EDVARD PETTERSSON

Staff Reporter

When Gretchen Spence moved into her 1,200-square-foot warehouse space in the Brewery Arts Complex in Lincoln Heights three years ago, a banner on the roof of one of the buildings advertised available space.

The banner is long gone, and now there is a waiting list of around 90 people for a loft. Meanwhile, Spence has seen her own rent climb from $800 to $940 a month a tight squeeze for a struggling artist.

Los Angeles either has too many artists, or not enough empty old warehouses.

A strong economy has led to a resurgent art market, and that means more artists flock here every year. They often choose to live in converted warehouses, which allow them to live and work in low-cost lofts with wide-open spaces.

But after a spate of conversions in the '80s, developers have basically stopped building new lofts. The result is that rents are rising fast in L.A.'s designated arts districts, and there simply isn't enough space to accommodate the demand.

"There are between 2,000 and 2,500 artists living in (industrial-zoned) artists-in-residence spaces east of downtown," said Don Spivack, deputy administrator with the Community Redevelopment Agency. "As soon as something becomes available, it is taken. There's no need to advertise because everything is done by word of mouth. As a result, we have seen prices go up steadily over the years."

Artists are the only people who can legally live in parts of the city zoned for industrial uses; all they need is a permit designating them as "creative" professionals who need live/work spaces. Areas where such artist lofts are allowed include the Brewery Art Complex in Lincoln Heights, the Santa Fe Arts Colony at Santa Fe Avenue and 24th Street, and the Artists District east of Alameda Street.

The Brewery, just east of the Los Angeles River, has for years produced a steady supply of affordable live-and-work spaces for artists by converting industrial structures, but the owners say they cannot afford to continue conversions because of stringent city regulations.

Tucked away among the railroad yards, a UPS facility and the San Antonio Winery, the Brewery has been a haven for local artists since the mid-'80s, when Carlson Industries LLC began converting the former Pabst Brewery into artist spaces. The sprawling, 20-acre complex, which also includes a former Southern California Edison power plant building, now houses 300 units for artists as well as numerous commercial spaces, including a restaurant.

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