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Unsure Future For Mariachis In Boyle Hotel Renovation

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Photo by East of West LA via LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr

Photo by East of West LA via LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr
The 122-year-old Boyle Hotel on the eastern edge of downtown Los Angeles has been a mariachi mecca for decades, but the process of remodeling and renovating the "slum-like" conditions of the property into 51 studios and apartments for musicians and families (plus two meeting rooms, a mariachi center with a break area, and a rehearsal space) has caused the community of mariachis to scatter, reports the L.A. Times.

Some musicians had occupied the Boyle Hotel for decades, while others "were like migrating birds," traveling seasonally from Mexico to play weddings, quinceañeras and parties. The property was shuttered months ago and is expected to be finished in the summer of 2012. Says the L.A. Times, "the trick will be getting the musicians back in." Despite improvements and getting the building up to code (goodbye rodents, cobwebs, foul communal bathrooms) the rent increase is a serious concern in the community.

Many units will still rent for $450, but some will cost as much as $600. Additionally, there will be a stricter application and leasing process, and occupancy rules allowing only two tenants per studio, not three or four as before, will be enforced. The nonprofit handling the project, The East Los Angeles Community Corp., bought the historic building for $3.1 million in 2007 to "protect tenants from being pushed out by the kind of gentrification then being seen in downtown" notes the L.A. Times.

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Forced to move, many of the musicians received relocation money as required by federal law -- $18,000 to $24,000 on average. Some returned to Mexico while others found new rentals along Boyle Avenue's mariachi corridor. A fire last month in a rented house claimed the instruments and embroidered costumes of 18 artists.

On a recent evening, Juan Urias, a 74-year-old violin player who lived at the Boyle Hotel periodically since 1987 and Roberto Olmos Cruz, an accordion player who lived there for 10 years, reflected on the current situation, notes the L.A. Times:

As they sat by the stone kiosk on a recent evening, about a dozen balladeers milled about as usual, searching for gigs. But none had ever lived in the Boyle Hotel.

"Those guys are gone," Urias said. "You're not going to see them around here anymore."

The former hotel, meanwhile, was dark and silent — no trumpets blaring or guitars strumming or men rushing down its narrow hallways, hollering: "I need an accordion player!" "I need a vocalist!"

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