At a BOXeight Fashion Week show, you expect to find the standard batch of bony models, fashion-forward magazine editors and flamboyant buyers, but who’s the silver-bearded cowboy? That’s Brady Westwater, a.k.a the L.A. Cowboy, director of Economic Development for BOXeight. He was instrumental in getting the event off the ground. If he seems slightly out of place runway-side, Westwater is right at home downtown, where nearly every resident and business owner knows who he is. They call him “the unofficial mayor of downtown,” or the “go-to guy.”
Westwater serves pro bono on 29 boards and committees, but much of his day to day is spent doing what he calls, “curating downtown.” The nonpaying job involves a lot of leg work. On a recent weekday, we snake up and down Main, Spring and Broadway, for blocks on end, as he makes his usual rounds.
“I walk around, see what’s happening, ask business owners what they need, if they have any problems, see who’s new to the neighborhood,” he says, taking strides at a steady clip. “This is a place where the impossible happens every day. We’re the only neighborhood where businesses are still expanding. We’re bringing in new business. Of the 50 business I brought downtown, every single one of them survived.”
When Westwater says he “brought” businesses, he means everything from leaking the availability of a space to the right people before it goes on the market and advertising on craigslist to handling the responses and actually brokering a lease. “I hear about people who need a certain space, or people who have a certain space, and then I refer them, or negotiate the lease. It’s a lot of referrals. Did you know there are actually only three people in L.A.?” He laughs. “The rest is done with mirrors.”
Curating downtown, creating the perfect resident-business symbiosis for an organic vibrant artistic community, is a labor of love for Westwater, who has spent his entire life downtown. His father’s law office was on Third and Spring. “All the theaters on Broadway and the department stores were still open,” he says, scanning the old buildings. “I’m the last of the generation who remembers that.”
Along our sidewalk travels, one business owner puts in a request for a public parking structure, another asks about a vacant building, then someone else asks if Westwater knows where to get cheap mannequins. At a 9,000-square-foot space Westwater calls the “incubator,” leaseholder Jose Caballer comes out to say hello. “The city owes a lot to Brady,” he says. “I don’t know how they’re ever gonna pay him back. I guess his legacy will be in the history books.”
Westwater has a real-estate license but doesn’t use it, and refuses to take any money for connecting the dots. That has to do with living the cowboy way, an ethos he adopted one fateful night when he was 17. He had decided to drive to Owens Valley. He wasn’t sure why, but something told him to go. On the way, he picked up a hitchhiker, a man 6 feet 2 inches and about as wide. They got drunk and became fast friends, and the evening ended with Westwater losing his virginity in a brothel in Nevada. He became a part of this man’s posse, with whom he earned a living catching and breaking wild horses in Wyoming and Montana, repossessing airplanes in South America, and traveling the underground street-fighting circuit to Turkey and India. Part of the cowboy way is to be an independent contractor, a free agent, and Westwater, who roams downtown L.A. like it’s his own Ponderosa, has never had a steady job or been on a payroll. “The cowboy life,” he says, “ is just adventure. Every morning waking up and talking life.”
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