March 10, 2017
Lindsay Smith’s haunting, magnified snapshots of bark, insects and birds compete for space in her small Hawthorne art studio with salvage tools and industrial equipment.
The studio is inside a cavernous warehouse built in 1957 for the region’s defense industry.
Some of its most recent tenants were electronics and tire recyclers, but now it’s a haven for emerging fine artists whose paintings, sculptures and photographs adorn the freshly painted, milky-white walls.
Fifty more art studios will be added to the 25 existing ones by next year, and the clanking and whirring of construction is near-constant.
“It’s really an amazing story about a building that could have gone the other way and just been offices or something,” said Smith, who lives in Gardena. “We’re right down the street from SpaceX and a new brewery. It’s so up and coming. I think Hawthorne itself is trying very hard to elevate and develop and grow. I think it’s really the happening place.”
Los Angeles Ale Works, the city’s first brewery, opened last month in eyeshot of the Hawthorne Arts Complex. Two brews — Space XPA and Space XPA Full Thrust — are named in honor of nearby SpaceX headquarters, where a 16-story-tall Falcon 9 rocket booster stands outside as a testament to the commercial spaceflight company’s groundbreaking achievements.
Since coming to the city in 2008, SpaceX has helped buoy new eateries in a downtown that was struggling to attract upscale tenants. Eureka! Tasting Kitchen and Flights Beer Bar are now doing bustling business.
But that was just the beginning. Today, city planners are busily fielding calls from interested developers.
“Every couple of days, I get calls from folks who want to do projects here,” said Brian James, the city’s newly hired planning director. “It’s been constant the last two months.”
The signs of renaissance in a town that has fallen on tough economic times are sprouting everywhere.
A second brewery and tasting room with an outdoor patio, Common Space Brewery, is in the works at 3411 W. El Segundo Blvd.
Urth Caffe, an upscale organic coffee and tea house that serves breakfast and lunch, plans to open later this year on Hawthorne Boulevard and 145th Street.
Newly renovated India Tandoori restaurant and a 99 Cents Only Store reopened this month on Hawthorne Boulevard. Also, Little Asia restaurant is under construction at 4624 Imperial Highway.
This year, a Porsche dealership replaced a Nissan facility that moved to Torrance. Subaru also took over a former Fiat dealership — adding a dog park to its facility because, as City Manager Arnie Shadbehr said, “Subaru is known for having a dog-friendly atmosphere.”
And business travelers visiting SpaceX and other local companies will soon find newly built hotel rooms to stay close to work when they’re in town.
Marriott is building two hotels where the city’s old police station used to stand, next to City Hall off Hawthorne Boulevard at 126th Street. The new properties, a 221-room Courtyard Marriott and a 133-room TownePlace Suites extended-stay franchise, will open next year. A standalone restaurant on the property has not yet been named.
In January, the city also approved a new 88-room Best Western Premier hotel at 11501 Acacia Ave. Next door, Hampton Inn is expanding its 87-room hotel by another 41 rooms.
The city’s growth isn’t just a reflection of SpaceX’s success. City Hall is stable after years of political corruption, staffing upheavals and a financial hardship.
Since taking over City Hall in 2015, Shadbehr has worked quickly to reverse a devastating budget deficit left by the city’s prior leadership. Former City Manager Michael Goodson worked with then-Mayor Chris Brown to secretly exacerbate a structural deficit during their tenure. They spent heavily on travel and other nonessential items and handed their friends high-paid City Hall jobs.
The new administration already has made progress with the long-vacant Hawthorne Plaza mall. Development of a portion of the site is already in progress after more than a decade of standstill.
“We’ve been working to bring the city of Hawthorne back on track where it should be,” Mayor Alex Vargas said. “I think people are confident now they can come here and not worry about doing pay-to-play (politics) or people shaking them down.”
Vargas said that, since taking office in late 2015, he has worked to bring consensus on the City Council and support qualified staffing hires at City Hall.
“Without bringing order to your house and creating a welcoming environment, you can’t bring economic prosperity,” Vargas said. “Hawthorne is defining itself. Have we fully defined ourselves at this point? No. I’ll say it again: We’re doing things by the book, the way we should be. And truly just doing the people’s business. There’s so much room to grow.”
At Hawthorne Arts Complex, about two dozen artists filter in past the new native plant garden throughout the day to work in their various media. Traditionally painted landscapes and portraits share space with modern graffiti artists, sculptors, and abstract acrylic paintings on glass.
Lindsay Smith typically does photography but has drawn a lot of inspiration from her industrial Hawthorne surroundings. She and artist Stephanie Kohler of Redondo Beach collected discarded pieces from the warehouse’s old tenants. They’re using the tools, air-conditioning components and various equipment in a joint project making unique, rust-colored designs.
“There are 12 shades of rust,” Kohler said. “It’s a chemical reaction. If I use green tea, I get more of a camo-ish color. Hibiscus tea is more purple. Each one is different, depending on how long you leave it, the temperature, and what you have it interact with.”
Kohler and Smith wrap the old equipment with muslin and soak it in the different liquids to create unusual colors and patterns.
“The purpose of art is to make the invisible visible,” Smith said. “To allow us to look at things more deeply and closely and experience the surprise.”