Neighborhood Project: Franklin Village

A busy Franklin Village street

It has been a long time coming, but after a temporary hiatus, we're happy to announce that today our ongoing Neighborhood Project makes its return to LAist. We're hoping to bring our readers a new neighborhood entry on a (fairly) regular basis.

First up in this second round of Los Angeles neighborhood tours is Franklin Village, an entry completely written and photographed by a couple of regular LAist readers (and a few of their friends). Inspired by some of our previous entries, readers Duffy Dibley and Tal L. Kapelner have assembled a guide to this tiny hipster-infused (and Scientologist heavy) pocket of Hollywood wedged between the 101 and the Hollywood Hills.

(Your tour of Franklin Village begins after the jump!)

By Duffy Dibley and Tal L. Kapelner

Line for the UCB
It’s a recent Sunday night, and comedic performers Bob Odenkirk and Patton Oswalt are scheduled to appear at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre on Franklin Avenue in the heart of Franklin Village, one of the newest neighborhoods in the City of Los Angeles to receive its own blue sign “official L.A. neighborhood” designation. Young “alt comedy”-loving hipsters who remember Odenkirk’s HBO program “Mr. Show” and can recite Oswalt’s 1997 stand-up comedy special by heart queue along the curb edge of the narrow sidewalk, scooching this way and that to avoid the many other pedestrians traversing this crowded, single block-long oasis of nightlife they call the “Franklin Strip”. Inches away from the long line of wannabe indie filmmakers and their hot wannabe actress girlfriends, who stand waiting to plunk down their parents’ hard-earned $1 for the purposely-cheap show, sit equally-attractive and no-less-hip diners at the outdoor patios of the half-dozen or so eclectic eateries which populate much of this block. Buzz, energy and life pulsate in this increasingly popular area of upper eastern Hollywood.

But spend a day with the local residents and business owners of this newly-official neighborhood – which currently encompasses just the 5900 block of Franklin but by the end of the year is set to expand to Franklin Avenue from Wilton to the 101 Freeway, with the 101 its southern border to Hollywood Blvd. (see map below) – and one will find a down-to-earth, even traditional, friendly character which belies its trendy night scene.

In a nutshell:
Trendy/artsy by night, hometown/folksy by day, and locals actually walk to the store – it’s how Los Angeles does New York.

Franklin Village map
Boundaries:
The eastern border is N. Wilton Place.

The southern border is Hollywood Blvd. from N. Wilton Place to the 101 Freeway, then, moving west, the 101 Freeway from Hollywood Blvd. to the Vine Street entrance.

The northern/western border is Franklin Avenue starting from the Vine Street entrance of the 101 Freeway and moving eastward to Cheremoya, then north on Cheremoya until the street ends. Then the northern border continues along Foothill Drive from Cheremoya moving eastward to N. Wilton Place.

(Signage change: The official City of Los Angeles blue signs indicating Franklin Village are placed on either side of the one-block Franklin Strip area. Currently, these are the official boundaries of Franklin Village, but signatures are being presented to the City shortly to expand the Village to the boundaries described above.)

Politics:
U.S. House of Representatives: Congresswoman Diane Watson (D-33)
California State Senate: Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas (D-26)
California State Assembly: Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-42)
Los Angeles City Council: City Councilman Tom LaBonge (CD 4)
Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors: Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky (3rd District)

People who front say: Hollywood Hills
People who are clueless say: Los Feliz or (if they’re really confused) Franklin Hills
People who are lazy say: Hollywood
People who want to move here say: Calabasas

Nearest subway stop: Red Line, Hollywood and Vine

Schools: Cheremoya Avenue Elementary School (LAUSD public school), corner of Cheremoya and Franklin.
cheelemtschool.jpg

Soledad Enrichment Action (SEA) Hollywood School (non-LAUSD public/private partnership charter school for disadvantaged youths), 1711 N. Van Ness.

Other public services:
Los Angeles City Fire Department Fire Station #82, on Bronson adjacent to the 101.
Los Angeles Youth Network Taft House, at 1754 Taft Ave.

Churches:
Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, 5930 Franklin Avenue (entrance on Tamarind, parking lot off of Bronson)

Hollywood Seventh-Day Adventist Church, corner of Van Ness and Hollywood Blvd. (parking lot off of Van Ness)
seventhdayadventistchurch.jpg

Little-known facts:
The Church of Scientology’s Celebrity Centre International and Manor Hotel, located on the 5900 block of Franklin Avenue, serves as a film location for many movies and TV shows, with Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery and episodes of Felicity and Entourage among past projects filmed there.

One block to the east of Celebrity Centre on Franklin stands the apartment building where scenes from the movie Swingers was shot.

And the next street to the east, Canyon Drive, was where Jason Priestley got his misdemeanor DUI charge after crashing his silver sportster here in 1999.

Franklin Village sign
History: The geographical epicenter of Franklin Village is the 5900 block of Franklin Avenue, where today is located the Church of Scientology’s Celebrity Centre International. But the prominent seven-story building – now called “The Manor Hotel”, which is run as an actual working hotel for out-of-town Scientologists – standing on that block, was originally built as the “Chateau Elysée”, a luxury hotel and apartment house intended to replicate a 17th century French-Norman castle.

According to “A Short History of the Manor Hotel”, prepared by the Church, the Chateau Elysée was built…

“…in 1929 by Eleanor Ince, widow of Thomas H. Ince, the highly successful pioneer silent film producer....

“When construction started in 1927, a new era for Hollywood was dawning. The first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, with Al Jolsen, was released that year. In a spirit echoing her husband’s contributions in the formative period of the film industry, Mrs. Ince provided a home for many of the artists that were now being drawn to Hollywood.

“Residents of the Manor included some of the most famous names of the 1930s and 40s. The list includes: Bette Davis, Errol Flynn (room 211), Edward G. Robinson (room 216), Carol Lombard (room 305), Edgar Rice Burroughs (room 408), Humphrey Bogart (room 603), Clark Gable (room 604), Ginger Rogers (room 705), Ed Sullivan (room 501), Gracie Allen and George Burns (room 609), Katherine Hepburn, George Gershwin and Cary Grant.

“As the center of the film world’s ‘chateau life’ in the 1930s, the Manor was often the scene of glamorous parties and saw frequent visits by Hollywood nobility dwelling in nearby estates.”

Chateau Elysée, now the Scientology Celebrity Centre

According to a 1997 article in the old Westside Week paper, the building then became a retirement home for actors and actresses in the 1950’s and was slated for demolition in 1972 when it was bought by the Church of Scientology. The Church renovated the building in the early 90’s, even restoring much of the original furniture. The building is now a historical landmark.

On the opposite corner of the Franklin and Tamarind intersection from The Manor Hotel sits the Villa Carlotta apartment building, which originally was built as the staff quarters for those working at the main seven-story chateau. It is privately owned and has not been renovated.

Turning now from the Church’s Celebrity Centre and looking across the street at the Franklin Strip, one would think, seeing it today, that this area had to have always been trendy and hip, being so perfectly situated just a few blocks north of Hollywood while at the same time lying directly at the foot of a lot of perennially-pricey hill and canyon real estate. And indeed, the Strip has had its fair share of eccentric establishments come and go, including Radeon, a punk rock burger joint in the early 80’s that never caught fire, and an anti-establishment bar called “$2 Bills” which attracted the likes of Sam Kinison still early in his career.

But the Franklin Strip line-up of today is by far the most stable it has been in a very long time. Rick Levy, who has worked for 52 years at the upscale wine and liquor store Victor’s (right on the corner of Bronson and Franklin) which his grandfather founded and which Levy now owns, can rattle off countless names of stores which he says “have come and gone at lightning speed” before the block settled into the apparently perfect, healthy symbiotic mix of stores one sees today.

“[The Strip] used to be a motley assortment of stores, with Haig’s Market next door to Phil’s Barbershop next door to the NK Bar,” says Levy, who doesn’t knock the convenience of having a market next to a barbershop next to a bar, but who nevertheless acknowledges that the current neighborhood businesses are, as a group, as strong as ever.

Mary Preston, who founded Birds in 1994 with business partner Henry Olek (also a long-time resident of the area), agrees with Levy that the Strip has definitely coalesced after many years of sketchy start-and-stop attempts. “Prizzi’s [Italian restaurant] and Bourgeois Pig really opened the door for the renaissance of the neighborhood. My partner, Henry, and I saw the beginnings of the renaissance and came on board and rode the wave.”

But most business-owners also agree that it took a while to find all the right pieces. The first piece was La Poubelle, which opened about 30 years ago as a simple crêperie and is now the oldest surviving business on the Strip. Then in 1991 came The Bourgeois Pig, which some have claimed is the oldest surviving independently-owned coffeehouse in the City of Los Angeles. Around the same time came Prizzi’s, which itself had humble beginnings as a five-table pizza joint, and The Daily Planet, an edgy gift and general store with the local hip sensibility in mind (see Shop, below). With Birds upping the ante on restaurant panache (including a life-size bird cage which regularly inspires patrons to engage in all manner of impromptu entertainment) in the mid-90’s, things started picking up steam.

And then, replacing the old, underpatronized Tamarind Theatre, came the Upright. Citizens. Brigade. With its arrival, right in the middle of the Strip at 5919 Franklin Avenue, a whole new wave of young hep cats washed over the already hep, already hot scenesters downing imported beer and mojitos with their headshots strapped to their chests just in case. It was the alternative scene to the alternative scene and everything became very meta. But very fun.

“The Franklin strip was already a 'hip' location before we arrived,” wrote Drew DiFonzo Marks, Artistic Director for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, in an e-mail interview. “It's got great bars, bookstores, and a cool coffee shop all located right next to each other…[It] seemed ideal for us.”

But if the Strip was hip before UCB’s debut in July of 2005, it was unquestionably the UCB Theatre that gave the block the final powerful push into the behemoth of energy it is today. During the day, the UCB runs improv classes for aspiring comedy writers and performers, while shows run nightly – often times two or three times nightly – with admission usually costing $5 or less, making the sidewalk busy around the clock (see Arts, below).

Most of those interviewed in Franklin Village, including many business-owners themselves, say the community is getting better but noisier, a by-product of “progress”, the bad effects of which they hope to mitigate as an organized neighborhood association shortly.

The “Franklin Village” Neighborhood Designation: When neighborhood councils began popping up following the 1999 ratification of the new City of Los Angeles charter, the area now known as Franklin Village had its interests represented by the nearby Beachwood Canyon neighborhood.

But Ann DeBello, a night nurse who describes herself only as “among the many” who helped spearhead the effort for the specialized Franklin Village neighborhood, says that despite Beachwood Canyon’s proximity, it just wasn’t the best fit for the younger Franklin Village demographic. “Beachwood’s concerns weren’t the same as ours,” says DeBello. “They’re mostly home-owners in a residential neighborhood, we have a lot of renters. We’re the waitresses, the service workers….We needed our own group.”

DeBello says that it was during the first-ever Franklin Avenue street fair in 2002 that the name “Franklin Village” was born, and in March of 2007, the blue signs went up – about one block apart. But with most of the signatures gathered, DeBello expects the City by the end of the year to expand Franklin Village’s boundaries to the ones we are using for this article, as they appear on the Franklin Village Neighborhood Association’s website, www.franklinvillage.net.

Now, the Franklin Village Neighborhood Association is forging through its formative stages and intends to meet regularly to discuss issues of concern to the neighborhood, either liaising with the City Council directly, through its City Councilman’s office, or, depending upon the issue, working through the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council, the city charter-designated body which overlays much of upper-central Hollywood, including Franklin Village, and has the legal responsibility to act in an advisory capacity to the L.A. City Council.

The mother/daughter team of Jackie and Francoise Koster, local residents and co-owners of La Poubelle French restaurant on the Franklin Strip, can be seen as examples of Franklin Village's trendy/friendly paradox. La Poubelle, with even its very name trendily ironic (it means “the trash bin”), counts some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities among the upscale-fashionable regulars who come in to dine on filet and escargot in the very softly-lit but boisterous ambience. And yet Jackie and Francoise are heavily involved with many “down home”-style, decidedly un-haute activities, including various city civic booster projects, and raising money for the oft-ignored L.A. Zoo. Francoise also takes the lead in financing field trips for the kids attending the public Cheremoya Avenue Elementary School down the street, and frequently funds dog rescue projects and organizations.

Also epitomizing the dual character of the area is Mary Preston, who on the one hand, as the owner and co-founder of Birds Restaurant at 5925 Franklin Avenue, helped create, and benefited much from, the young Hollywood scene on the Franklin Strip. But despite the youthful and vibrant nature (not to mention righteous tattoo) which one might expect from the owner of the hot nosh spot that counts Bravo TV “Flipping Out” star Jeff Lewis among its many famous and nearly-famous regulars, Preston has lived in Franklin Village since 1983 and likens the neighborhood to “Mayberry”, the fictional town of The Andy Griffith Show. “There’s a neighborhood feeling and connectedness” not found elsewhere in L.A., says Preston, who also personally involves herself with stray pet rescue. “Even the dogs know each other.”

Todd Warner, who opened both Tailwaggers pet supply shop and Tailwashers pet grooming store around the corner from the Strip on Bronson, and who also lives in the area, would agree, and not just about the dogs’ friendliness. “This is a great community. Virtually all the stores are mom-and-pop-owned which gives [the Village] a very homey atmosphere.”

And it’s the stores along the Franklin Strip – the block of Franklin Avenue between Bronson and Tamarind – along with the Victor’s Square mini mall around the corner on Bronson, and of course Mayfair Market taking up the next block to the east, which make up the lifeblood of this community and allow it to retain its cozy, connected character. Locals living in the near hills above Franklin as well as the more iffy, Hollywood Blvd.-neighboring flatlands below can find everything they need within a two block space. Need a cup of joe in the morning? The Bourgeois Pig has been serving up non-Starbucks affiliated coffee for 15 years. Is your dog dirty? Tailwashers will wash and groom your dog or cat for you, or let you do it yourself at one of several self-service stations located inside (you provide the dog; they provide everything else). If your clothes are dirty there’s a laundromat, and if your brain is dirty after a hard night of partying there’s the “Real. Raw. Live.” juice bar and health food store, at three months old the newest kid on the Franklin Strip block, where a 2 oz. shot of Goji Berry juice and a smile from the earnest “juice bar-tenders” should fix you right up.

But with its wide selection of not only groceries but general drug store items, it’s “The Mayfair” that does the most to make this little neighborhood’s denizens those rare breed of Southern Californians who don’t engage in the ritual of driving everywhere for everything. Ironically, it’s also the only spot in the area with anything close to ample parking.

“Parking is a nightmare,” says Birds’ Preston, echoing the sentiments of virtually everyone we spoke to in the neighborhood. “We [businesses on the Strip] rent that [Unocal] gas station lot down the street as well as the lot with the new Thai Restaurant on it [located on the block just east of Mayfair] for our valet parking service, but that’s just two tiny lots, and some nights we’re trying to cram 50 cars onto those lots.”

The parking pressure on the Strip is alleviated somewhat with La Poubelle having its own separate valet service, using the Seventh Day Adventist lot on Hollywood and Van Ness to park their guests’ cars. But several other attempts at alleviating parking in Franklin Village were tried and failed. Permit parking for residents was suggested, but some business owners argued that this would have put a stranglehold on their out-of-area customer traffic, and it did not pass. (Parking may in fact be the only serious source of tension between business-owners and residents, although even that rift can only crack so far as many of the business owners are also residents.) An offer from the owner of many of the buildings on the Strip to knock down an old house abutting the Strip on the corner of Tamarind, and turn it into a paid parking lot with open-space green strips on the edges, was tied up by some who claimed the Craftsman-style home slated to be torn down was historical. There’s an empty lot across from Mayfair on Franklin that has remained unused for more than 20 years, but the owners of the lot have never made it available for parking, and some business owners’ hopes that the city may use eminent domain to make it into a public parking lot are more like pipe dreams, as City Councilman Tom LaBonge’s office confirms that there are no such plans. And Mayfair Market itself – which, as part of the 17-store chain of Gelson’s Markets, is one of the few non-locally-owned businesses – has proven reticent in renting out their lot to be used for valet service, or allowing non-Mayfair customers to park there at all, though without signs indicating which towing company they use, it is generally suspected that Mayfair in fact simply turns a blind eye to those who park there while frequenting other establishments.

Traffic on Franklin Ave

For now, it remains to be seen whether the parking situation will get better or worse in the future. Alliance Residential Company of Irvine, California, is prepping a dirt lot on the corner of Franklin and Vista del Mar Ave., adjacent to the Hollywood Tower and a block from the Vine Street entrance to the 101 Freeway, for a large new residential development. L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge’s office says they were informed that the project will build 146 new apartment units, but will include not only the parking spaces necessary to accommodate the new units, but an additional 57 publicly accessible parking spaces as well. (Alliance would not return calls seeking comment on the project.)

Nevertheless, the size of the development itself has some residents and business owners wary, and many say that they get the distinct impression from local government bureaucrats as well as elected officials that development is intentionally being made, and will continue to be made, denser and denser, and that despite the promise of new parking spaces coming with the residential project next to Hollywood Towers, the city council’s attitude towards sufficient parking has been increasingly lax, which locals surmise is, in major part, a passive-aggressive method of forcing greater participation in public transportation. The problem, say locals, is that there are only two bus lines: the DASH, which residents report as having an irregular schedule, and the Metro Rapid, which has no stops near the center of Franklin Village. And the nearest subway stop, the Red Line station at Hollywood and Vine, is about a mile-long walk from the Strip, and as one business owner puts it, “[t]he subway goes everywhere you don’t want to go.”

Nature and Open Space: Another area of major concern for this neighborhood, and perhaps the only one that’s a real head-scratcher among this dog-loving community, is the lack of open or common space. A walking tour of the area confirms the Thomas Guide’s indication that this community has, in fact, a grand total of zero parks. (The Thomas Guide also makes clear that this lack of open space is a problem shared by virtually all of Greater Hollywood, from Franklin Village on south.)

Tailwaggers/Tailwashers’ Warner, a member of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, says that there is hope on the horizon in the form of an audacious plan dubbed “Hollywood Freeway Central Park”. L.A. City Councilman Tom LaBonge’s office confirms that the park, currently in the early planning stages, would cover a portion of the 101 Freeway – which actually lies below ground level in the mid-Franklin Village area – and turn the “roof” of the to-be-enclosed freeway, which would lie flush with the current streetscape, into a large, 24-acre green space and dog park.

And to be fair, part of the reason Franklin Village has no open space is simply that this community’s boundaries are defined very tightly (at less than .5 square miles, Franklin Village is one of the smallest of the L.A. neighborhoods) and so do not include any of the canyon areas or hiking trails to the north, which, along with Griffith Park, is generally where local residents scurry to, with or without their dogs, when they need some space.

And incidentally, scurrying back down from the canyon areas and Griffith Park are an array of wildlife the scope of which is virtually unknown anywhere else in the City of Los Angeles except perhaps upper Brentwood and the furthest reaches of the San Fernando Valley basin. Deer are so common they have been described as overpopulated, and with no natural predators in the area, coyotes and other small mammals have flourished, and when food or water is scarce in the hills, have come as far south as Hollywood Blvd. looking for sustenance.

Before (left) and after (right) photos of the Hollywood Freeway Central Park project

Arts and Things To Do: For Franklin Village-ites, the arts ARE things to do. And despite all the poseurs who flock here at night, flaunting their forced counterculture style and off-putting airs of pretended superiority, this is still a genuinely literate, artistic neighborhood. Even the actors and indie filmmakers who call Franklin Village their home are all about expanding their horizons, so when they says arts, they don’t always mean “movies”.

The problem is, once again, the size of the Village. The boundaries only encompass two business districts: Franklin Avenue from about Canyon Drive to the 101 (including the Strip between Bronson and Tamarind), and Hollywood Blvd. from Wilton to the 101. Therefore, a lot of cool new hangouts that locals like to go to, such as Crane’s, on Selma and Ivar, and 3 Clubs Cocktail Lounge on Vine and Santa Monica, lie outside the Village. And we’d like to tell you about the Bronson Skate Ditches but that’s north of the Village, so you’re on your own.

Within the Village, though, locals get their read on at Counterpoint Records and Books, on the Strip. It features a wide variety of used and new books, as well as records and CD’s. The paradox is that as trendy as it is, the Village still has an old-school feel to it, with the internet not holding the kind of sway – even among the many young people living and working in the area – that it does out in the rest of humanity, so it’s no wonder that an independent bookstore continues to thrive here. There’s the tragically hip, and then the tragically hip who can read, and the Village is where you go to find the latter. And to that point, the bookstore is open almost as late as the bars.

Counterpoint Records and Books

Right next door to Counterpoint – and run by the same owners – is Harmony Gallery, which on Counterpoint’s website is described as an art gallery that “has housed an eclectic mix of…everything from classic George Hurrell prints, to paintings by Warhol superstar Mary Woronov as well as readings by the likes of Lydia Lunch, Jerry Stahl, Keith Morris and Pleasant Gehman.” Harmony Gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday, 3-8 pm, or by appointment.

The Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre has everything an improv and alternative comedy lover could want. Founded by the four core members of The Upright Citizens Brigade improv and skit comedy troupe, which had their own TV show on Comedy Central from 1998 to 2000, the UCB Theatre – Los Angeles (one of two UCB theatres, the other being in New York) acts as both a formal training center, complete with student ID’s and instructor feedback, and a performance venue for all manner of sketch, improv and stand-up comedy.

As a training center, UCBTLA offers a surprisingly well-structured curriculum of improvisational performance technique classes that begins with an intro course for raw beginners and extends to the most advanced polishing courses, where a student or team of students will work on and perform a show to run for the general public on the UCBT stage. Due to space limitations, however, virtually all classes are actually held at outside venues, such as the MetaTheatre on Melrose or the Art/Works Theatre on Santa Monica, with only class graduation performances held at the UCBT on Franklin. In addition to performance classes, there are sketch writing classes offered for aspiring comedy writers as well. Students of both performance and writing classes at UCBTLA have gone on to write and/or perform for such shows as Saturday Night Live, Mad TV, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

It is as a performance venue, however, that UCB has really made its mark in relation to the community. A typical week’s schedule crams between 15 and 20 shows onto the single stage at UCB, with the late show starting at 11 pm or midnight almost every night, keeping the Franklin Strip sidewalk buzzing ‘til late. And while it is fair to say that the UCBT’s acclaim, and its bread and butter, continues to be as a center for improv-style comedy, the UCBT showcases all manner of comedy, including one-person shows, multimedia presentations such as the intermittent-running “F’d Up and Illegal Videos” show and stand-up comedy. The UCBT, for example, now hosts the weekly “Comedy Death-Ray” stand-up act, after it had run for years at the M Bar on Vine Street. Another show, Jeff Garlin’s Combo Platter, which was the performance that was to feature Bob Odenkirk and Patton Oswalt on a recent Sunday night, can be described as an improv chit-chat show, and it too came to the UCBT after a stint elsewhere.

The Church of Scientology Celebrity Centre International, or “CC” as it’s known colloquially, actually contributes its own fair share of artistic offerings to the community, not unsurprising given that this particular Church of Scientology specializes in ministering to artists, but perhaps surprising in that virtually all of its events are open to both Scientologists and non-Scientologists. Recent events included a Scottish music concert with singer Isla St. Clair and the Cabar Feidh Pipe Band of bagpipists, and the 50’s pop band The Coasters (at least two of the original four members). Fashion shows, dance recitals, art gallery showings, and plays are commonplace in CC’s 400-seat Garden Pavilion and 44-seat Little Theatre.

Celeb Centre

But perhaps even more a propos for the community it serves and is surrounded by, CC offers regular acting classes, as well as a steady stream of entertainment industry seminars with such titles as “How to Get Cast in Pilot Season,” “How to Get Started in the Industry” and “How to Get an Agent”, featuring high-profile casting directors, managers and actors.

Finally, if you’re in the neighborhood on November 18, 2007, you should come to the street fair on Franklin, which is being held for the first time in the Village since 2004, and will benefit, among other causes, the local fire station, which recently bought the empty lot on Van Ness and Hollywood for a brand-new, much-larger station to replace the tiny one on Bronson.

Places to Eat: If you factor in relative size of communities, Franklin Village has to be, pound for pound, the most eclectic, densest, across-the-board tastiest row of directly adjacent restaurants in Los Angeles.

First of all, there is no overlap. French, Italian, Japanese, American grill, a coffeehouse and a juice and raw food bar each appear once and once only, virtually side-by-side on the Strip. Then there’s a four-star restaurant serving Continental fusion cuisine across the street and a Chinese restaurant and deli around the corner in the mini mall on Bronson, and you still have no duplicated food genres. Throw in a new Thai restaurant just to the east of Mayfair, a coffee shop down the street (Café 101) and – what the hell – the Mayfair hot food counter, and you can take a culinary trip around the world without breaking a sweat.

Second, not a single multinational corporation wondering if you want fries with that are represented among the fine eating establishments in the Franklin Village.

Third, true to its nature as a dog-loving community, most restaurants allow small dogs on their outdoor patios. Birds owner Mary Preston reports that many of the dogs themselves are regulars, and have more than once been seen looking for food without their owners.

Dine on haute cuisine, smoke cigarettes and pet your dog. Look cool. You’re now an honorary local.

boigoispeeg.jpg
The Bourgeois Pig – Rumored to be the oldest surviving independently-owned coffeehouse in L.A., The Bourgeois Pig doesn’t even have an entrance facing Franklin; you enter through The Daily Planet corridor next door. Inside, you’re transported to an exotic, slightly darkened hookah-type bar, without the hookah. Plush furniture and an internet hotspot make this an inviting locale for you caffeine-addicted writers.

Birds – Celebrating its 13th anniversary in 2007, Birds is perhaps the largest of the restaurants on the Strip, and features mouth-watering chicken, burgers and fall-off-the-bone ribs. Birds stocks Crystal Geyser sodas, catering to the Whole Foods crowd, and makes sloppy joe’s, catering to those who could give a crap about Whole Foods.

Prizzi’s Piazza – Prizzi’s has transformed itself from a pizza joint with a couple tables to an upscale, beautifully renovated Italian restaurant (that still serves some pretty darn good pizza). Birds co-founder Mary Preston credits Prizzi’s (along with The Bourgeois Pig) for being the pioneers of the Franklin Strip, staking its claim here 18 years ago and, as Preston puts it, “being the bigger risk takers” by locating in this area which had until then been notorious for high business turnover.

Taiyo – Owned by an actual Japanese person, unlike some more-famous unnamed (Benihana) restaurants, Taiyo serves delicious sushi, where the rice is warm and the tuna (or salmon or sea urchin) lays on top, slightly chilled. Yummy.

Real. Raw. Live. – Apparently too cool for orange or apple juice, this juice bar and healthy food eatery nevertheless is worth anyone’s time who wants a refreshing pause from the heat of the day. (Plus, one has to cut them some slack, as the place is only three months old.) The juice they do make (pineapple, lemonade, carrot, celery, beet and more) is delish, the “Foodology” brand of prepared light lunches they carry is outstanding, and they happen to serve vegan ice cream, with flavors like mint, strawberry and blueberry cream, that is out of this world. And try one of their raw, live, organic, vegan, anti-human rights violations brownies. You’ll never eat another pro-human rights violations brownie again.

La Poubelle
La Poubelle – How often do you eat French food? Not too often we imagine. You probably think it has to be a big deal, some stuffy affair. Not at La Poubelle, where you can eat some of the best buffalo mozzarella and mini lamb chops right at their full-service bar while you enjoy a cocktail, if you’re not in the mood (or don’t have the $30 minimum per person during dinner) to sit at one of their indoor or outdoor tables.

Victor’s Deli – Eastern Hollywood’s answer to Canter’s Deli is Victor’s, much smaller than Canter’s, but less hurried and crowded too. The matzo ball soup is the consensus biggest hit.

The Inn Place – In the Bronson strip mall. Better than average Chinese food at reasonable prices, and a friendly family to serve you that has been in the neighborhood for more than a decade.

Renaissance Restaurant – The only four-star restaurant in the Village, Renaissance serves Continental fusion cuisine until 10 pm nightly. It’s also one of the few places open for breakfast (at 8 am). Located on the first floor of The Manor Hotel on the grounds of the Church of Scientology’s Celebrity Centre, it’s naturally popular with the Scientologists staying at the hotel, but also draws quite a few local non-Scientologists as well, particularly for its Sunday Brunch, which will serve over a thousand people on the big Sundays, like Easter and Mother’s Day.

Pimai (It’s Thai) – Replacing a crummy Thai restaurant is a new, well-appointed, softly-lit Thai restaurant worthy of the neighborhood. Bamboo-covered walls make for a comfy spot. On the block just to the east of Mayfair.

Café 101 - Café 101 is open until 3 am. It is located on the first floor of the Best Western at the corner of Vista del Mar and Franklin. It has parking. Food review not necessary. It is open until 3. It has parking. That’s all you need to know.

Cafe 101 lot

Mayfair hot food counter – Perhaps including this is overkill, but we guarantee that Mayfair’s prepared foods are right up there with Whole Foods and beat the crud out of every other market. All their comfort foods – mac and cheese, fried chicken – are actually prepared with some care and use recipes that are a cut above. Plus the one major cuisine not represented in Franklin Village is Mexican, and you can get chimichangas here.

7-Eleven and California Donuts – On Taft and Hollywood. Just to be thorough.

Places to Shop:
The Daily Planet – The very westernmost business on the Strip, The Daily Planet bills itself as a gift shop, and indeed does have the requisite postcards and such for tourists, but really functions as more of a general store for the fashionable yet earthy neighborhood denizens, with scented candles and Burt’s Bees personal care products prominent. Beyond the absinthe spoons and rack of alternative magazines, the aesthetic – as directed by Vanessa, the store’s principal buyer – is funky and spunky (with dinner plates for sale that have words on them like “funky”, in fact), but is also as unpretentious as the store’s personable, down-to-earth manager Amy, who says that important criteria in selecting what to stock for customers include watchwords such as eco-friendly and ethically-manufactured. And there’s no doubt they have their customers’ needs pegged: the Ross Reports’ Cable Casting Guide for actors, published by Backstage, for example, is not something one would normally find in your local AM/PM Minimart. With all that, it’s not surprising that the store is also a great place to meet Franklin Village locals.

native. – This women’s clothing store on the Strip has been around for five years and also very clearly has the locals’ sensibilities in mind, as it stocks the kind of retro, vintage and thrift store-chic apparel that is so endemic to eastern Hollywood and that has set the fashion trend for the Westsiders trying frantically to catch up. Everything in the store, from bags to shoes to sundresses, seems specially selected to elicit an “oh my gosh, that’s such a cute _______!” from every female patron who enters, and prices range from very reasonable to unsurprisingly-expensive-for-couture. Store hours reflect the neighborhood zeitgeist as well: they’re open daily to 11 pm, and often see (mostly female) late-night revelers from the UCB Theatre and/or restaurants come in for a look-see as part of their evening out.

Real. Raw. Live. – Most of this store is actually not dedicated to prepared food, ice cream and fresh juices, but rather to a myriad of all-natural elixirs that you always buy but are too lazy to take.

Counterpoint Records and Books - It’s a place to go for the arts (see Arts above), and a place to shop too! What a store!

Victor’s Liquor – Next to Victor’s Deli on the corner of Bronson and Franklin, Victor’s Liquor is more like a well-lit cellar than a stereotypical liquor store. Ask owner Rick Levy for a bottle of $15 Italian Red, as we saw a customer do recently, and he won’t hesitate with a single, definitive response. Levy knows wines inside and out, but won’t bore you with a dissertation on a particular wine’s “nose” unless you ask. Also serves great sandwiches, randomly enough.

Pier 1 Imports – You know the drill. On Hollywood between Wilton and Taft.

Services:
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Tailwaggers/Tailwashers – Full service facility for your pet. Tailwaggers is a complete pet food and supplies store, featuring cute and inventive (not to mention ecologically-minded) dog and cat houses, toys, baskets and beds, as well as pet food so high-end that the store’s products were virtually unaffected by the recent recall. Next door at Tailwashers you can have your pet groomed, or do it yourself at one of their self-service washers. And if your dog is a bit jumpy (or just needs a little extra pampering), Tailwashers will apply a blueberry facial to your dog, which acts as a calming agent, besides its likely positive effects for the skin as well. In the Victor’s Square mini mall on Bronson and Franklin.

Desire Salon – One of two salons on the block. This is the bigger one, in the Victor’s Square mini mall on Bronson and Franklin.

Duarte Salon – This is a one-room salon located on the second floor in office space above The Bourgeois Pig coffeehouse. You could walk the Strip a thousand times and not notice the door between The Bourgeois Pig and Birds which takes you up a staircase to both the salon as well as the other business on the second floor, Shotgun Digital (see below). Duarte’s website says that the operator of this salon used to work at Fred Segal Beauty, which is considered one of the most highly-respected salons in the country.

Shotgun Digital – Talk about a perfect fit for a neighborhood. Specializing in demo reels for actors, cinematographers and other industry folks, Shotgun Digital has developed its business largely through word of mouth and simply by being in the right spot – Franklin Village. As Nathan Anderson, owner of Shotgun Digital, told us, “If they’re hanging out in this neighborhood, they’re our vibe.” Shotgun has done several hundred reels, including ones for actors Rick Schroeder, Brent Spiner and Jami Gertz. To find it, it's the same deal as Salon Duarte: look for the door between The Bourgeois Pig and Birds, then go up the flight of stairs.

Video Hut – As you might imagine, this is not a brand-new store, but it is surviving. Its survival, in fact, may be a testament to the loyalty of the neighborhood, as an independent DVD rental store probably wouldn’t be able to survive in a less personal neighborhood. In the Victor’s Square mini mall on Bronson and Franklin.

Holly Hills Laundromat and Dry Cleaning – Located in the Victor’s Square mini mall on Bronson and Franklin.

Homes: Walking north from Franklin up Bronson it is clear that much of the residential area of Franklin Village was developed in the 1900’s-1920’s, as the Craftsman-style house, popular during that period, is the most common design on the block. The irony is that the Craftsman home, which in most cases was bought as a kit consisting of little more than lumber and an instruction manual, and cost just a few thousand dollars from the catalogue of Sears Roebuck, now sells regularly for over a million dollars each. (If you can even get one: on a walking tour of the neighborhood, we saw not a single “For Sale” sign.) Sears’ intention to bring the American dream of home ownership to people on the cheap eventually backfired, a victim of its own quaintness and quality.

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And that’s just your first few steps north of Franklin.

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Wind your way up Foothill Drive, which makes up the northern border of Franklin Village, and you’ll see grand lodge-style homes, many of which were originally built as active hunting lodges. The charm, though, of Franklin Village is that while the lodges located within the strict boundaries of the neighborhood are impressive (and expensive), they are downright cute when measured against the super-pricey lodge-style and other estate homes located deeper into the canyon just to the north and northeast of the Village’s limits.

But perhaps Franklin Village’s biggest residential surprise is that, contrary to the expectations of your typical Los Angeleno who is used to the “above the boulevard, below the boulevard” mentality of separating haves and have nots, apartment buildings are nearly as dominant above Franklin as below. And although there is no doubt that the streets are prettier and grounds better-maintained around the buildings north of Franklin, the apartments throughout this neighborhood virtually all fall into one of two categories – old and vintage (read: older).

The surprising number of multi-unit apartment buildings north of Franklin has a symmetrical surprise: many single-family homes are still left on Van Ness and Taft Avenues, south of Franklin. And if you don’t think rows of single-family homes in the flatlands of Hollywood are unusual, your last Hollywood visit was when Robert Evans still ran Paramount.

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“Lower Village”
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As tiny as Franklin Village is, there is still a definite split in character between the area west and north of the intersection of N. Van Ness and Canyon Drive (“Upper Village”), and the tiny portion southeast of that intersection (“Lower Village”).

Within the context of the Franklin Village boundaries, Lower Village definitely feels like another community altogether. Its business district – also about two blocks long, just like the Mayfair-Franklin Strip business blocks on Franklin Avenue in Upper Village – consists of a Pier 1 Imports and a mini mall, anchored by a 7-Eleven and California Donuts. It’s much more standard, urban L.A., with lots of parking and no charm, and is clearly more of a piece with the rest of that stretch of Hollywood Blvd. than the cozy artsy community that makes up the rest of the Village. As evidenced by the relatively low percentage of locals patronizing these establishments, especially compared with the businesses in Upper Village, this area may be the exception to Franklin Village’s ethos of connectedness.

Upper Village: Physical Character

Franklin Village is often described as the closest thing Los Angeles has to New York, which in large part is due simply to the serendipity of the zoning and architecture of the area, which allows locals to walk rather than drive for most of their errands, and bundles stores together in a cute row, a la Manhattan, rather than having each store located in a mall surrounded by a parking lot the size of a small county. And of course the buildings are relatively old for L.A., which adds to the NY feel. But as the history of the Village area will confirm, zoning and architecture doesn’t guarantee the right chemistry. It also takes business owners with imagination and their own form of showmanship and artistry.

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Upper Village: The Young Artist’s Life and “Connectedness”

Upper Village residents, especially those in buildings clinging to either side of Franklin Avenue, are musicians, actors (not only aspiring, but a few working, too), fine artists and working-stiff bohemians who pay $800-$1100 a month for a studio apartment with no assigned parking but everything available within a short walk.

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But this demographic group describes a lot of areas, so what makes the Village special is that, situated between the hard-core anti-corporate, anti-film studio establishment, anti-deodorant enclaves of Silver Lake and Echo Park to the east, and the schmoozy, “industry”-obsessed, sycophant life of the Westside to the west, Franklin Village residents enjoy a happy medium of independent thought and artistry, as well as an unpretentious, unashamed desire to succeed in their art.

Birds co-founder Mary Preston uses the placement of the eateries on the Strip itself – starting with The Bourgeois Pig at the west-most spot – as one big analogy for the young residents in this area. “When they’re just starting out in the business, say, as actors, they’ll have enough money to go to Bourgeois Pig, at the end of the block, for a cup of coffee. Then maybe they’ll get a commercial, so they come here [to Birds], one restaurant over, and have a nice lunch, some ribs or a burger. Then if they book a recurring [guest star] on an episodic [TV show] they might treat themselves at Prizzi’s or Taiyo, and if they get their first big film, it’s La Poubelle’s on the other end [of the Strip].”

Much like the more moneyed locals living in expensive single-family homes in the hills north of Franklin, many of the Upper Village beatniks shop where they live, but they also work where they live, too. Many of those who work on the Strip who were interviewed for this article live within a couple blocks of the stores at which they work. Two of them – working at different stores on the Strip – live next door to each other in the same building on Franklin, neither of them knowing the other before they moved into the building.

And businesses often co-mingle themselves. UCB’s Drew DiFonzo Marks tells of how the waitstaff at Birds will often hand over mics to UCB performers late at night – especially if it happens to be a particular performer’s birthday – and make them sing Karaoke and get the patrons to do the same. Marks himself has spent the last 20 lunches patronizing one or another of the restaurants on the Strip, and reports that staff at UCB often do a Bourgeois Pig run to get coffee for performers, or even a wellness shot from the Real. Raw. Live. store.

Connectedness even leads to incestuousness. The owners of “Real. Raw. Live.” (5913 Franklin Ave.) for example, used to own The Bourgeois Pig (5931 Franklin), before which one of them worked as a bartender at La Poubelle (5907). And speaking of La Poubelle, local resident activist Ann DeBello recounts how she was tasked with babysitting a very high-profile celebrity’s dog one evening at the French eatery.

There are things you hear over and over from everyone who works, shops or lives in Franklin Village, all revolving around the theme of connectedness: “everyone is friendly with one another,” “everyone knows everyone else”, and for those who come from outside the area, one often hears about how “strangers talk to strangers”, which itself is an example of how the neighborhood’s connected vibe somehow influences everyone who visits.

Which is why many who visit come back to live permanently, as in the case of a young woman from Britain who, while visiting the states, discovered Franklin Village, made a mental note, and upon immigrating to the U.S. later, came right back to the place she remembered so fondly, and now lives and works right here in the Village.

A young person from another country finding their place in this neighborhood would not surprise Preston. “L.A. can be so isolating and lonely,” she says. “They don’t tell you that when you get here. There’s not a lot of connectedness; this neighborhood tries to be the exception.”

In a world in constant flux, one might wonder how long this community’s rare character can last. Who knows? But Victor’s Liquor’s Rick Levy remarks: “Everything changes. It’s not the mom-and-pop era, but the charm of the small…fortunately is something that hasn’t gone away in this neighborhood.”

“Village” may be an overused phrase these days, describing everything from concrete jungles to non-descript carveouts from unfavorable postal designations, but as you watch Victor’s Liquor owner Rick Levy greet locals by name without even needing to look up as they enter, and as Birds’ Mary Preston ends her evening getting snared into an impromptu group hug by some of her employees, it seems like just the right word.

All Photographs by Duffy Dibley, Michelle Irwin and Kelsi Schmiedeke, unless otherwise noted.