Occidental College joins the York Boulevard scene

Occidental College Buys York Boulevard Building

Shopper and Diner buttonEAGLE ROCK — Except for a small green metal street sign with an arrow, there’s little indication that Occidental College is only a short walk away from York Boulevard. But that’s about the change after the liberal arts college purchased a York Boulevard commercial building to raise the college’s profile in the neighborhood and also attract more shops and cafes further west along the street.

The college paid $1.59 million for the 5,400-square-foot building at the northwest corner of York and Armadale Avenue, according to Occidental spokesman James Tranquada. Right now the most prominent tenant of the 1920s building is the Ocxy Store, a liquor store patronized by Oxy students and residents. But the college plans to renovate the building and fill the storefronts with new shops and cafes and leave four spaces for college purposes.

Said Tranquada:

We’re hoping to achieve a couple of goals: to help lure the emerging York retail scene further west, closer to the College, and make Occidental more visible on a gateway location on York. Currently, it’s easy to drive by on York and not know Oxy’s just a block away. We’re hoping when we renovate the building to make it more obvious that Oxy’s nearby.

Occidental has turned to faculty and staff for proposals for the units reserved for college purposes. Officials have yet to determine when the building will be ready for the new tenants.

A story in the college newspaper, the Oxy Weekly, said some students suspected the purchase of the building was a way to reduce the number of alcohol outlets near the college. Occidental officials refuted that notion, saying that there are several places near Occidental that serve and sell alcohol.

But it does appear that the corner Ocxy Store won’t be selling liquor for long.  “The corner space likely will remain some kind of locally owned retail/café, and it’s possible that two other adjacent spaces might be used for some kind of commercial or retail use,” Tranquada said.


  1. I would like an Organic, Gluten Free, Free Trade, Vegan, Carbon Negative, Muffin Shop with Parklet composed entirely of recycled Latino street mattresses.

  2. Bring back the ‘Big O’ bar that was located a few doors east of the liquor store.

  3. Oxy compliments our community. I am confident Oxy will create a positive fibe for the area. Go Tigers!!!

  4. I was a tenant in one of the units in this building until we were kicked out in January, following Oxy’s purchase of the building. Of course Oxy has the right to do whatever they want with the building, but people should know that Oxy has been disingenuous.

    This building housed (affordable) artist studios since at least the 1990s, all of whom have now been kicked out. The former longtime owners of the building had said that they wouldn’t be selling, but they eventually gave in and cashed out during this most recent boom cycle. When they sold to Oxy, everyone was told that the building was going to be converted to art studios for Oxy students. All of us tenants (excluding the Oxy Store) were being kicked out, but this was presented as not the typical ‘re-tenanting’ that has become so common in the area… unfortunately it now appears that Oxy is contributing to the displacement aspect of ‘gentrification’ in much the same way that the speculative investors scooping up buildings on Figueroa and York are doing.

    Oxy is cashing in on the hype that was built on the backs of the first wave of creatives who came to the area before it was ‘cool,’ because it was affordable and they were creative and had vision, which ultimately infused a neglected area with energy and added value. Now that this value has reached a certain point, new interests have come in to cash in on the wave, and commodify the renewed interest in the neighborhood.

    Ultimately, the ‘starving artists’ who were the first wave of ‘gentrification’ get pushed out by these forces, because rents are jacked up based on newly realized market potential… and art studios, small storefronts, etc. become unaffordable. Unless you bought the building before the big wave of speculative investment, you’re done in Highland Park. Then it’s off to the next place to start over, be it El Sereno, Vernon, or wherever. This isn’t however only a ‘hard luck story’ for these individuals; it impacts Highland Park by draining the community of much of what made it appealing in the first place. Ultimately this means fewer artists making good work in Highland Park, and fewer locally owned businesses.

    It’s sad to me that Oxy is but another player in this game. Why did they wait until now, when it was trendy, to purchase and renovate a building to increase their ‘community presence’? They could have taken a lead on neighborhood improvements long ago. Again, they have the right to do what they want with the property. But call it what it is, and don’t pretend that it’s not contributing to the displacement of the creative community in Highland Park, while cashing in on the new commercial scene.

    PS Come on eastsider, nothing in this story about the art studios that were here for decades? Was there any attempt or interest in finding out who has occupied this building before Oxy ‘joins the York Blvd. scene’? Perfect example of how people can so easily gloss over the less visible costs of development.

    • Jonathan, thanks for the backstory. I had no idea much of anything was going on in that building. Was always curious why it didn’t seem to be put to better use (i.e. did not know artists were working inside). Did you and other artists participate in art walk events or open your studios to the public? Not blaming, just wondering. Hope you find a new space to work in.

    • What makes artists think they are special and add more value to a community than anyone else? Is the auto mechanic not just as special? I care more about the average person getting displaced than some self-important artist who thinks the world revolves around them.

    • Hey Jonathan — I’m a student at Occidental and an arts&entertainment editor for the Occidental Weekly. I’m really interested in your story and perspective on the York Blvd developments, and would be interested in learning more about the artists that currently occupy the building and the history behind it. I can’t get your contact info or anything off your comment, but my email is corsa@oxy.edu if you would be willing to talk more about this! It’s certainly an issue that students at Occidental would be interested to know more about.

    • Wow, Jonathan, you seem to know nothing about anything. There have been artists in the area for over a hundred years. You write, “Oxy is cashing in on the hype that was built on the backs of the first wave of creatives who came to the area before it was ‘cool,'”
      I hate to break it too you, but Occidental was in Highland Park in 1898, and it moved to Eagle Rock in 1914. One could say it helped to put the area on the map.

  5. Oxy started a pretty amazing art exhibition program on campus maybe a year ago or so. They have even been commissioning artists to create site specific pieces. It would be GREAT if that program was given a space in this building so that these exhibits could have more of a presence in the community. They have a gallery space on campus that is open to the public but people need to know about it and seek it out. The exhibits and installations have been well worth seeing so its kind of a shame to think that more people who would appreciate what is going on might be missing out. A space on York would be much easier for people to find.

  6. It’s really a two headed snake. I am stuck in the middle I welcome a number of the changes to the area but I must admit Jonathan’s story gives me pause. As an artist it’s hard to see another artist displaced affordable a
    studios are hard to come by. I used to have one downtown near the cornfield and gave it up once I purchase a home here 13 years ago. I’ve seen my property value sky rocket and seen a number of new business open up on York and Fig. The sad reality is I can relate to his plight I was lucky that before I left the studio space downtown , which I and a 9 other artist found and renovated for work spaces, I was able to recoop my most of my money because the person who came in after me repaid me for 90% of the money i put into the space. However my other previous studio mates weren’t that lucky 5 moths after I left the space was purchased and they had to move loosing there space as well as any money they put in the space. It was my intention to build a space on my property but then the reality of home ownership sunk in and having to make foundation repairs sunk that idea. I stared thinking of finding an ideal studio space but that also became impossible. I’m not looking for a pity party but to just illustrate how complicated the entire notion of gentrification is and the current trend go York and the neighborhood. On the one hand my property value has risen on the other hand finding affordable studio space has become impossible. At least I have alternatives now maybe I can afford to build something on my lot by taking money out but thats another story. Anyways I feel your plight Jonathan but also see the forces at play improving my home value and cleaning up some decaying structures

    • Please excuse my typos but I think you get the point.

      • Exactly re3. Mine is not a sob story, I’m filling in a part of the story that was glossed over. I personally lucked out and found a great new space, though others in the building have not been so lucky. Again, Oxy can do what they want with the building; in fact, the place is an eyesore, I’d love to see the building improved visually. But things don’t happen in a vacuum.

        It’s not like anyone can stop the forces of change, but I do think that we can do our best to play a constructive role as a community by considering the broader ramifications of certain actions, and having a dialog. The best that we can do is contribute to a neighborhood culture that is more socially responsible and empowers local stakeholders.

        I’m tired of small minded people who say ‘look at the rising property values, therefore anything that contributes to rising property values is universally the best path forward.’ Rising property values are great, but markets go up and down, boom and bust. Cultural vitality is meaningful and has enduring value. Who cares if the $500k house is now $600k, if the neighborhood just lost the capacity for locally owned small businesses or creative spaces? These things are not mutually exclusive, my point is that it’s complicated so think about it!

        • Artists contribute no more to neighborhood vitality than a cook or an auto mechanic or a hair stylist. There is an abundance of art if one desires to pursue that hobby. If an artist can’t sell their creations and can’t sustain their studios, it’s not great tragedy. They probably aren’t very good and should consider another hobby.

          • Same goes for the cook, hairstylist and mechanic. So stop belly aching every time a new business moves into the hood fool. Vote with your dollars and stop being such a hater. Cash is king, duh. Even the gangsters know that!

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