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Koreatown Rising

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Maybe it’s because of its residents' blogginess, but these days everyone seems to know that downtown LA is booming. However, flying way below the radar is Koreatown. Yes, you already know it’s the place to go for your late night barbecue and karaoke needs, but the boozin’, beef-eatin’ hood (best known to those outside LA as one of the places ravaged by the 1992 riots) has quietly been getting a $1 billion makeover that will soon make it one of the city's most urbane (and urban) districts.

The Los Angeles Business Journal ran an excellent cover story on this K-Town renaissance. Unlike booms in Hollywood and downtown, the spark came from foreign dollars, as Korean real estate developers got a serious case of building fever. Nine new high-rise residential structures are currently under construction. The largest, the 40-story condo building going up at Wilshire and Hobart, is scheduled to be completed by the end of next year. Other new arrivals will include Courtyard Madang which, for better or worse, could become K-Town's version of Hollywood and Highland, as well as several new shopping complexes that will pump even more pedestrian traffic into what's already one of the city's busiest pedestrian areas.

Another way the K-Town revival is breaking form is by not focusing its marketing efforts at hipsters searching for easy access to a Borders. As Koreatown blooms, it's becoming even more Korean, and more authentic as a result. Case in point, the article says more than 85 percent of the buyers at the under-construction Mercury condos on Wilshire and Western are Korean. The Courtyard Madang is being built by South Korea's largest entertainment company, and will feature original Korean films and American films with subtitles (cinephiles, cheer!). Imagine being able to see flicks like Oldboy here on the same day they're released in Korea. Sweet! In five years, saying the neighborhood is "Seoul transplanted to America" might not be that much of a stretch.

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Yes, we’ll be sad to see the venerable California Market on Western succumb to redevelopment's bulldozer, but the place was getting kind of shabby, and the owners are replacing it with a new, three-story, 45,000 square foot grocery store. That's a lot of freakin' kimchi.

With three subway stops in the neighborhood, 24-hour activity, 250,000 residents (making K-Town the most populated district in the US outside of Manhattan) and new projects that seem to be geared at improving life for those in the area rather than just drawing tourists, there's not much to dislike about these changes. Now, if only city administrators don't mess the whole thing up by buying into County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky's plan to run a couple of grade-level freeways right through the heart of the neighborhood.

Photo by craig1black via Flickr.