When residents of Pacific Palisades told developer Rick Caruso that they wanted their movie theater back, he listened — even though he wasn't sure the idea made economic sense.
The creator of such prestigious properties as the Grove and Americana at Brand plans to resurrect the Bay Theater, which closed in 1978 after three decades, as part of his proposed Palisades Village redevelopment in the once bustling but now practically moribund shopping core.
That was one of myriad details that emerged as Caruso unveiled his plans Thursday night to an enthusiastic, standing-room-only crowd at Palisades Charter High School.
After months of meetings and debate, Palisades residents have impatiently awaited Caruso's design for the community, home to a range of residents, including retired teachers and movie stars.
During the two-hour-plus meeting, he did not disappoint, showing a slick video and renderings that depicted a walkable "Main Street" with fashionable shops and eateries, a second-floor community room and a park above a two-level, 384-space underground parking structure.
In addition to the five-screen theater, other highlights included outdoor dining, mature trees and diagonal parking for 50 or so vehicles on a one-way Swarthmore Avenue between Sunset Boulevard and Monument Street. The plan also calls for six apartments above retail shops at the longtime site of a Mobil station.
"Most people are just ecstatic," said Nicole Howard, a mother of two teen boys who has lived in the upscale enclave for 17 years. "The scale of the plan, the aesthetics … every single part of it — honestly, he was spot-on."
"People are so eager for something viable to be there, something usable," said Barbara Kohn, president emeritus of the Pacific Palisades Community Council. But Kohn, who also is chairwoman of the local design review board, said she would reserve judgment until "I see on paper what it is going to be."
Caruso, founder and chief executive of Caruso Affiliated, completed his purchase of the 2.77-acre Palisades Village property on Swarthmore north of Sunset in November, two years after he agreed to buy it. He is also in escrow on the Mobil site at Sunset and Swarthmore.
His company will oversee the relocation of a storm drain and cleanup of hazardous materials at the former site of a dry-cleaning establishment and the gasoline station.
The makeover envisions demolishing the existing mid-century buildings and replacing them with a mix of eclectic storefronts — Cape Cod, Georgian, contemporary — that would evoke the Hamptons and other swank locales.
Caruso said his many conversations with residents made it clear that they want distinctive retailers (not chains), ample parking and a specialty grocer. His company is considering Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Bi-Rite, a two-store San Francisco operation. At the behest of a bevy of children, Caruso has promised to install an ice cream store to replace the closed Baskin-Robbins.
"The undertone is the residents don't want to have to leave their neighborhood," Caruso, who lives in nearby Brentwood, said in an interview at Caruso Affiliated's offices at the Grove, two days before the community meeting.
Existing Swarthmore tenants — including Maison Giraud restaurant and Bentons, where Caruso's four children bought sporting goods — will be offered incentives to return.
Curbed LA issued an early downbeat verdict on Friday, calling the scheme a "jaw-dropping plan to Grove-ify downtown Pacific Palisades." And Rick Leslie, an architect who lives in the Palisades, has drafted a letter to Caruso decrying the architecture as a bland mix "that could be anywhere."
"The early '50s mid-Century mixture on Swarthmore of flat roofs, angled elements, pitched walls, cut-outs and so much more speaks to our community image and growth from a special postwar time in the development of not only Los Angeles but the small township of the Palisades," he said. The letter implores Caruso to seize the moment to give the Palisades an "award-winning identity and sense of place."
Caruso said the 100,000-square-foot project (about double what's there now) would go through a full environmental review with ample opportunity for public feedback. "We will find a way to satisfy the far majority of people," he said. He urged the audience to support the project so that he could get permits from the city and complete it quickly. It is expected to open in late 2017.
Donna Vaccarino, a local architect who has facilitated some of the redevelopment conversation, said Caruso "really gave the community back their wish list."
"It has the stamp of Caruso architecture, but I hope he goes further to create design specific to the Palisades," she added. "One must wait for the fairy dust to settle."