Joel Bloom was a pioneering urbanist and advocate, whose efforts anchored the Arts District as a creative hub for downtown Los Angeles. Considered the “godfather” of the AD, he championed the campaign in the 1990s that led to the city’s official recognition and designation of the neighborhood as the Arts District. From improving city services and nurturing its artistic bent, Joel worked tirelessly from the helm of his eclectic general store on Traction Avenue and Hewitt Street. Bloom also led the charge in fighting to keep the Los Angeles Unified School District from building a distribution warehouse in the neighborhood — the same area that the Southern California Institute of Architecture now calls home. He also started a long-running neighborhood watch walk that fostered a strong sense of community for the Arts District.
A native of Chicago, Joel was also an actor. He graduated from Pasadena Playhouse’s school of theater arts in 1969 and later earned a degree in psychology from the University of Illinois. He then joined Chicago’s renowned Second City as a stage manager. In the late 70s, he moved to Los Angeles along with his roommate, Second City comedian George Wendt. Bloom joined the Shakespeare Festival/LA as stage manager and made a home for himself in what would become the Arts District, bartending at Al’s Bar and writing and staging plays in local spaces.
Joel Bloom passed away on July 13, 2007. Today, we celebrate Bloomfest in his honor, highlighting the evolving culture of the Arts District. Joel said to the LA Times in 1994 before opening his general store, “There’s a spark here — hopefully we can light it.” Thanks for passing the torch, Joel… You are loved.