Maryland Avenue Takes a New Look : Work Nearly Done to Turn Dull City Street Into an 'Oasis'

Times Staff Writer

Owners of Glendale Sheet Music expected "some minor turmoil," as one partner put it, when they decided in 1986 to open their store on Maryland Avenue in Glendale's redevelopment zone.

Disruptions that occurred while the city built a parking garage and renovated the street should have taken no more than a year, said Richard Cotterman, who, with co-owner Donald Wonders, had selected a store halfway down the 100 block of North Maryland.

They were not prepared for the three years of havoc that ensued.

But despite unpredictable adversity, the merchants have persevered. "We're die-hards," Cotterman said. "We said we would stay here and stick it out, come hell or high water."

They got both.

For most of the last year, the street in front of the music store between Broadway and Wilson Avenue has been closed during the city's completion of its $7.2-million, 741-space multilevel parking garage, which is almost a year behind schedule.

Trying Times

"All hell broke loose. Business just tumbled" more than 50%, Cotterman said. To get to the store, he said, customers had to slosh through mud.

Both the city and the contractor, Taylor Woodrow Construction Corp. of Irvine, blame each other for delays and are threatening to sue.

But there is a happy note to Cotterman's story. He sees more than a blocked street, construction equipment and laborers when he looks out his store window these days.

He envisions an oasis.

Two weeks ago, down the center of the block, nine stately Canary Island date palms, 20 feet tall and more than 75 years old, seemingly sprang up out of the ground like magic.

Their tops groomed to resemble giant pineapples, the palm trees make a highly visible and strong statement for the Maryland block, which will serve as the centerpiece of a two-block area called the Exchange, bounded by Brand Boulevard on the west and Louise Street on the east, Wilson Avenue on the north and Broadway on the south.

The once-drab asphalt pavement on Maryland is rapidly being transformed into an eye-catching geometry of red brick accentuated with black- and gray-speckled granite slabs cut to fit a precise pattern.

At each end of the street, water fountains are taking form in expansive crosswalks that, it is hoped, will soon entice people to the sheet music store--and to the restaurants and sidewalk cafes, a movie complex, upscale fashion outlets and specialty shops that are about to emerge.

New Emphasis

It is the first city-sponsored downtown project where buildings are being renovated rather than high-rises constructed.

And the city is spending more per square foot on public improvements in the retail square--a total of $1.3 million--than on any redevelopment project, including extensive enhancements along North Brand Boulevard. The garage will provide the parking vital to the success of the undertaking.

In addition, property owners are expected to spend more than $20 million within the next two years to renovate and replace stores and offices in the two-block area, according to city estimates.

Andy Feola, a Glendale architect who has been working with developers on the project since 1985, said the goal is to re-create a 1920s-era town square, a place where people will be drawn by entertainment and leisurely shopping. "What we had in mind was a pedestrian-scale, mixed-use development where people can go and not be faced with high-rise buildings," Feola said.

Maryland Avenue, once considered part of an artery around the crowded downtown, is instead being transformed into a public plaza.

Through traffic will be discouraged by the brick-paved roadway, which will have single lanes in both directions separated by a median divider leading to the parking garage. Pedestrians will be encouraged to meander at will across the street, lit with old-fashioned globe lights on the wide sidewalks.

Changes in the street are expected to have little effect on downtown traffic since the same amount of roadway--a single lane in each direction--will still be provided as before, said Tom Horne, city traffic engineer. However, curb-side parking is being eliminated.

European Ambience

The square will take on the flavor of Europe, where people hold priority over the automobile, said Barbara Knight, acting redevelopment director.

"We're impressed," Cotterman said. "It's going to be very beautiful when it finally is finished. We're expecting great things."

There is nothing else like it in Glendale nor even in Southern California, Knight said.

"It is going to be a very exciting and comfortable place for people to stroll around and have things happen," she said. "There will be restaurants with outdoor seating, lots of little shops and plenty to do and look at."

Bob Naphen, a city construction supervisor who has overseen street beautification projects on Brand Boulevard and Central Avenue, called the Maryland endeavor "very unusual, architecturally very unique."

He said the street construction's intricacy is "more like trying to build a watch rather than a road. They haven't built a road like that since they laid cobblestones in Boston." The improvements are to be completed within a month.

A Different Attitude

For the first 15 years after the Glendale Redevelopment Agency was formed in 1972, city officials, gearing their plans to the revitalization of the dying downtown, allowed the old, Midwest-style brick-and-mortar shops to be replaced with high-rise office towers and the expansive Galleria shopping mall.

The Redevelopment Agency even adopted stiff rules restricting the amount of money that owners could spend to renovate old buildings because repairs would add to the city's costs when it came time to purchase property to be demolished for new redevelopment projects.

But redevelopment officials have shown a change of heart within the last few years.

Susan Shick, former city redevelopment director, said preservation of some of the downtown area is important in preserving the city's heritage. Also, officials conceded, economics dictate that some of the downtown area will not be ready for redevelopment for at least 15 to 30 years.

Meantime, officials saw the need for expensive reinforcement of old buildings to meet stringent new state earthquake safety laws.

They thought that instead of waiting for large-scale redevelopment to take place, they needed a way to revitalize the decaying area along Brand Boulevard that separates the Galleria retail complex from the thriving financial and insurance industry high-rise district mushrooming on the north, near the Ventura Freeway.

2 Master Developers

Two veteran Glendale developers, the Howard-Platz Group and Brand Development, proposed and won city endorsement to create the Exchange. Each was named by the Redevelopment Agency as a master developer on one of the two blocks, and both are responsible for planning and executing the renovation of existing buildings and construction of new outlets.

A key to the renovation will be construction of a modern, eight-screen, 1,800-seat, two-story movie complex to be built between Maryland and Louise, officials said. "Theaters are known to revitalize the night life of an area," said the Redevelopment Agency's Knight.

The new complex, which will be leased by Mann Theatres, will eventually replace several antiquated theaters on Brand operated by Mann, including the historical Alex Theatre, which the city hopes eventually to preserve and convert into a performing arts center, Knight said.

A dramatic leaded-glass dome and marquee will mark the entrance to the proposed theater complex, which will be served by parking in the city's new garage, said Bob Thomas of Brand Development. Construction is expected to begin by November, with completion scheduled by next summer, when most of the now-vacant buildings in the square will have been renovated or rebuilt.

The square also will feature two brick-lined passageways leading to Brand, which will draw visitors from the downtown area and the Galleria, Knight said. The passageways will tie in with a 20-story office and retail development soon to begin on the west side of Brand north of the Galleria.

Though creation of the Exchange has been slow, city officials said, results will soon become dramatically apparent. Tony Roma's, a chain rib house, will celebrate its grand opening on Maryland on Sept. 15 in conjunction with at least a partial opening of the parking garage and completion of the street improvements.

Fenderbenders, an upscale version of a 1950s diner, is scheduled to open in November, officials predict. And a full-service French restaurant, complete with bakery, deli and valet parking service, is scheduled to emerge by next summer on Broadway just east of Maryland. At least three other major restaurants are expected to be included in the square.

"Two years from now, that street will be something that has never been seen before here in Glendale," Thomas said. "It's just now beginning to take shape."

Owners of the sheet music store are tingling with anticipation.

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