Delays Make Some Skeptical of Project Keyed to '30s Revival : Old Look Planned for New Fairfax

Times Staff Writer

Work may start as soon as Oct. 1 on a project to refurbish storefronts, plant palm trees and provide extra parking for the Fairfax Avenue shopping district, but some merchants say they will believe it when they see it.

"They've been talking for three years already," said Miriam Jakobashvili of Caspi's Jewelry. "When it's there I'll look at it and then I'll say I'm happy. Until then I don't know."

The changes will include a new look for the Fairfax Theatre, which changed hands in mid-April. It will be closed after Labor Day and restored to its original Art Nouveau style, said Neil Blatt, vice president for U.S. operations of Cineplex Odeon U.S.A., which also operates a 14-screen theater at the Beverly Center shopping center.

The firm is redecorating the Gordon Theater on La Brea Avenue near Melrose Avenue to convert it into a first-run movie house specializing in art films, he said.

"We feel that the area is going to undergo a tremendous renaissance. That area is becoming a hot area," Blatt said.

John Loomis of Newport Beach-based Thirtieth Street Architects said the Fairfax Avenue renovation will focus on several 1930s buildings that will be brought back toward their original condition, although it will not be a pure restoration.

"Other buildings will be embellished and made compatible with their neighbors," he said. "The idea is to create unification generally in the area and still maintain great diversity between a building and its neighbors."

The work is being coordinated by the Vitalize Fairfax Project, which is planning to remove the yew pines on Fairfax and replace them with 52 Washington robusta palms.

"They'll have a tremendous impact because they're fairly tall and appropriate to the architecture," Loomis said.

Dave Tuttle, director of the project, said the thin-trunk palms will be planted about 50 feet apart. The fronds of the 30-foot-high trees tend to wrap around the trunks rather than fall off, so there is little chance of pedestrians being struck by debris, Tuttle said.

Bids will also be opened in late August for a 60-space parking lot at the old shot-put pit at the southwest corner of the Fairfax High School campus, Tuttle said.

The first phase of the revitalization will include both sides of Fairfax between Beverly Boulevard and Oakwood Avenue, as well as the west side of the block between Oakwood and Rosewood avenues.

If approved by city planners, work could begin as soon as October, Tuttle said. In any case, nothing will be done until after the Jewish High Holy Days, which begin with the new year celebration of Rosh Hashanah on the evening of Sept. 15 and conclude with Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, Sept. 25.

"We wouldn't want any kind of business interruption until after the Jewish holidays, because that's one of the highlights of the year," said Steve Rubinstein, manager of Diamond Bakery.

He said the program, which requires approval of landlords as well as merchants, should have a good effect on commerce, although business has been "constant if not better" in recent years.

"Hopefully it will be a reality some day," said Byron Katz, owner of Fairfax Stationery and Office Supplies. "There'll be a whole new facade and awnings and it will all be uniform. It will all look like a new building as you drive by. It will improve the neighborhood. I think more people will come in now."

Although some merchants expressed impatience about the pace of the project, Tuttle said it has gone faster than any other similar commercial corridor program sponsored by the city's Community Development Department.

"They will believe when they see it, and when they see it they're going to like it," Tuttle said. "If anything slows it down, it's the extra mile we've gone to involve the merchants and the property owners, to make sure that what's constructed meets with their approval. Come fall the doubters will believe."

The second phase of the project, which will include the east side of the 400 block and the west side of the 500 block, is expected to get under way next spring, Tuttle said.

The $1-million project is being funded with federal Community Development Block Grants, except for the landscaped and illuminated parking lot, which will be paid for from city parking meter revenues.

The Fairfax area is available for the federal funds because of the large numbers of low-income senior citizen who live there, Tuttle said.

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