Silver Lake renaissance attracts newcomers, worries locals

Longtime residents fear Silver Lake is losing its funky charm, particularly after the recent shooting death of a legislator's father.

In its recent ranking of popular spots, CNN's business website called Silver Lake the nation's second-best big city neighborhood. It's "a haven for families as well as hipsters ... packed with shops and hotspots, defying the 'no walking in L.A.' cliche."

There is indeed plenty of walking on Silver Lake's main drag, but that's because there's practically nowhere to park along that busy stretch of Sunset Boulevard.

Look up the hill along Hyperion Avenue and you'll see those visitors' cars — hogging spots that local residents have long considered theirs.

A surge of new restaurants, bars and boutiques has helped make Silver Lake a national darling and sent real estate prices in hilltop enclaves soaring.

But the fallout of that popularity lands on apartment-heavy streets nearby, where three-quarters of residents have no place to park because so many of the old buildings lack driveways or garages.

In car-centric Los Angeles, that's considered a violation of a fundamental right.

"Almost every single night, I have to search for parking," complained Hyperion resident Julie Adler. It can take 20 minutes to find a spot that might be blocks from her apartment. "I'll drive around and drive around ... thinking that it's not so cool to live here anymore."

As a tourist from Northridge, it seems cool to me. We don't suffer from parking problems. You can visit Ralph's, CVS and Starbucks without leaving the chain stores' parking lot. But we lack the sort of variety I discovered on a walk along Sunset, past the Circus of Books, an upscale clothing boutique, a marijuana dispensary, the Rough Trade fetish shop and the Mohawk General Store.

With its funky vibe and bohemian aura, Silver Lake has always been popular with artists like Adler, who moved there 13 years ago, long before Sunset got its makeover.

Now, she said, "it has lost its community, its identity, to so-called hipsters and shoppers.... The residents here have been neglected and forgotten."

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Not everyone sees it that way, of course.

The parking flap reflects other issues: a fading sense of comfort and safety, and growing unease over the onslaught of strangers — whether they're buying $400 shoes from the new clothing boutique or spreading out their sleeping bags in the growing disorder of nearby Triangle Park.

The latest lightning rod for residents' angst is a plan by a well-known local entrepreneur to convert a long abandoned church into a trendy boutique hotel.

Developer Dana Hollister, a Silver Lake resident whose bars and restaurants helped burnish the region's image, has been working for more than two years on her "ridiculously cute" and relatively tiny project to turn the Pilgrim Church, on a residential corner a block from Sunset, into a 25-room hotel with a rooftop pool and restaurant and room rates that start at $265 a night.

The mixed reception among its neighbors is playing out on local online forums. Some welcome an upscale venue for out-of-town guests; an alternative to the Comfort Inn next to the foot doctor on Sunset. Others worry about noise, crowds, drunken revelers and, of course, the shortage of parking.

The posts reflect the tug of war over what Silver Lake is and will become.

"I am so tired of the old farts and the stroller-pushing suburbanites who lament any business that doesn't close down its doors after 5pm," one man wrote in support of the project. "If you don't want to live in a community that is alive and kicking with visitors and social life, please move to the Valley."

Ouch.

Adler isn't old, nor does she push a stroller. She's an artist who lives in a lovely apartment at the top of a hill overlooking Sunset.

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