Warehouse Chic

by Iyna Bort Caruso

Around the country, gritty industrialization is giving way to industrial chic as derelict warehouse districts are being revitalized into thriving art enclaves. These aren’t just hipster hangouts of vegan food trucks and green markets. They’re areas that have undergone a process known in urban planning circles as adaptive reuse. The idea being that structurally sound and historically significant buildings are reclaimed, repurposed and reborn as the linchpins of creative new zones of commerce and tourism. Credit usually goes to young folks and artists who are drawn to these regions by the low cost of housing. Then, as the districts gain critical mass, preservationists, developers and urban planners take notice, and previously forlorn neighborhoods evolve into places worth visiting. Art is often still the economic driver, but food and lodging tend to be cutting edge as well. Here are seven once-shunned areas now enjoying architectural and cultural renaissances.

Brooklyn’s Dumbo

Brooklyn is replete with creative pockets–Williamsburg, Red Hook, Greenpoint, and Bushwick, for starters. But back in the late 1970s, artists started moving into warehouse buildings on a forgotten waterfront and gave it a catchy moniker of Dumbo, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Brooklyn Overpass. In 2007, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission named this streetscape, set against the iconic backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan skyline a historic district. You have only to stroll this waterfront district with its noir patina of granite Belgian blocks and old train tracks to gain a full appreciation for a part of old New York that has been reborn.

Dumbo took a big hit from Hurricane Sandy–artist studios were ruined and works were destroyed– but the tightly knit community has bounced back. Somewhat miraculously, “Jane’s Carousal,” a beloved vintage carousal perched in a glass jewel-box of a pavilion on the East River and flooded during the storm, was operational within weeks.

Dumbo is now one of the New York City’s premium neighborhoods but unlike other areas that price artists out as real estate values soar, here the creative community remains firmly rooted.

  • When to go Galleries and studios open late to the public the first Thursday of each month. Bars and restaurants get in on the action with specials. The big event is the three-day Dumbo Arts Festival in September. Come to mingle with hundreds of artists and thousands of visitors for special exhibitions, street performances and art installations.
  • Where to eat Grimaldi’s Pizza for a personal coal-oven pie. You can’t miss it. Just look for the long line snaking down Front Street. (1 Front Street; grimaldis.com; 718-858-4300).
  • Where to stay NU Hotel, a hip boutique hotel that comes with lots of free perks like continental breakfast, bike rental and use of an iPad. Ask about its Culture Grows in Brooklyn package that includes admission to the area’s major cultural institutions. (85 Smith Street; nuhotelbrooklyn.com; 718-852-8585)
  • Don’t miss The view of Dumbo and lower Manhattan from on high by taking a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

New Orleans’ Arts District

New Orleans’ warehouse (or Arts) district—a cluster of abandoned 19th century warehouses around the Mississippi waterfront—is a prime example of a reborn area that once was in decay.  The neighborhood first got a jump start thanks to investment and redevelopment spurred by the 1984 World’s Fair. Today, this walker-friendlyneighborhood is home to the Contemporary Arts Center, a former renaissance revival warehouse, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, The National World War II Museum and about a dozen nationallyrecognized galleries. (Check them out on Julia Street, aka Gallery Row.)

The area hosts several major art events like the much anticipated summer highlight, Whitney White Linen Night August 3.  For this event, locals don white linen (although seersucker will do, too) and head to a closed-off Julia Street for a giant block party of open galleries, artists receptions, food and cocktails. Unlike the nearby touristy French Quarter, the warehouse district is a favorite with locals. Bonus: No sales tax is charged on original works of art sold in the district.

  • When to go Art walks take place the first Saturday of each month.
  • Where to eat: Cochon for the wood-fired gulf oysters. Ask for extra bread to soak up the sauce. (930 Tchoupitoulas Street; cochonrestaurant.com; 504-588-2123)
  • Where to stay: Renaissance Arts Hotel, located in a circa 1910 warehouse, is noted for its in-house art gallery, rotating collections and sculpture garden curated by Julia Street gallerist Arthur Roger.(700 Tchoupitoulas Street; Marriott.com; 504-613-2330)
  • Don’t miss… the nearby National WWII Museum

Miami’s Wynwood Arts District

What is today’s WynwoodArts District, on the north edge of town, was once a blighted zone of wholesalers, manufacturers, even a former Drug Enforcement Administration warehouse for illegal guns and drug storage. These days it’s the epicenter of edgy art in a city known as an international flashpoint of creative energy. The scads of new galleries, studios and museums popping up here make art maps outdated as soon as the ink is dry.  (The number hovers around 70 at last count.) Northwest Second Avenue is the main drag for galleries, restaurants and street art.

And then there is Wynwood Walls. In 2009, real estate developer and preservationist Tony Goldman, who died last September, gave a boost to the street art movement when he joined with gallerist-turned-museum director Jeffrey Deitch to co-curate an open-air mural park featuring some of the world’s top graffiti artists including the likes of ShepardFairey. Spray-paint it and they will come. Wynwood Walls attracts hundreds of thousands to this free “museum of the street.” Goldman riffed on the concept a year later by creating Wynward Doors on an adjacent lot, a collection of rolling storefront metal gates used as canvases for street and graffiti artists.

  • When to go: Art Walk is scheduled the second Saturday of each month.
  • Where to eat: Joey’s, a pioneer in the area when Wynwood was transforming into an arts district, is a go-to eatery for all things Italian. The pappardellegratinate is a favorite with locals. (2506 NW 2nd Avenue; 305-438-0488)
  • Where to stay: The Standard Spa Miamioffers an Art Lover’s Package that includes entrance to the Miami Art Museum and aWynwood gallery guide.(40 Island Avenue, Miami Beach; standardhotels.com; 305-673-1717)
  • Don’t miss…Wynwood in daylight. Although Art Walk takes place at night, Wynwood Walls and Doors deserve a viewing in full sunshine.

St. Paul’s Lowertown

Back in the 1970s, artists starting flocking to a downtown area of St. Paul called Lowertown. This quarter once served as an industrial hub for the upper Midwest but had come to be considered a forgotten zone. The artists were drawn to the underutilized 19th century Romanesque, Italianate, Queen Anne and Beaux Arts revival warehouses that had cheap rents, high ceilings and good light. Although it wasn’t until the community found support for their grassroots efforts that a true transformation began, artists were widely acknowledged as an integral ingredient in the area’s cultural redevelopment.

Lowertown now has one of the largest concentrations of working artists in the Midwest. An influx of creative businesses, jazz clubs, ethnic restaurants, theaters and, of course, galleries followed them. This 17-block district is anchored by pretty Mears Park, home to Twin Cities Jazz Fest and other crowd-drawing music series.

  • When to go: Lowertown artists open their studios up to the public on the first Friday of each month. The popular semi-annual Art Crawls take place this year April and October.
  • Where to eat: FACES Mears Park bistro, bakery and wine bar for a French Croque Monsieur with a twist–on home-madechallah. If the weather’s nice, take it to go and have a picnic in Mears Park.(380 Jackson Street; facesmearspark.com; 651-209-7776)
  • Where to stay: Hotel 340 in a 1917 landmark building with stunning views of the Minnesota State Capitol, Mississippi River and the city skyline. (340 Cedar Street; hotel340.com; 651-280-4120;)
  • Don’t miss…a shot at creating your own work of art with special interactive workshops working alongside a local artist during “First Friday”events.

Portland’s Pearl District

Rundown and dilapidated is hip and happening in Portland’s Pearl District. In the mid-1980s, low-cost lofts attracted a flurry of artists and the neighborhood became an incubator for creative expression and business start-ups, which eventually led to a shape-shifting of the entire neighborhood. Thisinner northwest section of Portland encompassing 100 city blocks was once used for warehousing, light industry and as a transportation hub in the early 1900s. Today, new tracks are used for modern streetcars and its buildings have been sustainably rehabbed to eco-friendly LEED-certification standards.

As for the origin of the district’s name, some ascribe it to an early pioneer to the area named Pearl, while others credit a gallery owner for likening the old buildings to oysters and the galleries, shops and artists’ lofts within them to pearls.

  • When to go: Crowds turn out for monthly “First Thursday” art walks, a tradition more than 25 years old, which showcases new gallery exhibits and artist meet-and-greets. Come the warm weather, art walks morph into open-air street fairs.The long-running Art in the Pearl festival, named one of the top arts and crafts fests in the country, runs Labor Day weekend.
  • Where to eat: Andina, serving up traditional Peruvian and novo-Andean cuisine. Slow-cooked lamb shank in black beer sauce is a can’t-miss dish.(1314 NW Glisan; andinarestaurant.com; 503-228-9535)
  • Where to stay: Hotel Lucia boasts an impressive collection of photographs by Pulitzer Prize-winner photographer David Hume Kennerly in its guest rooms and public areas.(400 Southwest Broadway; hotellucia.com; 866-986-8086)
  • Don’t miss…a stop at Powell Books in the Pearl, the largest independent bookstore in the country, after a night of gallery-hopping. Open nightly until 11 pm.

Charlotte’s NoDa Neighborhood

For much of the 20th century, Charlotte flourished as a textile manufacturing force. An industrial village of cotton mills, textile factories and workers row houses located just a few short miles north of “uptown”–Charlotte’s city center–was representative of its legacy. But when the last factory shut down in 1975, so went Charlotte’s sense of identity, many felt. And that’s how the area remained for a decade before artists came, sparked a transition and established a new identity for this part of town as a vibrant creative community.

Today the area is called NoDa, short for North Davidson Street. With Charlotte’s largest concentration of galleries and studios, NoDa is a paint-splattered counterpart to the city’s white collar Fortune 500 corporate establishment.

  • When to go: Go-at-your-own-pace gallery crawls draw patrons who get a chance to chat with local working artists the first and third Fridays of each month. www.noda.org/
  • Where to eat: Grab a light bite at the Crepe Cellar Kitchen and Pub and make sure you order a side of signature pesto Brie fries. [3116 N Davidson Street; crepecellar.com; 704-910-6543)
  • Where to stay: Hyatt House Charlotte Center where you can relax after your NoDa outingat its rooftop terrace pool. (435 East Trade Street; charlottecentercity.house.hyatt.com;704-373-9700)
  • Don’t miss…live music at the Evening Muse, NoDa’s long-running venue for indie music. (3227 N. Davidson; theeveningmuse.com; 704-376-3737)

Los Angeles’ Arts District

When you spot graffiti-covered walls and giant outdoor murals, you know the Los Angeles Arts District is in your line of sight. This neighborhood of aging warehouses, food processing plants, and low-rise manufacturing facilities on downtown’s eastern fringe gained traction with artists who unofficially moved into vacant buildings in the late 1970s. The city eventually gave its stamp of approval on these live/work spaces when it passed an Artist in Residence ordinance in 1981.

The billboards on display are the antithesis of the corporate kind you see along the highway. Rather they’re a robust collection of street art murals including some by Europe’s elite artists: Banksy (England), JR (France) and Aryz (Spain).

As America’s entertainment capital, L.A. is the place artists from around the globe want to be seen. A few blocks west of where the artists live is where many of their works are displayed in the Historic Core neighborhood. In a city of automobiles, locals joke, the BMW stops here. Only in this area will you see 40,000 Angelenos get out of their cars and talk to each other face to face.

  • When to go: Downtown Art Walk is held the second Thursday of every month.
  • Where to eat: BacoMercat, a small-plate favorite. Try one of the stuffed flatbread sandwiches with a glass of custom-made tamarindo and mango pop.  (408 South Main Street; bacomercat.com; 213-687-8808)
  • Where to stay: AirBnB is the place to experience life in a true downtown loft for less than the cost of a hotel. (airbnb.com)
  • Don’t miss…a nightcap at The Varnish. Head for an unmarked door at the back of Cole’s restaurant for a vintage cocktail at this speakeasy-style watering hole.  (118 East 6th Street; 213nightlife.com; 213-622-9999)