LOS ANGELES (AP) — Grand Central Market, a bustling downtown landmark that saw its glory days decades ago, is hoping to recover some of its fashionable luster as the gritty neighborhood gentrifies.
The 27,000-square-foot market in the heart of the city is getting a cleaning and a new paint job. Consultants have been hired who want to see the huge place — which now houses small Mexican food and grocery stands, fast-food restaurants and a lot of open space — into a ritzier location that could offer sushi and craft beer alongside old-style burritos.
Currently, only about 30 of the 45 market stalls are occupied.
The basement, now home to a discount store, would be turned into a "food crafting space" for brewers and upscale wine and cheese stores.
"It's a wonderful world down there," consultant Joseph Shuldiner, who was hired by the owner as a consultant on the renovation project, told the Los Angeles Times (http://lat.ms/WIIQUz)."My fantasy is a pocket cafe or sushi bar under the stairs."
He also envisions an exhibition kitchen for cooking classes, tastings and perhaps movie shoots, while a seating area upstairs would be turned into "downtown's living room."
It would be a cozy place with free Wi-Fi and perhaps couches where "you can get a cheese plate and glass of wine, bring it here and hang out," said Kevin West, another project consultant.
The counters that now offer cheap bananas, pinto beans, dried chilies and "cesina fresca" (fresh cured meat) would be joined by farmers market produce.
Work began in November and planning continues. Shuldiner and West hope to have a dozen new merchants in place by next fall.
The market opened in 1917 on the ground floor of the Homer Laughlin Building, a six-story building that once housed an office for famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The well-to-do on nearby Bunker Hill would take the Angels Flight Railway funicular down to south Broadway, then a thriving area of theaters and department stores.
Over the years, the neighborhood became shabbier. The theaters and department stores closed, replaced by discount shops selling cheap T-shirts, jewelry and electronics to a working-class population. Sidewalks got grittier and doorways became nightly beds for the homeless.
Although the Grand Central Market still bustled, its glory days had passed.
Presently, the location caters mainly to Mexican and Central American immigrants who live in the area not far from City Hall.
West and Shuldiner said they did not know how much the overhaul of the market will cost.
"I remember this market 50 years ago," Xavier Mezcua, a 78-year-old retired baker told The Associated Press as he eyed bananas at 4 pounds for $1.
In the old days, "beautiful people" shopped there, he recalled, and he even saw a movie star or two lugging grocery bags.
But over the years, the clientele got poorer, the groceries got smaller and the floors got dirtier, he said.
The floors have been cleaned, but Mezcua said he wasn't counting on the market returning to its old glory. The neighborhood just doesn't have the gleam of shopping centers in Glendale and other suburbs, he said.
"Not here," he said. "I tell you true, Los Angeles is an ugly town. It's not a beautiful place."
But the neighborhood is changing. A few high-end restaurants have opened a few blocks from the market and streets that used to be deserted at night are drawing adventurous eaters. Renovated lofts and apartment buildings are drawing better-paid, trendier young professionals.
The central downtown area itself has been growing in population and prosperity. The area's population has risen from 18,652 residents in 1998 to nearly 50,000, according to the Los Angeles Downtown Business Improvement District.