Bridget Vagedes knew the Wild West days of the Arts District were really over when she started to get parking tickets. What was once a desolate and ungroomed neighborhood — so untouched that Vagedes could drunk roller skate its streets at night — was well on its way to becoming a hot spot, and parking enforcement was a sign of the changing times.
Vagedes, 50, and her husband, Tim Krehbiel, 56, are co-owners of Arts District music venue and bar Resident, and also happen to be some of the rapidly changing neighborhood's most veteran locals. The couple bought the 5,600-square-foot warehouse building and 5,000-square-foot adjacent lot on Hewitt Street in 2001, and in the 15-plus years since, they've seen the once-deserted area grow thick with upscale restaurants, renovated lofts and soaring real estate prices.
"It's not the best use of the building anymore to just have it be our funky little art studio," Krehbiel remembers thinking. "We'd be economically served better if we at least converted part of the building into a space that would generate income."
Vagedes summed up their attitude more succinctly: "Ride the wave. Ride the wave or move!"
So they rode it. In December 2015, with the help of three business partners, Krehbiel and Vagedes opened the doors to Resident. What was once a concrete lot next to a palette yard is now Resident's lush patio, covered with foliage, dotted with fire pits and heated benches, and home to a food truck with full bar that operates out of a refurbished trailer. Head indoors to the music venue and the vibe is more rock & roll, with an exposed-brick wall, dance floor and stage that hosts an eclectic rotation of live bands and DJs, including a series called "Feminist Fridays," where only female-fronted bands, artists and events take the stage.
Vagedes and Krehbiel were just three years into their relationship when they bought the Arts District property (they would marry about three years later, in the basin of the L.A. River; Krehbiel wore a kilt). When the couple bought the loft, it was abandoned, with no water, gas or address, and the windows were concreted over. It was like a haunted house, Vagedes says.
An artistic jack-of-all-trades with a covetable collection of vintage dresses and unstoppable drive to create, Vagedes is also a jewelry maker. She and Krehbiel bought the downtown property because her business was taking off and production needs outgrew her Venice home. "We had 17 people packed in this three-car garage. It was ridiculous."
Krehbiel, a SCI-Arc graduate, had a hard time finding a job in architecture after graduation so instead turned to car restoration. The couple soon decided to live full-time on-site at their Arts District property; Krehbiel could work on cars and Vagedes could continue to expand her jewelry line.
Krehbiel warned Vagedes she'd get sick of being dirty and dusty all the time, but she never did. When we meet, she's rocking a bright orange, vintage minidress with thigh-high mustard orange socks and working in their side yard, clutching a tallboy of grapefruit beer and planning the venue's St. Patrick's Day decorations.
The couple speak longingly of the pregentrification days, when Vagedes would shower under a hose in the parking lot. They'd also attend a weekly underground speakeasy called Bedlam, hosted by a friend known for bringing together an assortment of "outrageous" folk and good-time characters from the area.
Over the years, Vagedes and Krehbiel have renovated the loft space, replacing roll-up doors with ones with handles, installing a heating system and putting in electric lights. Because they spent all their money on these improvements — and constantly have more plans in the pipeline — they opted to move into an Airstream trailer, parked first in their empty lot next door but ultimately moved to a more scenic location.
"'Til we get some more money, we'll put the trailer on the roof, and that'll be our apartment," they decided.
There the trailer still sits today, parked on a wooden deck, surrounded by an Astroturf lawn, packs of succulents and sweeping views of downtown. The rooftop enclave oozes California whimsy — so much so that it's been the site of marriage proposals and a McDonald's commercial shoot. Occasionally, the couple even rent it out through Airbnb.
But the views from this perch have changed dramatically. Not only are old structures being renovated but new ones are being built. When downtown's Historic Core went through a flurry of development in the early 2000s, Krehbiel knew the Arts District might be next — but had no idea how quickly it would happen.
The neighborhood really began to change after the 2007 renovation of the Barker Block lofts, the couple say. Urth Caffé followed in 2008 and Angel City Brewery in 2010. Their new neighbors thought the couple on Hewitt Street were "very interesting, but only from a distance," Vagedes says.
Although Resident may be indicative of the new, shiny era of the Arts District, Vagedes and Krehbiel have been careful to seed the space with nods to its past. The outdoor bar set up in a trailer pays homage to the home the couple still live in on the roof.
Although Vagedes would have preferred a simple, no-frills dive bar with a funky "crust vibe," after spending more than $300,000 on soft costs alone (permit fees, engineer visits, plan checks), she says they decided, "We'd better have some $15 cocktails!" (In reality, most of the cocktails are closer to $12.) The bar's beer list pays tribute to its neighbors by featuring a who's-who of Arts District breweries, including Angel City, Mumford Brewing, Iron Triangle and Boomtown.
Resident is the product of not only Krehbiel and Vagedes but also their three partners: architect and designer Jacek Ostoya, music industry veteran Larry Little and restaurateur Paul Oberman. This combination of backgrounds and interests helps explain Resident's atmosphere: calculated but not precious, fittingly "hip" but not predictably so. Nothing is an afterthought. The space's aesthetics brim with DIY attitude and attention to detail, which surfaces even in the menu of the on-site food truck, KTCHN, which includes colorful presentations of upscale bar foods, such as the habanero scramble or crispy potatoes topped with hummus and fattoush.
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Upstairs from the action is Vagedes' office, located right next to the locked liquor storage and close enough to the stage that she can often feel the bass during performances. She only has a few stairs to descend when she hears something she likes, a perk of the job.
The venue hosts shows almost daily and often twice a day on Saturdays. The calendar includes everything from disco dance party Hot Biscuit to electronic-rock band Battle Tapes to Sho Baraka, who pairs live instruments with hip-hop storytelling.
Although Vagedes had daydreams of retiring from the bar business — using Resident as a steady source of income and then sailing away on a boat — she's not expecting to shove off anytime soon. She and Krehbiel still have a lot of work to do, and they're still hoping to bridge the gap between the Arts District they first fell in love with decades ago, and the one it's becoming now.
"As the neighborhood grows and changes," Krehbiel says, "I think that how we're part of that, and how we're integrated with that, is kind of yet to be determined."