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Carwash Backers Say Mini-Mall Better Than Nothing

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Studio City residents have found something they like even less than the proposed mini-mall that inspired a nationally hooted-at campaign to declare a carwash a cultural monument:

The big hole in the ground where the carwash used to be.

A meeting of about 40 members of the Studio City Residents Assn. voted unanimously Tuesday night to stop fighting the mini-mall development at the corner of Ventura and Laurel Canyon boulevards.

That appeared to free developer Ira Smedra to build the $15-million, 53,000-square-foot Laurel Promenade, which will contain three restaurants that are spinoffs of trendy Westside eateries, and an auto stereo store.

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Smedra, who did not attend the meeting, could not be reached for comment.

The lot was once the site of a carwash and coffee shop in classic 1950s architectural style, including an abstract steel sculpture atop the carwash vaguely resembling three giant boomerangs. When opponents of the mini-mall tried to block it by having the carwash declared a cultural monument for its architectural value--”The Gateway to Studio City”--the campaign became the stuff of news stories and jokes nationwide.

The lot, in the middle of the Studio City business district, has been empty since January, 1990, when Smedra tore down the carwash. Left behind was an excavation where weeds grew and litter accumulated.

Many residents of the area have grown weary of looking at the empty hole and of the battle against the shopping center--which has been waged through the courts, City Council, and liquor and zoning boards for almost two years.

“The hole in the ground was getting worse and worse as time went on,” said Polly Ward, vice president of the association and one of the leaders of the fight against the developer. “We had many, many phone calls from people who wanted something done about it.”

Others liked the idea of the three popular restaurants--the Daily Grill, Louise’s Trattoria and Kaktus--coming into the area. “We got calls from people who said they would be a good thing for the neighborhood,” said Tony Lucente, president of the association.

In the most recent skirmish, the association lost an appeal to zoning officials to block the three restaurants, arguing that the area already had enough establishments that served alcohol.

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The group could have taken the fight yet another step by appealing to the City Council on the liquor issue, but Councilman Joel Wachs, who had supported the earlier efforts against the mini-mall, told association leaders he would not back them this time.

Unwilling to carry on the fight without the support of its councilman, the association had to settle for the small victories it had won, such as forcing Smedra to pay for improvements to the intersection to accommodate the expected increase in traffic and prohibiting entertainment at restaurants in the mini-mall.

“There comes a time when you have to make some compromises and let it go,” said Ward with quiet resignation.

“We lost,” Ward told the meeting Tuesday night. “We got the best conditions we could get and I don’t think we’re going to do any better by going before the City Council.”

Ward’s mood was in marked contrast to the feisty mood of homeowners when they first mounted the “save the carwash” campaign. The campaign ended when the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission declared in July of 1989 that the carwash was too common-looking to be a landmark, and Smedra was eventually able to demolish it.

The homeowners struck back by successfully lobbying the City Council to force the developer to do an expensive and time-consuming environmental impact report. Smedra successfully sued the council, which was forced to back down by a Superior Court judge who declared in February, 1990, that the council had abused its powers to appease the anti-mall homeowners.

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The homeowners then carried the fight to zoning and alcoholic beverage licensing officials. Again, the decisions went against them.

The battle may finally be over, but for some, bitterness toward the development remains.

Asked if she would patronize the new restaurants, Ward emphatically replied, “No, I won’t.”

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