By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Most buildings they saw were in a weird transitional phase (read: of dubious legality), or empty. Back then a lot of the leases were on the downlow, since most of the buildings were zoned for commercial use, not tenant occupancy, and bringing them up to code was too costly for many landlords. Needless to say, most vacancies weren’t advertised. A modest sign would appear in a window with a phone number, a signal that a room was available. Dan and Andrew went on the hunt. They encountered all kinds of shady situations, like at the San Fernando, where they were greeted by a man in a suit who gave them the grand tour. He told them a developer already had the building in escrow but was only thinking about making it residential. The suited man touched the tips of his fingers together like a villain in a silent movie, asking, “Really, so .?.?. you’d live here, then?” The brothers got the feeling he was just conducting some market research. (The San Fernando became part of Gilmore’s Old Bank District project.) Walking to their car, they looked toward the building on Winston Street and saw heads silhouetted in the large windows. People were obviously living there, but what was that place?
Some elementary detective work led them to the Canadian, which was once owned by Mort Wexler, who used to own the Linda Lea, Little Tokyo’s mythic Japanese-language movie house on Main. As the story goes, Wexler gave the building free and clear to Robin Linden, who is rarely seen around the Canadian these days but is a life-long friend of the building’s manager, Dave Perry. Fatefully, the Canadian was the only building on a list of 20 that was actually ready for the brothers to live in legally. Once they had proved they were artists, signed a contract and paid the security deposit, a raw 2,000-square-foot space was theirs. It was dirty, decrepit and filled with holes and rats, but it was their new home.
“I was so scared when I first moved here,” Dan remembers. “There was this roof next to us. I’d lie awake thinking someone was going to crawl through the windows and stab me. We didn’t have locks, and we had no frame of reference if we should be scared or not.”
One time their own neighbor, a prostitute, jumped out of her loft in her robe, hair a mess, reeking of crack, and pulled a knife on Andrew and his friend after they accidently bumped into her door.
The people living on the street assumed the Banales brothers were cops. Why else would some well-fed white kids be moving to the skids? “It was all ‘Excuse me, officer’ and ‘All right, officer’ in the beginning,” laughs Andrew, who dresses like a rocker. (You'd have to be on drugs to mistake him for a cop.) Slowly their “street neighbors” accepted them as part of the community. Neighbors like Lisa. Lisa lived on Winston, in a cardboard box that she called her “house.” They would often hear her throwing her husband out.
“Oh, her tirades were poetry,” says Andrew. “When she told anybody off, it was beautiful; it was a soliloquy. I wish I had recorded it.” She called the Banales brothers her “babies.”
After the new buildings went in and started to well up with residents, the brothers started getting noise complaints. Andrew left for Koreatown. The new downtown isn’t for him.
“It didn’t bother me at first,” he says. “We knew it [redevelopment] was coming, but this wasn’t what I signed up for. This wasn’t the downtown I wanted. I have to be realistic — there’s a housing crisis, but it seems like you’re only getting one kind of person down here now.”
Dan wouldn’t dream of leaving his loft — the place where he runs the Web site downtown.la and where he and his brother still operate the Web-hosting company Inhost.com. (They manage servers in data centers around the world, and host Devo’s offical site and fan site, as well as Roger Moore’s and the maybe-not-quite-as-cool Tony Curtis’, along with sites for large-scale corporations and new artists.) But he also has qualms about the changes engulfing his neighborhood.
“I just wish,” says Dan, “that it was more organic. It seemed so planned. It’s as if [downtown developers] were looking at the Santa Monica promenade or Old Town Pasadena, thinking, ‘What do we need to do to get that sort of thing happening here? How do we bring in all the yuppies?’?”
They still throw those infamous parties a couple times a year, though with some adjustments, like the addition of security guards.
Upon entering Liz McGrath’s loft you arrive in a foyer, a square room with dark-brown walls adorned with black molding and her signature taxidermy creatures hanging in boxes like gothic sepulchers. It’s small and dark, like the elevator in the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, but it’s a deceptive introduction to the bright, white and vaulted living space behind it. McGrath, tiny, with an impish smile and bleach-blond hair that is as pale as her skin, and her similarly complected husband, photographer Morgan Slade (who is McGrath’s band mate in the goth-western outfit Miss Derringer), look like a match made by Tolkien. Their space is actually the amalgamation of two lofts. One used to be a gay-porn studio called Chocolate Drop Productions, which eventually got the boot when tenants got sick of feces in their showers and douche bottles littering the floor of their shared bathroom. The other part of her loft belonged to a set director, who left behind the most coveted thing in the Canadian — a private shower and toilet that he had installed himself. Moving into the Canadian was moving up for McGrath.
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