By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
When the street fair works well, everyone benefits, say owners, with the rise in foot traffic prompting a spike in sales that can last for several months. But that weekend in 2007 caused many of the mom-and-pop outposts in the pedestrian-friendly area to lose two full days of business without ample warning or compensation. And it was their breaking point. In Dale’s case, though, it meant more than lost sales: It was the loss of a tradition.
Dale moved to Silver Lake in the mid-’90s. For a 19-year-old interested in indie rock and underground art, it was the ideal place to live:inexpensive and off the grid that rules much of Los Angeles. She fell for the hidden spaces and Spanish architecture, the “multigenerational” community of artists, and the annual festival. In conversation, she can weave together memories of the Junction that make it sound like a small-town carnival, stories of Ferris-wheel romances and parties in shops.
Pull My Daisy had only been open for two months when Dale experienced her first Sunset Junction as a merchant. It was chaotic in a fun and exciting way. “I was in the middle of this thing I love,” she says. But the situation quickly changed. In 2002, Sonic Youth and Sleater-Kinney headlined, drawing a far greater crowd than she had ever seen on her Sunset block.
“I remember getting a little bit afraid,” she recalls, “like there were going to be riots, like these bands were too big for this venue.”
Joe Keeper, who runs the cocktail “head shop” Bar Keeper, still has hanging on his bar’s walls memorabilia from old street fairs. “As the ticket price started to increase, the neighborhood started to change and the outsiders started coming in,” Keeper says. “It became a rock & roll festival.”
From there, the fair continued to expand. Bands like Guided by Voices, Rilo Kiley and the New York Dolls stepped onto the stage. Attendance shot up to 30,000 to 100,000 people daily. But by tapping into the neighborhood’s newfound appeal, the larger crowds somehow made the event feel more pedestrian. Where food was once provided primarily by local restaurants, now the options mostly included the same $5 lemonades and greasy funnel cakes found at every other music festival in the country. Corporate booths replaced many of the independent vendors. And that nominal, optional donation turned into a mandatory cover charge, which increased with each passing fair until it finally hit $20 per day last year.
Sure, grumbling throughout the neighborhood has existed since the festival’s inception, but after the experiences of 2007, the voices grew more passionate. Dale and her neighbors began asking more questions. “We learned the lesson that if you want things to work and you want things to change, you have to make the commitment and go to the meetings and talk to the people.”
The business owners approached Garcetti, whose staff has mediated between the community and the alliance. After a year of meetings through the fall of 2007 and into 2008, the situation appeared to have settled. Sunset Boulevard between Sanborn Avenue and Edgecliffe Drive was once again included in the festival footprint.
On the morning of the 2008 fair, Dale woke up at 7 and headed down to the Junction for a prefestival meeting with the city, the Alliance and other business owners. An hour later, she returned to see that her store had been fenced off from the fair. Her block had fallen through a loophole; technically, they were still inside the footprint, but they had been trapped between entrance gates in a sort of buffer zone, absent the booths, stages and installations set up a few hundred feet away on the other side of a chain-link fence. Only ticket holders could enter the first gate, but there was no reason for them to mingle on the way to the main entrance. The Junction promoters hadn’t arranged for trash cans, and some accounts say that security guards were instructed to prevent anyone with alcohol from entering the zone. Ironically, the eastern strip of Sunset Boulevard, the portion that houses the building marked Sunset Junction, had been cut out of the fair for a second year in a row.
This past March, Michael McKinley was the one standing behind the podium at Micheltorena Elementary School for the Neighborhood Council meeting. For some in this area, this was the first time they had actually seen him in person. For others, this was a flashback to far more uncomfortable encounters.
Gareth Kantler, owner of Café Stella, alleges that during one fair, McKinley sent the Alcoholic Beverage Control police and fire marshal to close his beer garden. The authorities didn’t see cause to shut down the outpost, and a shouting match between Kantler and McKinley grew ugly. Some, like Kantler, even believe that the beer-garden situation, at least in part, contributed to the SJNA’s fencing out the eastern portion of Sunset last summer. SJNA earns a nice chunk of its Junction income from beer sales. Though a nonprofit, the fair follows the same business plan as any major concert: Offer frosty beverages at a heavily marked-up price. The only difference is, at Sunset Junction, your alcohol consumption helps at-risk youth.