What’s it like to live in a century's old trolley substation? Well, I recently sat down with Meike Kopp to find out. Meike is the owner of luxury fragrance and candle line, Manifest Destiny, and she calls Cypress Park Huron Substation home. The Huron Substation is a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument. Built in 1906, it used to supply electricity for the “Yellow Cars” of L.A.'s long-defunct railway system; today it is located in what is now the heart of the exploding arts and business scene in Northeast Los Angeles (NELA). In the interest of full disclosure Meike and I chatted over - not coffee - but a couple of Blue Moons leftover from a recent film shoot at the Substation.
As we sat around her large, rustic wood slab bar suspended from the ceiling, we discussed the joys and pitfalls of hosting weddings, the inspiration she draws from her turn-of-the-century home, and her life-long fascination with fragrance.
What’s Your Favorite Coffee Shop? What do you love about it?
Antigua which is right here, just blocks away. I also like Habitat - they have the paintings out front. It’s very open. The thing about coffee shops is that they usually don’t have great food, just pastries. But Habitat's got really good food. They have amazing salads with homemade dressings. And their coffee is really good.
Huron Substation has been a venue for film, commercial, and photos shoots. It's also been a frequent wedding venue. What’s it like hosting weddings? Any favorite memories?
It was really hard because I was working 8 days a week. I’d work all week, then I’d do prep which, for a wedding, is very substantial, so it’s a 16-hour day. [And because I live here] there was no boundary of what’s my private life and what’s [business].
What’s interesting is [hosting a wedding] connects you to people in a way that, you know, the big moments in life do. You know death does that...marriage... birth...when you are sharing those times with people they feel very connected. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be at Trader Joes or I’ll be downtown at a restaurant and people will be like ‘Meike?’ I won’t remember everyone because there have been a lot of people who have come through but they’ll be like “I got married at your place,” and they’ll almost feel like I’m a family member.
I sold my first house in Highland Park to a super cool couple...and who ends up getting married here years later? They [the bride and groom] did a tango which was sexy as hell. At one point, one of the chickens (Meike raises urban chickens) got out of the coop and the groom starts chasing after it, and there are these pictures of him in his tux and he’s holding the chicken, and I thought, I love these people!
Huron Substation is from the turn of the 20th century, which obviously speaks to you, but how else would you describe your aesthetic and how does this space inspire your businesses?
I loved that there was this big door into the garden that really connects you to the outdoors. I love living that way. Our lifestyle is one of always having the doors open, so there’s this constant connection to the outside. I love the brick, I love the high ceiling, I feel like I’m in a church at night, when the moonlight comes in. And I really like the aesthetic of combining modern stuff with really old stuff. I would say it’s my design aesthetic, and it’s in my candles and in my perfumes. I’m trying to combine vintage looking items with a more modern sensibility.
What I want is to try to be completely trendless. That’s my big goal, personally, in what I wear, in how I wear makeup, everything I do. I don’t want to be part of a trend.
This building in many ways is its own person. You know what I mean? It really does have its own personality and I can add to it, but it has its own aesthetic. The garden at night is really magical. The way it’s lit up - and the chicken coop lights up - it feels different [than in the day]. It’s got a dual personality. The scorch marks (from an old fire) on the walls, that’s what photographers tend to love...it’s like everything here has a story to it.
What drew you to living and running a business in Northeast Los Angeles?
You know, I think I’ve always been really attracted to blue collar areas. I always like to get my hands dirty, I want to be around other people who want to get their hands dirty.
What advice would you give to other budding entrepreneurs and what do you wish you’d known before you started?
I think if you know too much you won’t do it. It’s like having kids, if I had done a little chart, I wouldn’t have done any of it. And when I meet people who are very cerebral - and I’m not a cerebral person - I’m like, well you could be sort of blocking yourself from a lot of experience. Because you have your eye on that nugget, you might not see other stuff because you’re not relaxed enough to see that opportunity. I think there’s a lot of decisions to be made when you’re an entrepreneur of what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t - and those are interesting decisions. If you do it in a way that you are in tune with yourself, maybe it guides you in a bigger way.
What’s next for Huron Substation?
Everybody keeps telling me a great thing to do would be to do the Airbnb experience and this is a great place for that. I could do a scent experience. One of the other things I want to do is writing workshops. I would love to be the hub of writers in Northeast LA. This area is a hub for people who are more novelists and essayists. I think it’s a great idea for any kind of workshop to be able to have this heart space, and people around it. Hopefully try to have workshops planned at least 2-3 times a month. I’m psyched about it. That’s where I see my future here, and I see Manifest Destiny growing.
// All Photography by Marni Epstein-Mervis of STRUKTR Studios