Partly demolished Union Swapmeet

Union Swapmeet warehouse, mid-demolition.

East Hollywood - The old Union Swapmeet on Santa Monica Boulevard has been leveled.

It was an indoor scrum of vendors -- many of them immigrants -- with no theme or apparent design: A one-stop warehouse for tattoos, bicycle repairs, copies of keys, botanical supplies, eyebrow threading, women’s underwear, graffiti supplies, pet birds, and yarn.

The 24,696-square feet of warehouse and parking lot will be replaced for a new housing development.

“The swapmeet was like a small village from a bygone time in some country that never existed in reality,” said Cecilia Hae-Jin Lee, who ran the nouveau Korean restaurant Nobi - with fusion dishes that included experimental bi bim bop, kimchi grilled cheese sandwiches, and Korean tacos.

“It was a community where Latinx and Korean vendors intersected with the colorful characters of East Hollywood,” Lee said. “Really, it was a bunch of American immigrants trying to eke out a living, trying to find our tiny bit of the 'American Dream' myth….”

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Though swap meets have been facing a difficult struggle amid the COVID outbreak, this demolition was in the cards long before the pandemic started.

Plans are in place to fill the now-empty lot on 4626-4644 Santa Monica Blvd. with a seven-story mixed-use development, featuring 177 residential units and 5,500 square feet of ground-floor commercial retail.

The site is less than a block from the Vermont-Sunset Metro Red Line station, making it ideally situated for incentives to encourage real estate development that would be larger than normally allowed.

“There were dozens of personal stories of struggle and strife, joys and accomplishments,” Lee said, recalling the community that began in 1986 and suddenly ended forever with the COVID shutdown. "There were divorces and marriages. Babies were born and raised there and a hundred lives lived…. Seeing the building destroyed, it’s really watching the end of an era. With online shopping and everything, we probably can’t have swap meets like that anymore in America."

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