A neighborhood isn’t planned: a neighborhood happens. It’s the result of like-minded individuals and businesses grouping together in the same area and growing a part of town into their perfect community. This process takes years and relies heavily on change as the catalyst for success. Los Angeles neighborhoods are constantly changing. With a huge population of creatives, makers in need of space, and new businesses looking to expand, forgotten and neglected parts of the city become neighborhoods coping with a status change: they are maturing and, in some cases, rematuring. Los Angeles–now–is a collection of neighborhoods happening at warp speed.
Venice, Highland Park, Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park, the Arts District, Chinatown, various Fairfax Corridors: these are just a few of the Los Angeles neighborhoods that have and still are coming into their own. People are taking note of this and doing what they can to ensure that these neighborhoods succeed. People like Tyler Stonebreaker and Michael Smith are following the growth and changes in Los Angeles very closely because it is their job to know what neighborhoods are doing and how businesses new and old to Los Angeles can fit within our landscape.
What is it that they do, though? That’s a very complicated question because people like Tyler and Michael represent a new type of culturally aware business person who is part creative enabler and part civic puppet master. They run a business called Creative Space, which is a collective of people with a hand in the business world and a hand in the creative world. They basically are experts at breaking down legal and business jargon for artistic and creative companies and finding them a space that makes sense for their needs, is cool, and is in a part of town–a neighborhood–that they would enhance and be enhanced by. They insert like minds next to each other and watch communities grow.
The Arts District is the area that best represents their work. Tyler and Michael and their team are the guys responsible for getting businesses like Handsome Coffee and Poketo their spaces. They are the reason why artisanal market Urban Radish is coming to the Arts District and why glasses maker Garret Leight is moving his office Downtown. They are why Zinc Café are coming to Los Angeles in addition heavy hitters like Stumptown are coming soon. Tyler and Michael are responsible for sliding these businesses in neighborhoods that will compliment them. They’re a completely new type of city worker.
The two weren’t always in this creative/new business world. They actually come from somewhat foreign backgrounds from each other and Creative Space is a direct response to these backgrounds and a city structured like Los Angeles is. We sit in their new Arts District office, a bright, open space that they are still moving into but is full of people working. There are boxes in the space but they are a moving installation that shows off their brand name and illustrates their moving people. There’s a giant wall map overlooking Tyler and Michael’s desk area that breaks down Los Angeles by which neighborhoods are worth talking about and which parts of these neighborhoods specifically are booming. Each neighborhood is in a bright color that jumps off of the wall. It is very accurate, too.
Michael has short black hair and has a quick, contemplative way about him. He explains his history first. “I’m originally from Michigan and my family moved out to California when I was in high school. I went back to college at Northwestern, studying Economics and Communications. I decided I was tired of being cold so I moved to LA, which is basically my favorite place on the planet. This is home.”
“I started off in the product placement and marketing worlds, helping brands by advising them in new media (this is going back to the early 2000s). I started DJing for fun, as a hobby, and that led me to start The Playlist Generation, a company that services a few thousand different businesses in hospitality, retail, restaurants, etc. all over the world. That process helped me to learn about sonic identities of places and where businesses were going and what space needs they have.”
“Tyler and I linked up when he pivoted his focus in real estate,” Michael says.
“Well, we’re childhood friends: we’ve known each other since we were thirteen as competitive tennis players. We travelled the country playing against each other.”
The two laugh. Michael continues with a smirk. “Anyway, Tyler knowing me and what I did lifted my company as a creative company that needs direction over the whole gamut. How do we get the right office space? Music production needs? Sound issues? Lease terms? All these things I didn’t have a real sense of but basically he took me on to be an advisor for the company and I helped with the branding and lens that we help creatives through the language that we all speak.”
“Over the years, I started getting compassionate about what I was advising on. It was a completely different thing than the creative business I had been in. It really is more exciting than the traditional side of things I had known about in real estate. From that point, it made sense for me to come on board since we were collaborating on so many different things and bringing in so many different clients. I’m now a partner with Tyler and we’re doing dozens of projects mainly in New York, San Francisco, and LA. we’re working with lots of like minded entrepreneurs and various folks I’ve met along the way and worked with.”
Michael looks over to Tyler, handing over the reigns of explaining. Tyler is a gentle giant with salt and pepper hair: you would assume he was a competitive rower instead of a competitive tennis player. “I’m originally from Newport Beach, which is South of here,” he says. “I went to USC, here in Los Angeles, for undergrad and graduate school and then went down the corporate path. I worked for a global real estate investment company, doing institutional financial analysis, underwriting, etc.: nothing exciting.”
“I decided I wanted to build and develop more so I ended up becoming a partner at a development company, building millions of square feet of buildings and campuses, none of which added value to anything and were more or less adding to suburban sprawl. But, that was the way the majority of the marketplace thinks.”
“I grew tired of what was happening,” Tyler says, shifting. “My social life here in Los Angeles involved people like Michael, all with different interests. My wife is an actress and fashion designer and we’re friends with a lot of film producers: there is a huge disconnect in what I was doing for a living and how I was living my life on a personal level. I finally said f— it and took a sabbatical without any plan. I just left.”
“I knew at the time that as someone who went down the corporate path that you either freak out the next morning and get back to what you’re comfortable doing–or I would be motivated and inspired and do something completely different. I went with the latter option. I travelled around the world, spent about nine months traveling between 2008 and 2009. Then I lived in South Santa Monica and my schedule was walking my dog, getting coffee at Urth on Main, and then trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my day.”
This sabbatical and Westside staycation are where Creative Space started. Tyler and Michael and the Arts District would not be what it is today if Tyler didn’t frequent the Santa Monica Urth Caffe. Tyler explains: “What started this idea, the beginning of Creative Space, was I was sitting at Urth Caffe in the afternoon and two guys were next to me were talking about a film project. It was just a casual conversation in jeans and a t-shirt, the typical entertainment conversation cliché. It all made sense: there was this audience and this disconnect in experience. Why wouldn’t there be a focus on the real estate shaping the built environment here in Los Angeles specifically geared toward that audience? There are a lot of property owners who have buildings suited for that audience. I also felt that the economy was going through a major shift, that the world would feel a lot different post-recession. That was my thesis.”
“All of these things were going through my head so I went to Michael and one of my best friends who is a film producer and asked them what they thought of the idea. They thought it was interesting and something to think about so we talked about it more. That was the beginning of it.”
“So, I started the company,” Tyler says, noting this was in 2009. “It was really just the idea that there is a huge creative audience that utilizes space for different purposes, that we think through a different lens, and it felt like where the economy would go.”
“Creative Space was born from that observation and my own personal journey and interest in wanting to impact a neighborhood. What it has evolved into–at least on a personal level–is we get to do things we enjoy. We get to work with companies that we think are interesting and relevant. We get to work with people who we think will do great things for a particular neighborhood and we get to choose neighborhoods. Instead of this reactionary industry of real estate (which is there and just reacts to what is happening), we get to make real estate a part of the discussion because the built environment is everything. It’s human nature: it’s shelter.”
While a large portion of their work obviously deals with real estate, a large portion of their job deals with buzzwords like curation, artisanal, tastemaker, etc.: they have to see trends before they happen and guide permanent fixtures like stores into the right direction. The two credit fashion guide The Trend Forecaster’s Handbook as a big influence on what they do.
“There is a thesis that every trend can be predicted,” Tyler explains. “We were inspired by that and made a trend curve based around neighborhoods in Los Angeles. You look at it as an S-curve, from the innovators to the early stage to the early adopters to the majority to the late majority to the laggards. We thought about corridors and, if you look at the map, the darker colors correspond to commercial zones.”
The marrying of business and buildings and betting on trends is key in why an operation like Creative Space works. Many creatives have a knowledge of one or two of these concepts–but all three? Extremely rare and it would be a challenge to understand them, too.
“A company like Poketo aren’t experts in the real estate process,” Michael explains. “They have to deal with the broker with the fat tie that nobody likes. You have to deal with different designers and architects and deal with zoning issues, etc. Poketo in particular wanted to do their distribution and corporate offices out of the back of their space and retail in the front of their space. These are unusual uses of space: they may have ideas of what they want to do but not necessarily ideas how to execute them. We help fill that gap and we holistically look at the bigger picture, by neighborhood, to see what is going on.”
“We’re down here in the Arts District where there is so much activity. Why would Handsome or Poketo want to be down here? What is it about this [area] in relationship to all of LA that has them fitting here with their unique needs? You can’t do certain things like roasting coffee beans and distributing products from certain city parts because of zoning issues. There are also like minds here and a community coming up here. Some of the most exciting art and creativity in the country is happening right here.”
Tyler does mention that there are some issues with moving into the Arts District. It is not nearly as easy to move into the area as you would assume. “One of the most challenging things about the Arts District is that there is no space. No conventional space, at least,” he says. “Most of the buildings here are used for filming and they make more money from filming. Or, the landlords won’t do anything: they won’t spend the money to invest in the space. This presents a gap, a disconnect, that can make for a very frustrating process.”
Michael and Tyler make the frustrations and woes that come with materializing a physical space go away. Their job is to make this search easy, painless. They also have to be incredibly aware of the high temperature the Los Angeles creative climate is in. “In the last seven or eight years, Los Angeles has come into pole position as the most creative city in the world,” Michael explains. “There is a lot of movement from New York to here, a lot of movement from San Francisco to here, too. There’s even a lot of movement from Europe to here. It’s all by virtue of a lot of different media and new media and art–all these things are coming together and growing up. That has allowed for a new layer in the creative class, a more sophisticated layer that may have been looked over in the past.”
“LA in general is a layered, confusing city,” Tyler adds. “We try to simplify it.”
Michael continues. “You can be an artist and be everywhere but [an artist] prefers to be in a community where you feel like you might meet people and collaborate with them. That’s part of our thinking from the creative lens. Who is there? What creatives are there? Are you the right kind of business to be among them? There is a certain je ne sais quoi of being in a laboratory.”
“Creativity can mean different things,” Tyler says. “To us, it is about the business of creativity. We work with designers and graphic artists and artists and architects. We even have an architect on staff! But, it’s the business part of it that has to be aligned with the creative part of it in order for it to be relevant. Otherwise, it’s just a concept that is sort of cool but not necessarily impacting the world.”
This “business of creativity” is very important to Creative Space because it is Creative Space. For example, the two recently rethought something as simple as a real estate sign, turning it into a sort of public art piece that they produced in collaboration with WoodSmithe. “There’s something unique about it,” Tyler says. “To us, space is more than just four walls. It’s even more than just a creative space: it’s more than just a physical product or physical space but more of an opportunity to rethink how businesses and consumers interact in environments.”
“How do you challenge a real estate sign without being too conceptual?” he asks. The resulting sign is a deconstruction of information presented as parallel lines pasted to the corner of a building. If anything, this approach to marketing a building or the coming of a business or the transition of a space will be eyegrabbing.
Michael and Tyler have a lot on their minds and in production for 2013. Aside from their assisting the Arts District becoming even more of an “It” neighborhood, the guys are getting Urban Radish near completion, working on a partnership with the city and Otis to have an interaction of creativity, helping out the Coffee Bean rethink their brand and retail, getting ready to usher in lots of new businesses into Los Angeles, and even making sure that their physical space is the creative space that they want it to be. It’s going to be a big year for them.
The only lingering question with Creative Space is what happens in the future and when areas are no longer hip. As Los Angeles and its pockets evolve, what happens to a cool brand that cannot walk away from their space that is no longer in a cool neighborhood? “My thought is that the only thing that is constant is change,” Tyler responds. “I don’t think you can look through it as whether or nor it continues or stops: what are our neighborhoods that represent the future and not the past? We are focused on thinking forward.”
“Obviously, there is a heritage of the past that has to be respected. It’s not necessarily a new economy as much as it is going back to the Renaissance age, when they figured out that if you put all these ideas together, interesting things happen. Neighborhoods follow in the same way: Downtown is coming back; Venice is waking up (actually to some consternation); Silver Lake and Echo Park are more of a reflection of artists looking for affordable space–and now everyone’s going to Highland Park and then they’ll all go back. There is constant movement.”
“How we work is understanding this audience, understanding what makes these sorts of neighborhoods different from other neighborhoods. Being realistic about the fact that it will change and not trying to hold on and preserve and stop change: we’re embracing it. Wherever this audience goes, we’ll go. There will always be constraints and issues and silos but we’ll continue to innovate and experiment. There’s no end game: we want to make a positive difference.”
For more on Creative Space, please check out their website for more information and updates on new projects. You can also find photos of Creative Space and WoodSmite’s updated real estate signs at the bottom. The sign will be going up soon at the future site of Zinc Café at 580 Mateo.