Voices of the Arts District

"Tales of the American" filmmakers have interviewed more than 100 artists, writers, musicians and others with ties to the American Hotel, Al's Bar and the Los Angeles Arts District. Their memories span more than 70 years.

Kimba Rogers moved into the American Hotel in the aftermath of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, when artists, musicians, writers and poets could find inexpensive studio space and housing among the deserted warehouses and commercial buildings in Downtown L.A.

 

Bassist Mike Watt is a singer/songwriter and co-founder of the  bands the Minutemen, Dos and Firehose. He has also written several rock operas, including one about falling ill while playing at Al's Bar. "I got sick before that," he says, "but Al's is where I got the symptoms, so it's memorable for me."

 

As a student at Otis Art Institute in the early 1980s, Tara Fondiler got a job bartending at Al's Bar. Soon after, she moved into the American Hotel above, at one time or another living in a room on every floor. "It was fun," says the painter, who now lives in Maui and recently came back to stay at the newly renovated hotel. "I got to listen to music and hang out with artists. That's more than money could ever buy."

In 1977, Bruce Moreland and his late brother, Marc, founded the seminal L.A. punk band Wall of Voodoo. The rock musician and songwriter, whose latest venture is Ravens Moreland, regularly appeared onstage at Al's Bar, not just with Wall of Voodoo, but also as part of Nervous Gender, the Weirdos and Concrete Blonde.

 

As a drummer and guitarist, Stephen Reed has played with several bands over the past three decades, including Carnage Asada, Legal Weapon and the Devil Dogs. He first came to Al's Bar as the sound technician for Firehose in 1990. "At first, I thought Al's Bar was kind of trashy," Reed says. "Of course, with time, I grew to love it."

 

Karen Pearson was lead singer for Ella & the Blacks, who played Al's Bar in the early 1980s. After moving to England for a few years, she came back to L.A., where she did a one-person show in which she described a night at the Hewitt Street dive.

 

 

Steven Lamprinos moved into the American Hotel in 1994 with the intention of staying only a few months. He quickly made friends and became involved in the theater scene at Al's Bar, on the ground floor. "I ended up having an incredible 12-year odyssey at the AmHo."

Swan is part of the UTI crew of graffiti artists who work in "The Yard," a parking lot on the south side of the American Hotel. The Yard is filled on all sides with brightly painted murals.

When Teresa Grenot moved into the American Hotel in 1984, she didn't tell her parents. "They had a different view of this area," the Glendale College librarian says. Despite its reputation at the time, Grenot "felt amazingly safe" in the neighborhood — now the center of L.A.'s Arts District. "Nothing bad ever happened," she says. "No one ever bothered me."

 

Carlos Guitarlos first played Al's Bar as part of Top Jimmy & the Rhythm Pigs in the early 1980s. "It was packed, and we were wild," the Los Angeles native says. "We were drunk, but we could play."

T.K. Nagano has been documenting the art scene in downtown L.A. for more than three decades.

 

Bill Bateman is a founding member of the Blasters. He has been called "one of the best drummers there is" by former Black Flag front man Henry Rollins.

 

Vivian Um operates the Traction & Hewitt Corner Market, on the ground floor of the American Hotel. Once the site of Bloom's General Store, Um's market continues a long tradition of service to the neighborhood exemplified by the venerated tenure of the late local activist Joel Bloom.

Mark Walsh moved into a downtown loft in 1987 and has been documenting the Los Angeles art scene and events ever since.

 

 

Artist Kent Twitchell, the man behind some of the most iconic murals around downtown Los Angeles, will reinterpret his lost "Ed Ruscha Monument" — whitewashed mistakenly by a building owner in 2006 — on the west side of the American Hotel. Work on the piece is set to begin in April.

 

From the late 1990s until Al's Bar abruptly closed in August 2001, Gus Hudson used new internet technology to live-stream the venue's nightly music shows, performances and poetry readings.

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© Tales of the American / Seemayer Studios LLC 2014