In October 2013, Esther Kim Varet, director of the Venice Beach–based gallery Various Small Fires, placed a bid on 812 North Highland Avenue in Hollywood, a more than 5,000-square-foot lot containing a temple-like Art Deco edifice. The listing had gone up the night before, and Kim placed one of the first offers—by that afternoon, there were seven others bidders.
“It’s a landgrab right now,” Varet said of the situation in Hollywood. Over the last few years, the neighborhood has established itself as a gallery district with North Highland Avenue recast as its main drag. Regen Projects claims to have spearheaded the eastward shift in 2012, when the business moved just blocks from Overduin & Co. and Michael Kohn Gallery, and was soon followed by new venues like Hannah Hoffman. Within the last year alone, a number of emerging galleries have migrated closer to the Hollywood Hills; David Kordansky moved nearby in September, Various Small Fires opened on Highland in October, and LAXART will officially open again in January 2015 on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Former recording studios, karate-stunt training centers, and film-production offices now serve as ideal spaces for high-end galleries: business tax breaks and better access to both collectors in nearby upscale neighborhoods like Beverly Hills and artists living in the city’s eastern enclaves make Hollywood a convenient hub. And, Varet added, “It’s so freaking cheap.”
Varet’s move represents a shift for younger galleries away from their former critical mass in Venice. Once associated with the Light and Space artists, Venice has experienced a revival over the last 25 years that has created some of the city’s highest rents: Varet sold her former building to a movie star, and noted that Google had just moved its headquarters nearby.
“It’s like SoHo is now: all the people moving in there now are tech people,” Varet said. “And Culver City is more like what happened to Chelsea,” she added, referring to what is still arguably L.A.’s main gallery district.
Lauri Firstenberg, founder of LAXART, has left behind her Culver City gallery on La Cienega and will debut her new space in the former home of Radio Recorders, the studio where acts from Billie Holiday to Elvis to Jimi Hendrix recorded. The move, Firstenberg said, was motivated by a need for more space and a freestanding building. Downtown warehouses required too much overhaul.
“The city has changed, locationally as well as in terms of galleries growing,” Firstenberg said. “And so has our role and place in the city.” Hollywood, she said, seemed more central.
“Everyone’s like, Culver City is over,” Firstenberg said, though she doesn’t agree, adding, “There are so many amazing anchors there.”
Jeff Poe, whose Blum & Poe gallery has been based in L.A. since 1994, bought a Culver City building in 2003 but believes the recent purchases are more significant because of the increasing emphasis on buying property in Los Angeles.
“In the past,” he said, “the only gallery that really bought a building was Margo Leavin,” which closed its West Hollywood location in 2012. But now people are laying down more permanent roots in other neighborhoods.
Car culture makes moving through L.A.’s gallery scene much different from moving through New York’s, where Blum & Poe also has a space. The drive from Culver City to Hollywood, Poe said, is about the same distance as the drive from the Upper East Side to Chelsea, and he predicts the freeway-less expanse between Culver City and Hollywood will become “the through line” of L.A.’s arts district, with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art right in the center.
There’s a potential for a lot of driving, something that Varet considered when she was looking for a new building.
“I really wanted to find a gas station or a car wash because that’s perfect for L.A.,” she said. But, ironically, it “turns out those are really difficult to find.”
A version of this story originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 50 under the title “Hollywood: L.A.’s Next Frontier.”