A Little of Mediterranean Dresses Up Fashion Island

Times Staff Writer

What's the Mediterranean like? Southern California in a foreign language.

So if a little of the Mediterranean is slipped into the Southland no one will think it's out of place, just that it's nice.

Some such thinking must have been in the minds of those who planned the $65-million modernization and upgrading of Fashion Island in Newport Center, Newport Beach, a program that got under way with the creation of Atrium Court.

For a little bit of the Mediterranean it is--on two different counts, the exterior and the interior.

The exterior has a distinctively Mediterranean flavor but one might be hard put to say just what part of the Mediterranean. In the light-colored, stucco-like walls and red tile roof; in the windows, both arched and square; in the monumental doorways, the balconies, the plaza in front, there are hints of the Italian, of the Spanish/Moorish and of the Southwestern American Mission stylings.

The interior reminds a visitor of nothing so much as the courtyard of one of the great buildings of any of those cultures. On the ground floor, shoppers and visitors eat and drink at tables under umbrellas in the central courtyard, surrounded by the stalls, shelves and kiosks of the Irvine Ranch Market.

Above them two balconies show the windows and fronts of what will be about 40 shops.

And above it all, the sun glows softly through 12 domed openings covered with teflon-coated woven fiberglass that gives those inside the impression of being in the open air.

To complement them, the artificial lighting is of a special "high-color index" type, balanced to give the color tones of natural sunlight at night. The project designer, architect Kenneth R. Long of Charles Kober Associates--the Los Angeles architecture and planning firm that designed the building's renovation--noted that during the day the lighting gives the inside court an outside ambiance while at night the lights inside make the domes look like glowing peaks from the tall buildings around--what he called the "fifth elevation," the others being the four sides of the building.

The figures are impressive. The building is a former J C Penney store that closed a few years ago. It was completely gutted, down to the steel-and-concrete frame, floors and roof, and rebuilt entirely. With structural work, the fine finishings, the new and special landscaping and new parking, the job came in at $33 million.

Different Elevations

Total space on the three floors is 160,984 square feet. The ground floor, occupied by the Irvine Ranch Market, measures 61,000 square feet, the mid level is 50,045 and the upper floor is 48,849 square feet.

The building is on a slope, so the bottom floor is the ground level on the northern side, where the parking is sunken to serve the market, and is one level below ground elsewhere, making the middle level the ground floor on the other sides, at the level of the parking lots.

Fashion Island is owned by the Irvine Co., in fact, the whole Newport Center was developed and is still mostly owned by that firm. Architect Roger M. Seitz is vice president, urban planning and design for the company.

He said the center was built in the 1960s and was a "good representation" of the most up-to-date design of shopping malls at that time. By now, however, merchandising techniques and the nature of the tenant population have changed "and the center was due for a major updating."

"The major decision," he added, "was, rather than a mere face lift, to rethink the whole function of the center. The renovated center had to be something unique.

Only First Step

"Atrium Court is the first step toward the transformation of Fashion Island to a more interesting and exciting environment. The renovation of Atrium Court has given the center a theme that will help greatly in upgrading the tenants. This is a forecast of what we will do to the entire center--a mini-version of what will happen."

The Irvine Co. has applied to the city of Newport Beach to transfer the development square footage now allowed at the intersection of MacArthur Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway--an entitlement of about 65,000 square feet--up to Fashion Island.

That will allow infill and renovation as Phase 1 before the overall General Plan is approved for the entire center. The company has applied for approval of the general plan and hopes to receive it sometime next year.

Seitz estimated the cost of the total renascence of Fashion Island at $60 million to $65 million.

Results are already apparent. Kathleen Lauren, Irvine Co.'s marketing manager for Fashion Island, said there has been an average 23% increase in traffic centerwide since the Ranch Market opened May 15.

For contrast, she noted that the opening of the only Summer Olympics ticket office in Orange County raised the center's traffic count 20% last year and that was only during the period of ticket sales.

Rich Materials

The total traffic count for the entire center from May 15 to July 31 was 2,227,000 people.

The design of Atrium Court is striking, mixing the massive with the subtle, and the materials are rich. Upper floors are supported around the central opening by 16 columns, each 70 feet high, of imported Cantera stone. Floors on the middle and upper levels are of Navona Travertine marble with inlaid patterns of Verde Isore and Rosa Alicante, all bordered in Andes black granite.

The bottom floor is paved in terra cotta tile with inlays of blue-gray granite, appropriate for the "carriage floor" or street level, as opposed to the "grand floors" above, as architect Carl F. Meyer, Kober's Atrium Court project manager, pointed out,

The subtleties are less immediately noticeable. The mid-floor opening on the top level, immediately under the translucent fabric domes, is slightly larger than the opening below, both to give a better view of the upper floor and to avoid any "sitting in the bottom of a barrel" feeling among the ground-floor diners.

On the northern facade, the widths of arches and supporting columns are slightly varied to give an eye-fooling impression of symmetry to a wall that actually is asymmetrical. And the floor patterns are bold near the entrances, becoming gentler until they are quite delicate at the rim of the opening.

Impressive List

The upper floors will contain an expected 40 shops, several of which were to open this week and the others throughout the fall as their construction is completed. The list of tenants already commited reads like a page from a Blue Book of high-fashion specialty apparel, gift and jewelry shops:

Alan Austin, Donavan & Seaman, Mondi, Bruestle, Cuzzens, Tahari, Tripos, Theodore, Theodore Man, Caswell Massey, Gallery Miya, Ylang-Ylang, Aspen Sunglasses, Wyndham Leigh, Macy Jewelry, Angels & Cherubim and Crystal Fire Mist.

Poston Tanaka, Irvine Co. vice president of the retail division, said the middle floor will be aimed toward "up-type" shops catering to the "fashion-forward" shopper, while the upper floor will be more for the "younger outlook."

Turning from the part to the whole, he said, "It isn't just that we're doing this building, but we have a whole plan. We'll turn the whole center architecturally into a Spanish-Mediterranean facility to create the ambiance we want."

And that is? "Look at the Italian-Mediterranean hill towns. We're not trying to make this just an ultramodern, high-tech selling machine."

The Mediterranean in the American language?

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