Fairfax: The Times They Are A Changin’

Do you have to look away when you walk by the diner
Where the squad car stops for coffee
Don’t you wish that you were any place else but here
And don’t you feel kinda funny when a man-in suit says
“Man, do you know where I can get high?”
Don’t you wish that you were any place else but here
Take a walk down any street that you choose
Yeh and you’ll wind up with the Fairfax Street
Mid morning paranoia blues.
Do you grab a cigarette when a man in an unmarked
Plymouth pulls you over just to say “Hi”.
Don’t you wish that you were any place else but here
And do you fumble in your wallet when you’re looking for your license
And he tells you not to talk with your mouth full
Don’t you wish that you were any place else but here

Harry Nilsson, Fairfax Rag

According to the Los Angeles Times, the characteristic Jewish area of Los Angeles, the Fairfax District, is changing. Investors are coming in, turning the area into a clone of Melrose Blvd. As rents rise, local businesses are being forced out. These include:

  • The Jewish record shop where a fledgling neighborhood musician, Herb Alpert, hung out and where a quiet store clerk named Steve Barri sat behind the counter and worked on the million-selling song “Secret Agent Man.” “This is the end of the road. I’m out of here. I’d have to triple my business to pay the rent,” said Simon Rutberg, owner of Hatikvah Music, a Jewish record shop that has been a fixture at 436 N. Fairfax Ave. since 1954. Rutberg started working in the record store in 1964 and bought it in 1989. In the early days the shop stocked a mixture of both popular and Jewish music. Originally called Norty’s Music Center and owned by Norty Beckman, the store attracted the likes of Fairfax High graduate Herb Alpert and employees-turned-songwriters Steve Barri and Jerry Leiber, another Fairfax High alumnus whose co-writing credits included “Love Potion No. 9” and “Stand by Me”. Now, Hatikvah carries only what Rutberg described as the world’s largest selection of Jewish music.
  • The oldest and largest Judaica store in the West, a place where you can spend $3 on an Israeli-made knickknack or $30,000 on a hand-printed Torah. “I’m looking at close to a triple rent increase. I have until Feb. 14 to be out,” said Herr, whose bookstore at 449 N. Fairfax Ave. is jammed with about 40,000 volumes. “I don’t know where I can go. Maybe I’ll rent a warehouse and sell books on the Internet.”

Some are going to try to hang on. David Noubaharestan, who with his father runs Solomon’s, a Jewish gift shop and bookstore that has operated at 445 N. Fairfax Ave. since 1948, hopes to stay. Solomon’s plans to pack up the thousands of items crammed into their 3,500-square-foot shop and move to a smaller storefront down the block.

The article notes how this is a reflection of the changing Jewish face of Los Angeles. Fairfax became known as a center of Jewish life in the 1940s, when Jewish families relocated to the area from an enclave in the Boyle Heights area east of downtown Los Angeles. Its best-known business, Canter’s Deli, moved to Fairfax Avenue from Brooklyn Avenue (now East Cesar Chavez Avenue) in 1948. It began changing in the 1980s, when when Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods began taking root farther south, north, and east. Even Canter’s, which now includes a small stage in its Kibitz Room, is jammed with hipsters during late-night hours.

I grew up with many friends in the Fairfax area. Some of the stores there are the only place to find certain pieces of Judaica. I don’t think the stores in North Hollywood compare. Sigh. More Los Angeles history being lost.

[Crossposted to weirdjews]