Inside Los Angeles’ Historic Grand Central Market

In the heart of downtown Los Angeles stands a rather unassuming building, but on its first floor is a unique icon of the city, Grand Central Market. Under various buzzing neon signs, each advertising a different vendor, crowds of people make their way through what is now a first class food hall offering unique dishes from around the world, many with incredibly long lines. But it wasn’t always that way, proving that one must adapt or perish.

Myself, wearing a dark blue velvet wide brim hat with a mustard band, and a light brown suede jacket with cream fur trim, a white peasant top underneath, an aisle of Grand Central behind me.

Sign for Grand Central Market, reading "Grand Central Market since 1917 Downtown Los Angeles"

A massive neon mural for Bulleit Whiskey. Various images of a mermaid in a glass, a skeleton in a suit, palm tree, a shirtless man in a cowboy hat in a glass, a shark mouth with a taco inside, legs, California Bear, and various text reading "Bulleit Frontier Whiskey," "Conserve Water Drink Whiskey," "Cocktails," "Drinks," "After Hours," and "Old Soul, Fresh Times"

Myself, sitting at a table, wearing a dark blue velvet wide brim hat with a mustard band, and a light brown suede jacket with cream fur trim, a white peasant top underneath, holding a glass bottle of Coca-Cola

The building that Grand Central Market sits in was built in 1896, and was the first building west of Chicago to have concrete floors. Originally the location was home to the fashionable French department store Ville de Paris, which catered to the wealthy citizens who lived in the Victorian mansions of Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill. In 1917 Paris fashion was out, and a market packed with 90 different vendors arrived. Here well-to-do Angelinos could shop a variety of produce vendors, butchers, bakers, florists, and dine at a handful of lunch counters. And they did. It was wildly successful, until World War II.

After WWII, wealthier LA residents began to move out of downtown, and into the suburbs that connected to LA via brand new freeways. As a result, the once opulent Bunker Hill mansions that had previous housed posh Angelinos became low income rentals, and Grand Central changed with the times, selling discounted produce and offered cheap dining options.

Before too long, the decaying mansions of Bunker Hill were demolished, making way for tall, gleaming skyscrapers. By the 1970s Grand Central mostly catered the Hispanic population, specializing in their unique ingredients, which is exactly what brought Adele Yellin to Grand Central for the first time. Adele was planning on making Mexican food one night, and her search for specialized ingredients found her at Grand Central Market, “You know, in those days they didn’t have poblano chiles at Ralphs,” she said in a later interview. Not long after, in 1984, Adele’s husband, Ida, purchased Grand Central, he loved the place’s long standing history. In the 1990s a parking structure was added, but the Yellins faced a series of ups and downs, including defaulting on loans. In 2002 Ira passed away, and Adele took over. Recessions of 2007-2008 impacted Grand Central greatly, with older vendors leaving, resulting in a near 40 percent vacancy. By 2011, Adele knew it was time for a change, “I wanted foodies. I’m a foodie. I wanted young, entrepreneurial chefs…I just felt it would be right.” She got in contact with Kevin West and Joseph Shulder who began interviewing vendors, seeking to create a diverse atmosphere.

With my back to the camera, looking outward toward the aisle of Grand Central, with a variety of neon signs hanging from the tall ceiling.

A neon sign features a cow, chicken, sheep, and pig. Text reads "Roast to Go Beef-Chicken-Pork-Lamb antojitos mexicanos"

Close-up of various dried chiles.

Crowded aisle of Grand Central Market, with various neon signs hanging from the ceiling.

Neon sign reading "Moles Chiles Secos"

A brown, white, and teal sign reading "Tacos...Tumbras A Tomas"

Tenants that arrived during this shift had growing pains, “It was a ghost town during weekends, there was hardly anyone there,” said David Tewasart of Sticky Rice, the first new tenant. More new tenants dishing out fresh takes on food arrived, but everything changed when Eggslut arrived. Taking up residency in a space that had been vacant for ten years, Eggslut drew crowds and long lines, which was good for everyone else too. Soon, people who came just for Eggslut saw the plethora of other unique, flavor driven restaurants, dishing up Mexican, American, Japanese, German, Chinese, and Italian food. The rise in Grand Central’s popularity has also resulted in a change in its hours. Originally Grand Central Market closed at 6 pm, today most vendors stay open until 10 pm. While most of Grand Central’s vendors are mini restaurants, there are still a handful of specialized vendors offering ingredients to take home, such as Chiles Secos, whose been there since 1975, Clark Street Bread, DTLA Cheese, and more.

One thing that is prominent in Grand Central is the presence of neon. While not a requirement for being a vendor, it is highly encouraged that each space have their very own neon sign. China Cafe, who has been serving Chinese and Chinese-American dishes to generations of hungry patrons, still has its original sign from 1959.

China Cafe, a large red, white, and black sign with neon spelling "China Cafe" its menu is below.

Neon sign reading "China Cafe Chop Suey Chow Mien"

A black and white arrow sign with neon reading "The Oyster Gourmet"

Myself, standing in front of the neon mural, wearing a dark blue velvet wide brim hat with a mustard band, and a light brown suede jacket with cream fur trim, a white peasant top underneath, and dark jeans.

Meat counter at Belcampo Butcher. The white wall is painted with red and black letters reading "Belcampo Butcher Organic Grass-Fed Meats From Our Farm"

A neon sign reads "La Huerta Candy & Snacks"

Myself, leaning against a pillar that is hand painted with "Pick up" and an arrow, wearing a dark blue velvet wide brim hat with a mustard band, and a light brown suede jacket with cream fur trim, a white peasant top underneath

Close-up of the various candy available sitting inside glass jars.

Close up of a taco sign, a painting of a woman wearing a turquoise sombrero, long black hair in a braid with a red bow at the end.

A neon sign of a mermaid in blue and yellow. It reads "La Tostaderia Seafood"

Crowded aisle of Grand Central Market, with various neon signs hanging from the ceiling.

Hand painted sign reading "Olio wood fired pizzeria"

Myself, leaning against a pillar that is hand painted with "Pick up" and an arrow, wearing a dark blue velvet wide brim hat with a mustard band, and a light brown suede jacket with cream fur trim, a white peasant top underneath

A neon arrow points to Belcampo Butcher, the letters within the arrow say "Belcampo Meat Co."

Myself, standing in front of the neon mural, wearing a dark blue velvet wide brim hat with a mustard band, and a light brown suede jacket with cream fur trim, a white peasant top underneath, and dark jeans.

In late 2017, its centennial year, Grand Central was bought by Langdon Street Capital, a Beverly Hills real estate investor, but thankfully they want to “safeguard” this iconic treasure of LA than create change.

Grab a bite, buy some cheese, and roam under the neon at Grand Central Market at 317 S Broadway in Los Angeles. I highly recommend Horse Thief BBQ. Be sure to visit their website for specific vendor hours.

Sources
Jensen, Danny. “Grand Central Market: A Look Back at 100 Years.” KCET, 23 October 2017. Accessed 9 March 2020.
Katz, Jesse. “Inside the Gentrification of Grand Central Market.” Los Angeles Magazine, 9 September 2016. Accessed 9 March 2020.
Vincent, Roger. “Downtown’s historic Grand Central Market is sold to a local investor who promises few changes.” Los Angeles Times, 1 November 2017. Accessed 9 March 2020.

Outfit
Hat & Jacket: Buffalo Exchange
Necklace: Geronimo’s Trading Post, Holbrook, Arizona
Peasant Top: Treasures N Junk, Ontario, California
Jeans: Freddies of Pinewood
Shoes: Target

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