By anabel marquez
PHOTOS BY RACHEL CARRILLO
In explaining her role as Executive Director of DTLA’s Historic Core and the many responsibilities that come with the job, it would have been easy for Blair Besten to mention the numerous times she’s been recognized for holding one of the city’s most challenging positions: that of improving the quality of life for residents and businesses in an area that is admired for its history and architecture yet battered by the hindrance of homelessness and crime.
How energizing it is then, that this determined single mother of a 9-year-old boy never mentions her awards and accolades. Instead, she picks up trash as she walks along South Spring St., she enthusiastically discusses the re-opening of a Japanese restaurant on Broadway, and she proudly talks about the people she serves.
“One of the gratifying parts of the job is that I consistently meet new people at the right time who are focused on the positive, have lots of energy and creative ideas, and they are willing to work with me to make a difference,” says Besten.
Not that Besten hasn’t experienced hurdles in her mission to serve as a community unifier. There are instances where business owners get frustrated because they can’t obtain timely city permits and residents who may resist a development project for a wide range of reasons.
And then of course, there are those who wish she had a solution to the drug-related loitering happening in some of downtown’s most densely populated and activated blocks.
But she has found a way to continue steering the Historic Core BID toward the same aspiration she’s held since 2004, when she first accepted a job as an on-site project manager for the Santa Fe Loft Apartments on Main St—the goal of creating a vibrant, 24/7, dense, populated residential urban center of our city.
Any other person could have easily walked away from the stress of managing numerous projects at once in the country’s second largest city and dealing with the complex dynamics involved in each step of completing a task.
But not Blair.
Instead of looking at the challenges as barriers, she’s led the organization with willpower and grit. She’s currently serving her 11th year at ‘the heart of Downtown Los Angeles’.
“It’s a lot,” she admits. “But I do love my community… These people inspire me every day. It is somehow my good fortune that I receive these offers to collaborate precisely when they are needed most.”
A Single Mom in DTLA
Prior to managing DTLA projects, Besten had pursued an acting career and landed a few small gigs on TV & Film, however that ended when she began feeling dissatisfied with certain aspects of the industry and realized she wasn’t that passionate about acting.
She started with a large, Los Angeles developer in property management, and had previously worked on small construction projects for a local broker/owner. KOR Realty Group was looking for someone to help oversee the Santa Fe Lofts and Eastern Columbia construction sites. Besten would be coordinating efforts with the subcontractors and basically act as the eyes of the developer, on site.
“At that time, [DTLA] was not a 24-hour town,” recalls Besten. “The second largest city in the nation… that’s what intrigued me about the whole revitalization…All I could do is look up at the architecture and say—oh my god, you want me to help turn this beautiful, abandoned building into places for people to live? Sign me up!”
Along the journey, Besten got married and gave birth to a baby boy, a year and a half after taking the job with the BID and launching the first, weekend Downtown farmers’ market on 5th Street.
“I returned to work eight weeks later,” she remembers. “I’d get home, nurse my son but it was tough to manage the adjustment of spending time away from him.”
When her son was about two years old, Besten went through a separation and divorce, a time in her life she describes as difficult. In a symbolic memory of the months before separating, Besten recalls staring at her home water dispenser. She remembers one of the silly things women fear about being single, “who is going to hoist this, heavy, glass 5-gallon water container onto the water dispenser base? I can’t do that.”
“Then I muscled up, slowly lifted the water jug, water was pouring in really fast but I flipped it onto the base.,” she remembers. “It was heavy and messy because I spilled water all over the place… but I did it.”
And just like that, Besten continues handling anything that’s thrown at her.
When it comes to her son, she’s making sure the young boy knows she’ll be there for him every step of the way.
“I’m here to love you, help you grow into a happy and independent human, and I’m kinda your tour guide to life,” she tells him.
Back at the office, Besten steps out to show us some of her favorite places around 5th and Broadway. First, she takes us to the rooftop of her office building where we get a majestic view of the DTLA skyline. Then we walk to the ornate Los Angeles Theater on Broadway. Along the way, she shares little known secrets about places where the Hollywood elite would stay the night with secret lovers. She also gives us the inside scoop of new eateries opening soon.
“One goal is to make every resident and small business owner feel like they are part of something bigger, and that in working together, we can make our neighborhood feel connected and protected,” she says.
Besten loves Downtown L.A. and she’s proud of the things she’s done to make this area a better place.
She has agency and she’s not afraid to use it.
BLAIR’S TOP FIVE DTLA GEMS
1. THE LAST BOOKSTORE WAS NAMED ON THE TOP TEN MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOKSTORES IN THE WORLD!
LOCATION: 453 S. SPRING ST. LOS ANGELES, CA 90013
2. THE EASTERN COLUMBIA IS ONE OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL FAÇADES OF ANY BUILDING I KNOW WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI!
LOCATION: 849 S. BROADWAY LOS ANGELES, CA 90014
3. THE VARNISH WAS VOTED THE #1 BAR IN THE NATION AND IT’S A SPEAKEASY IN THE BACK OF COLE’S
LOCATION:118 E. 6TH ST. LOS ANGELES, CA 90014
4. BOND COLLECTIVE CO-WORKING SPACE. WHEN YOU WALK IN, IT’S FREAKING BEAUTIFUL! AND YOU WONDER, WHAT’S THIS ABOVE A SKETCHERS STORE?
LOCATION: 612 S. BROADWAY LOS ANGELES, CA 90014
5. GARCONS DE CAFÉ IS LIKE BEING TRANSPORTED INTO PARIS OR EUROPE SOMEWHERE WITH ITS STONE WALLS
LOCATION: 541 S. SPRING ST. UNIT 114 LOS ANGELES, CA 90013