what it looked like on Thursday:

Farago Micro-store concept on 8th Street
Farago micro-store concept on 8th Street

Next to Farago was a new shop and I loved their honesty.  The name is LA EX and the tagline is “The Tiny Flagship Store.”  I will definitely check them out this weekend.

new store
LA EX: The Tiny Flagship Store on 8th at Broadway

In the same series of shops, the guy who used to make keys and repair shoes at The Broadway Exchange has a much nicer storefront now on 8th at Broadway.

A veiw through the open doors of the bus across the street to the new location of the shoe repair and key shop
A view through the open doors of the bus to the new location of the shoe repair and key shop

As I walked past all these examples of what Hal and Brigham talked about, I realized that it’s a unique experience to be living in the midst of so much change.  I’m looking forward to the fist episode of the TV show Hal is working on with Ryan Morris, the producer of the late, great Huell Howser’s TV show about California points of interest.  Hal is the perfect guy to take this on–especially with all the new material that DTLA is giving us.  Watch for “What’s Up Downtown? with Hal Bastian.”

I look forward to keeping up with all of Brigham Yen’s posts about what he’s hearing around town and hopefully continuing to discover one or two of my own.

We’re here for a reason and the only reason I can think of is to make this world a better place.  Thank you Hal and Brigham for your passion, drive and commitment to this city we call home.





Dominican Republic Day 2: Joys and Challenges

Waking up and smelling the coffee in the Vision Trust house becomes a favorite morning routine.  Although I must admit, I do like smelling the coffee while still lying in bed a bit longer while I listen to the voices of everyone gathering at the breakfast table.  Our house is one of the nicer ones in the neighborhood and it faces what is considered a park that wraps around a big water runoff pit across the street. Gates with padlocks at night seem to be common precautions around here.

The Vision Trust house where we are staying in Santo Domingo
The Vision Trust house where we are staying in Santo Domingo
The view across the street from the Vision Trust house
The view across the street from the Vision Trust house





Just about a ten-minute drive from the Vision Trust house is the most make-shift community I’ve ever seen.  The area is called Herrera and it was created by people who just started building dwellings anywhere they could find the space to do it.  Our driver maneuvered up and down some alleys before arriving at our destination for the day: A school and a rooftop church in a multi-story, rustic building.

The Herrera school with an open air church on the roof
The Herrera school with an open air church on the roof

Through the iron-gated door of the building, we followed our ears up several flights of stairs to the amplified sounds of music.   Upon reaching the top floor a lead female singer,  her five back-up singers, a drummer and a few other musicians were in full praise mode.   It wasn’t long before many of us were brushing the tears away.  In this place with so little, the joy in the room was embracing.  Doris, the lead singer, was also the translator for the pastor’s sermon.  She spoke in such clear, expressive English that we were convinced she was a professional entertainer.  But when we spoke with her after the service she insisted that she had been nervous translating and that she only sings in church.

Music on the rooftop church in Herrera
Music on the rooftop church in Herrera
The pastor and singer/translator
The pastor and singer/translator


From the time Doris first started singing to when she finished translating the pastor’s sermon, it must have been 90 minutes and 85% humidity.  She never sat down and never seemed to break a sweat.  THAT’S amazing grace!

After hugging everyone in the congregation at the end of the service, we spent some time hearing from the pastor, who spoke perfect English, about how he established this church.    Some of the kids wanted to know if they’d be able to get on facebook on the new computers we were bringing them and they were eager for us to take their pictures. Then we posed  for our own group photo.

Our group of volunteers with the church pastor
Our group  with the church pastor
Kids at the church were happy to get their picture taken
Kids at the church were happy to get their picture taken






After the service we were taken on a Sunday stroll through the maze of Herrera. We were lead by the youth pastor from the church who stopped and shook hands with residents along the way.   This 45-minute walk was one of the most startling and humbling experiences I’ve had so far on this trip.  The homes, for the most part, are cubes–one stacked on top of the other.  The streets are more like passageways and the life inside and out is a mixture of the full spectrum of the human condition.

View of Herrera from the roof of the church
View of Herrera from the roof of the church
Rooftops of Herrera
Rooftops of Herrera






There are a few scary scenes like the power lines that everyone taps into and the ditch flowing with trash and pollution that runs through this section of town,

Bootlegged power lines
Bootlegged power lines
Ditch full of trash
Ditch full of trash






Boys playing baseball with a piece of wood for a bat in a Herrera passageway
Boys playing baseball with a piece of wood for a bat in a Herrera passageway

We walked across one freshly paved street and were told it was a project that  Canada had taken on where they built a road through the town and covered up a portion of the polluted ditch.   Smiling faces  greeted us on every alley, pathway and street with “Hola” and “Buenos Dias” while we tried to keep a watch for motor scooters zipping by.

A family in front of their home in Herrera
A family in front of their home in Herrera

Most of the dwellings were tiny and plain but there were a few that stood out with gardens in front or elegant satin pillows and elaborately decorated artificial Christmas trees in the living room that we could see through the open doorways.  Businesses have popped up along the streets of Herrera –not that they have to apply for a permit to do so, we were told.

A store along our walk through Herrera
A food service option along our walk through Herrera

Our main job in Herrera was to set up the laptop computers that we had brought here from the States.  The Herrera school had been  operating without internet access and using severely outdated systems.  We were able to take down the old computer towers, hook up the wireless router, set up the 30  laptops to  Spanish, and attach  the keyboards, mouses and monitors all in just a little over an hour.

Jay and Sarah working on one of the laptops at th Herrera school
Jay and Brooke working on one of the laptops at the Herrera school
The team working on getting all the laptops functional
The team working on getting all the laptops functional
The finished computer lab at the Herrera School
The finished computer lab at the Herrera School


Our reward for a job well done was to head over to the baseball stadium in Santo Domingo for a night game where the two most competitive teams in the Dominican Republic were playing each other.  Winter is baseball season in the Dominican and the Tigres del Licey, from Santo Domingo  and the Águilas Cibaeñas from the “other” capital, Santiago, have a rivalry that could be compared to that of the Dodgers and Giants.  Adding to the attraction of going to the game was the fact that former, Dodger and Dominican countryman, Manny Ramirez, was playing for the  Águilas.  The fans were into it and we joined them shouting “Mann-y! Mann-y!” Especially when Manny hit a homer that scored two more runs.

Santo Domingo baseball stadium
Santo Domingo baseball stadium
 Manny Ramirez on deck
Manny Ramirez on deck
Manny goes yard and brings in 2 more
Manny goes yard which also scores 2 more runs–everyone high-fives heading into the dugout







Jay and I couldn't help but get into the excitement, too
Jay and I couldn’t help but get into the excitement, too

Jay and I both brought a little bit of Nick with us to the game,–Jay in his NDHS cap and I was wearing my NDHS T-shirt.  He’s with us everywhere we go and in everything we do…and especially at a baseball game.

Aguilas fans cheer for Manny Ramirez
Aguilas fans cheer for Manny Ramirez

The clouds that had been gathering when the game first started decided to let loose in the bottom of the 5th inning.  We had perfect seats for the rain under the overhang so we stayed relatively dry while the teams tried to finish the inning but it started coming down so hard the game had to stop and the field had to be covered.

Rain delays the game
Rain delays the game

We had a great time experiencing  baseball in the country that loves it as much as the U.S. We ate delicious ballpark empeñadas, cheered with the fans and got soaked by the warm rain as we hurried  back to our car.  Surprisingly, there were no other fans leaving the park.  Everyone else was hanging out by the food stands on the lower level, having a great time  and waiting for the game to start up again.

I don’t know if that game ever did resume.  It’s been raining steadily all night with distant thunder in the background.  When we all got back to the house we reviewed the activities and emotions of the day and we all agreed, that even in the challenges and when situations  we encountered seemed far from what we would consider ideal, there was always joy to be found.

From DTLA to the DR with love from SBS Students

Nick Fagnano (class of 2008) honored by St. Brendan School classmates at Assembly
Nick Fagnano (class of 2008) honored by St. Brendan School students at Assembly

A few weeks ago, the students at St. Brendan School in Hancock Park invited Jay & me  to come to their assembly where they honored our son, Nick, (SBS class of 2008) who passed away on July 27th.   The assembly was the kick off for their Crazy Day fundraising effort to assist the children of orphanages and poor schools in the Dominican Republic that we would be visiting in November in Nick’s honor  .SBSAssembly


SBS Students sold treats and creatively dressed up their uniforms to raise money on Crazy Day
SBS Students sold treats and creatively dressed up their uniforms to raise money on Crazy Day

Crazy Day was wildly successful.  The students each had to pay $1 to get creative with their uniforms and they held a bake sale.  All the funds for the Crazy Day entry fee and the bake sale were donated and we were overwhelmed by the students’generosity.  Over $2,000 was raised!

Last night Jay & I arrived in the Dominican Republic and one of the first things our group did was go to Jumbo, the store that is most like a Target in the U.S.

Picking out sporting goods equipment at Jumbo, the big store in the Dominican
Picking out sporting goods equipment at Jumbo, the big store in the Dominican

We picked out lots of sporting goods equipment for the kids.

MF shopping carts




MF Jumbo Jay



This morning Jay & I woke up  in bunk beds in a house run by an organization called Vision Trust in Santo Domingo, the capital city of the Dominican Republic.  Santo Domingo is the site of the first university, cathedral, castle, monastery, and fortress in the New World–that was back in the 1500s.

But today, only about 52% of Dominican Republic kids get an 8th grade education and, in rural schools, education stops at the 5th grade.   So here we are in this community far from Los Angeles, to spend time with kids that don’t have anywhere near what most U.S. kids are used to. Our goal is to bring them  love, have some fun and encourage them to stay in school.

The Vision Trust team including Jay Fagnano on far right arrive at Remar
The Vision Trust team including Jay Fagnano on far right arrive at Remar

Today started with breakfast and really good coffee served by the women who take care of the volunteers who stay at the Vision Trust house.  There are 10 of us on this trip from all over the U.S.  Each of us, prior to the trip, had been shipped three donated  laptop computers.  One of our jobs was to hand carry the computers on the plane to insure they made it safely here.  Tomorrow, we’ll be setting up these computers at a school in Herrera, which is considered one of the poorest sections of Santo Domingo.  We’re told that  squatters have built makeshift houses so randomly in Herrera that they’ve taken over streets even preventing cars from driving through some areas.

Our time today was spent at an orphanage called Remar which consists of 3 houses–one for girls and younger boys, one for the older boys and one for children that are HIV positive.   The orphanage is run by a man they call “Gallito,”and the older kids who live there have responsibility for the younger ones.  It’s remarkable how it works.  We pretty much spent the day playing with the children.  Jay went out to what they designated as the soccer field–a large patch filled with rocks, vines and stumps–and he got a baseball game going.

Jay and another volunteer play baseball with the boys at Remar orphanage
Jay and another volunteer play baseball with the boys at Remar orphanage

I did some craft bracelets with the kids until they took turns as  my official photographer and used my iPhone to take  pictures  of the day’s activities.  My new friend, Stefana, even  mastered the selfie!

Craft time at Remar orphanage
Craft time at Remar orphanage
Stefana masters the selfie
Stefana masters the selfie






The cooks at RemarWe had a big barbecue, which we were told is a rarity.  The kids get two meals a day where rice and beans are the staple and if there’s chicken, that’s a big deal.  Today we all got rice, beans, chicken, pork chops,  AND sausage.  We were told this feast was equivalent to a Thanksgiving dinner.

The buffet table
The buffet table
The younger kids at Remar sitting in the shady area of the patio
The younger kids at Remar sitting in  the shady area of the patio

Remar is just on the other side of the road from the ocean about ten miles past the Santo Domingo airport.  We heard a story today of a fashion designer who happened to be passing the building on her way from the airport and she asked her driver to pull over so she could see what was there.   In discovering the orphanage and seeing that it was in need of quite a few things, she decided to ask the girls from the orphanage if they’d like to be models in her next fashion show which is taking place in a hotel in Santo Domingo next Sunday.  She’ll be donating proceeds from the fashion show to the orphanage.  The girls are very excited about this and they each practiced their best struts down the catwalk  for us.

Stefana posing with Remar bus
Stefana posing with  Remar bus

It was an amazing day to see how content these kids are living  in bare minimum accommodations including only 1 bathroom for about 15 boys as the second one isn’t working and no one has time to find someone to fix it.  And the kitchen for the boys’ house is moving outside because they say it’s less dangerous there.  Some of this is hard to comprehend.

Boys Bunk Room
Boys Bunk Room








MF boys house MF boys walking on road

Backyard at the boys' house
Backyard at the boy’s house with (L to R) Daniel, Anne, Jay, our translator “Nacho,” one of the boys, and Gallito, the head of  the Remar orphanage

Thanks to the generosity of the St. Brendan Students, and also to members of Notre Dame Knights baseball team who donated mitts,  the children at the Remar orphanage had an especially good day today.  If Stefana hadn’t taken so many pictures and drained my phone battery, I’d be able to show the basketball hoop that got set up, all the soccer and volley balls,  a new volley ball net, jump ropes, tumbling mats, game tables and baseball bats that we were able to deliver to these kids today.  And I’d be able to show you a picture of the beautiful rainbow that appeared in the sky just as we were getting ready to leave while some warm sprinkles came down from the clouds.  The rainbow that I know means that Nick was with us today.

 Jay and I are  a bit out of our comfort zone and I think the next few days may push us even further.  Jay couldn’t wait to lie down on his bunk after a full day of baseball in the hot Dominican sun!   I’m finding my limited Spanish doesn’t get me very far–but I know we’re both looking forward to what tomorrow will bring –maybe even a real professional Dominican baseball game,  Rumor has it one of Nick’s former Dodgers favorites, Manny Ramirez, is playing on a Dominican team that’s in town tomorrow night.


My New Column in theLarchmont Buzz: Heart of Downtown

I was thrilled when Mary Hawley and Julie Grist, the founders of the Larchmont Buzz, asked if I’d like to write a column about what it’s like to live in Downtown Los Angeles.    My first column debuted yesterday. If you haven’t read it yet, check in out.  Would love to answer your questions about where to go and what to do downtown and please feel free to give me your requests for future columns.

The Heart of Downtown


Re-imagining DTLA Re-imaging Life

I visited USC today.  It was the first time I’ve been on the campus since Nick and I went for his orientation day.  I sat in the lecture hall that he would’ve sat in–Room 101 in Lewis Hall, the main building for The Price School of Public Policy.  I attended a guest speaker session with Councilmember José Huizar where he talked about the re-imagining of Downtown Los Angeles (DTLA).

Nick took this photo of me when I went with him to USC Orientation Day
Nick took this photo of me when I went with him to USC  on Transfer Student Orientation Day

I thought about what Nick would be processing as he heard Councilmember Huizar speak and I thought about what would excite Nick most about all the projects in the works in Council District 14 that encompasses all of downtown.

I thought about Laura and her husband Ken, recently married  30-somethings who have made their first home investment in a loft in the historic Rowan Building on Spring Street.  I thought about how this could have been Nick’s path in 10 years.

I wondered what Nick would’ve been thinking as he heard Huizar describe  the downtown revitalization as a process of “building a city within a city” since  Los Angeles itself is so vast and the downtown area is so concentrated.  I thought about why  Nick loved downtown and it made me realize that, if this is all done the right way, it’s about breathing life into the soul of our city and bringing it back to the vibrancy it once had…  if only that could be done with our loved ones no longer with us.

Things have already started changing .  The photo here was taken from our loft window looking out on 9th & Broadway.  Nick never got to see this.  I know he’d be proud.  I can hear him saying, “See, I told you it was just going to keep getting better!”  I particularly like  this photo because it shows 3 great things all in one frame:

3 great programs in one photo
3 great programs in one photo

1) A bike lane

2) Tables & umbrellas for people to sit outside and connect to the city life

3) A city worker taking  great care of the area –they are around all day, God bless them!

The umbrellas and tables stretch all the way north on Broadway and they’re  part of Huizar’s “Bringing Back Broadway” initiative with the intent to create public spaces and construct a streetcar rail to go all the way to 1st Street where there will be a new park.  There are plans to open the old theaters on Broadway as entertainment venues, attract new retailers and restaurants and convert unused upper floors of the beautiful old Broadway buildings to creative office or residential space.

And just a quarter mile away,  AEG renewed their interest last week in building an NFL Stadium near Staples Center which would bring additional revenue to downtown.   The overall idea is to create a city experience like New York, Chicago, Boston,  San Diego, San Francisco or Seattle where people want to walk and are offered lots of reasons to traverse the city on foot discovering the flavors and nuances of different neighborhoods.

DTLA has already established its neighborhoods with The Fashion District, The Historic Core,  Little Tokyo, Chinatown, The Arts District, The Bank District, South Park and even Bunker Hill where there are plans are to create a more walking-friendly route between that corridor and Disney Hall, The Music Center and the museums.

Amidst all this talk of transformation there’s also concern for the homeless and the issue of the density of the homeless population that is centered downtown.  I attended a homeless solutions panel that Huizar pulled together last Monday which opened up the dialog.  It also made it apparent that there are as many different perspectives on the situation as there are problems and potential solutions.  Humanizing homeless individuals seems to be one very important step rather than looking at them as one collective mass all with the same problems.   Nick was quite good with his outreach to homeless people –he didn’t just put a dollar in their cup — he’d buy them a water or a snack and he’d actually talk to them.

As I write this on the eve of (hopefully) signing the final escrow papers to be a home/loft owner downtown in the historic Eastern Columbia Building, I feel a passion for what DTLA has the potential to become.  I know a part of me feels this way because downtown’s transformation meant something special to Nick.  It’s why we decided to have Nick’s final resting place in the beautiful mausoleum in the lower level of The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on Temple Street.  While the Cathedral is quite modern, the mausoleum has the exquisite stained glass windows from the original St. Vibiana’s Cathedral.  Each window is backlit and because they’re installed at floor level  the beauty of each window’s story can be appreciated without having to look high above or wait for the sun to be in just the right spot.  Our family’s permanent memorial is secured in the marble room where the window depicts the young Jesus, in a white tunic with gold sparkles, sharing wisdom with the elders.

Wisdom is the gift the young Solomon asked for in 1 Kings 3: 1-15.  Wisdom is what we hope for among those who are shaping the future of our city.  Kindness–a trait that was so much a part of who Nick was– is what we hope will spread across all cultures, beliefs and income levels for all who call  this City of the Angels our home.