Brewing Up Ironies for the 'Creative Class'

Drowning Sorrows
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DNA. The Arts Business Improvement District surveyed 286 of the 2,000 or so residents of the district the other day and found, perhaps not surprisingly, that the BID's residents are well educated and mostly male. They also are overwhelmingly white. They make an average of $126,000 a year mostly doing "creative" work. Their average age is 38.

The Arts District is a 60-block neighborhood of downtown bound by 7th Place, Alameda Street, the 101 Freeway, and the Los Angeles River.

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"This great enclave of individuals, businesses and organizations have (sic) come together to form this vibrant community," said the Arts BID about the 2,000 or so residents of an "enclave" who are, by contrast to the somewhat less vibrant millions outside, mostly monochrome, male, older, and comparatively affluent. "Now we want to make sure that the neighborhood evolves," the BID explained further, "in a way that provides the kind of services our residents, businesses and visitors need and seek, yet stays true to its creative DNA and innovative edge."

In the BID's hope that anything in Los Angeles might be sure, the observer can already locate the melancholy outcome of a business model grounded on the premise that a large enough body of white, male, sort of affluent "creative" workers will stay around long enough, will stay affluent long enough, will stay childless long enough, to make anyone any money servicing these white, male, sort of affluent "creative" workers while appearing to stay true, even as it passes out of sight, to whatever it is the BID calls the "innovative edge." There is nothing in the model surer than that disappearing edge..

But before the DNA of the Arts BID unravels, the presence of 2,000 mostly male residents with some money to spend can mean only one thing: beer.

Beer. Some of the beer comes from Angel City Brewery, which is at the northwestern edge of the Arts BID on Alameda Street. Angel City was founded by Michael Bowe in 1997 in Torrance (a company town in the 1920s and later an aerospace suburb). In 2004, Bowe bought an 8,000-barrel, German-made brewery outfit on eBay and expanded into commercial production. He moved Angel City to the edge of the Arts BID in 2010. He sold Angel City in 2011 to Alchemy and Science, a company based in Vermont and funded by the Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams beer.

As these things go, in the business of being a brewer smaller than Coors for example, the Boston Beer Company is big. Angel City Brewery is small.

The evolution of the "innovative edge" in beer production from an entrepreneur like Michael Bowe to a business backed by the Boston Brewing Company says something about the ultimate fate of places dependent on the particular demography that the Arts BID represents. But Michael Bowe's reasons for selling Angel City, his reasons for getting off the "innovative edge" in favor of Alchemy and Science and the Boston Beer Company (which might -- or might not -- align with the BID's notion of the "kind of services our residents ... need and seek") also says something about who and what makes it in L.A. today.

Bowe told his reasons to Blogdowntown in a long communication that detailed his exhaustion with the city departments that sign off on permits and the several supplications to elected officials that resolved his permit hassles:

Moving Angel City Brewing to Downtown Los Angeles was my grand vision and a huge risk; we were terribly under funded ... (W)e needed to upgrade every utility, which not only cost us a fortune but also took a long time. While I'm a huge booster for Downtown LA and was helped by the Mayors Office and Jan Perry, we were stymied by the notorious Building and Safety Dept. The plumbing inspectors alone cost us 4-6 months of expensive delays, and only finally by having Jan Perry intervene did we get approval to install our floor drains.
The Health Dept tried to close us down even though production breweries were (exempt) in their codes. We had a valid ABC small beer manufactures license, which according to the ABC Asst Director, allowed us to serve onsite, but the city fought us every step of the way and only because we were able to get a Special Event Permit every week, were we able to open on weekends ...

No business owner in in Los Angeles would find Bowe's account unusual or even of much interest. But if you are from Torrance, Bowe's account and his exhaustion might seem meaningful.

Bowe also admits that his expansion of Angel City was underfunded, that he was under the gun to sell, that perhaps the "creative DNA" in his case had run out. He is grateful that the buyers offered him "millions" for the business. He seems disheartened that they do not want his advice. They have given him, instead, the title of "Brewery Founder Emeritus," which has an edge, although not one the Arts BID may have intended.

Bowe is sailing his new boat, because his agreement contains a "non-compete" clause. The new owners are brewing up alternatives to Bowe's original beers and seem unlikely to continue those that Bowe developed. They seem, in fact, fairly certain that idiosyncratic micro brewing is played out, that the future products of Angel City will be something else. It would seem that they bought some brewing equipment, a hard-won collection of permits, and the name Angel City.

The new owners seem to have a different DNA, perhaps more compatible with the evolution of downtown.

D. J. Waldie, author and historian, writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus and 1st and Spring blogs.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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