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Americana taking shape

Times Staff Writer

The giant retro neon sign proclaiming “Americana at Brand” has been installed. A gold-plated sculpture now graces the public square, still wrapped in thick, clear plastic. The tracks for the trolley have been laid, and piping for the dancing fountains is in place and being tested.

For better or worse, builder Rick Caruso’s mega retail and residential development in the heart of Glendale is nearing completion and is scheduled to open in a month.

Four years ago, there was a bitter debate over the project, with some merchants fearing the Grove-style “lifestyle center” would hurt businesses for stores along Brand Boulevard and in the Glendale Galleria. Some residents worried about overdevelopment and traffic.

Those concerns still exist. But with the shaky economy, many in Glendale are counting on the Americana to give the city a needed boost. It’s been a tough few years on Brand Boulevard, and it shows in the vacant storefronts, including big-box stores like Tower Records and the Good Guys, which closed down and were never replaced.

City officials hope that the Americana -- with high-end shopping, dining and hundreds of new residential units, both condo and rental -- can boost sales along the boulevard and bring a touch of urban elegance to a town long known as a little suburban and perhaps a little bland.

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“I think it will change Glendale’s reputation from being a sleepy bedroom community to one of the premiere cities in Southern California,” Mayor Ara Najarian said.

In a sign of the embrace Glendale is now extending to Americana, the City Council last month offered to name a street into the complex for Caruso.

The mayor said he expects the $400-million Americana to become a regional draw for Glendale, luring people from all over Southern California. And along with the Glendale Galleria -- already one of the region’s biggest shopping malls -- Americana could give a significant boost to the city’s sales tax revenue.

Some of the retailers at the Americana are definitely high end -- and perhaps not the type normally associated with Glendale. They include A/X Armani Exchange, Barneys New York CO-OP, Calvin Klein, Kate Spade and Tiffany & Co.

But with those customers come traffic and parking woes, which the city of 190,000 is still trying to resolve.

Najarian said that officials had been working to streamline ingress and egress to the structure, especially from the nearby 5 and 134 freeways. He said that the city will be bringing in traffic control officers and setting up a command center at City Hall for Americana’s first week to monitor the flow of cars in and out of the center.

The Americana is rising at the center of Glendale’s already dense downtown. Unlike other major developments, LA Live in downtown Los Angeles and the proposed development at Universal City, Americana is far from subway or rail lines that could help reduce car trips.

Some critics are quick to point out that traffic from the Galleria and other shops can already bring Brand Boulevard to a crawl. But backers argue that the residential portion of Americana might prompt those residents to walk to shops in the area rather than drive.

Glendale resident Christine Farajian said that she was worried about traffic around the project. But she said her optimism about the development outweighed those concerns.

Farajian and her fiance bought Sliders, a bar across the street from Americana, four months ago, and were building their business on the promise of what was to come.

“I feel like it will be good for the local businesses, including us,” she said. “And it will be good for the city. It will bring in money.”

Glendale is looking longingly to the Grove, an earlier Caruso development near 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue in L.A. that is one of the more admired outdoor shopping plazas in the region.

Caruso, in an interview Monday, said the Americana could have an even bigger effect on Glendale, because the 15.5-acre project is much larger and includes housing.

“As great as the Grove is,” he said, “this is a pretty remarkable project.”

Both Americana and the Grove are meant to conjure up the idea of a city center -- with a mix of architectural styles, building heights and materials used, as well as vast open spaces at the projects’ center. Caruso often tries to set his buildings in place and time, and Americana is steeped in that tradition.

The Grove is based on Charleston, S.C., circa the 1940s in terms of the scale and relationships between buildings. The Americana starts earlier in time: a massive elevator shaft, with exposed steel beams, is supposed to hearken back to the industrial era, said Executive Vice President Dave Williams of Caruso Affiliated. A trolley that loops around the project and onto Brand is from “a little bit earlier era” than the Grove’s trolley, which travels back and forth along a linear track.

The developer learned some important lessons at the Grove, Williams said.

The Americana’s central courtyard is nine times the size of the Grove’s -- in part because large-scale events at the Grove have created a “body press” and people have had to be turned away.

Even more than at the Grove, tenants have been able to customize their spaces -- cladding their stores in materials that match up with their identity -- in part to create a more organic, village feel to the development, Williams said.

The wooden front of the Anthropologie store, for example, looks more like the company’s free-standing stores in Pasadena and Santa Monica than a mall outlet.

On Monday, the approximately 2,500 workers on site at the Americana made the entire development look like a well-functioning anthill. Awnings were lifted into place, brick was laid, concrete poured and soil tilled. Many of the project’s trees -- ginkgo, date palm and laurel, among others -- had already been planted, but buckets of boxwood, lavender and other plants sat awaiting placement. The project’s residential spaces, which are all placed above retail stores, though with separate entrances and parking, were also still under construction.

The Americana includes 100 condominiums and 238 apartments, which are clustered, Williams said, in batches of 25 or so, in order to create mini-neighborhoods within the development. Some are linked by interior courtyards, others by corridors. All units, he said, have some sort of balcony -- ranging from a four-foot-wide space off a bedroom that overlooked Brand to a lush patio that can hold 600 people.

While many high-profile mixed-use projects have touted themselves through presale events and sent out press releases as units were reserved, Caruso has taken a different approach. The Americana is doing no presales for its condos, hoping that word of mouth once the shopping center is open will foster sales. Leasing for the rentals, which range from $2,060 to $5,500 a month, has already begun. Both renters and condo owners will have access to the Americana’s concierge.

Najarian and other city leaders believe that the Americana’s design, which faces onto Brand Boulevard, will encourage shoppers to leave the complex and explore other parts of downtown. “Shoppers will find themselves flowing out into Brand,” he said.

As Glendale resident William Malcomson pushed son Angus in a stroller up Brand Boulevard on Monday, he said he was eagerly awaiting the Americana’s opening. The city, he said, has long been “boring from the outside.”

Malcomson glanced over at the stuccoed towers, the large glass windows and intricate wrought iron work. “I’ve waited for Glendale to turn the corner,” he said. “It finally has.”

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cara.dimassa@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Grand opening

Americana is a $400-million development with 75 retail shops. They include:

* Anthropologie

* A/X Armani Exchange

* Barneys New York CO-OP

* BCBG Max Azria

* H & M

* J. Crew

* Juicy Couture

* Calvin Klein

* Chico’s

* True Religion

* Urban Outfitters

* Kate Spade

* Tiffany & Co.

* The Cheesecake Factory

* Pacific Theatres 18-screen cinema

The development also includes a residential section. Here are the two main developments:

* The Residence: 238 high-end apartments, ranging from 675-square-foot studios to large units of nearly 2,000 square feet.

* The Excelsior: 100 luxury two- and three-bedroom condos. Sizes range from 1,300 square feet to more than 2,600 square feet.

Source: Times reporting


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