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An outpost of glitz in Glendale

Times Staff Writer

Cash registers are ringing less often as Americans worry about recession. But the developer of an extravagant Glendale shopping center is betting big that luxury stays in fashion.

It’s a gamble that has paid off before for builder Rick Caruso. This time, he set out to top his popular Grove mall in Los Angeles’ Fairfax district with an even more elaborate re-creation of a small town center in downtown Glendale, set to open May 2.

The $400-million Americana at Brand covers four blocks and includes pricey apartments and condominiums above dozens of tony shops, restaurants and an 18-screen movie complex.

With open streets, trees and statuary, the center has the feel of a resort village.

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“It’s much more of a town in the scale of buildings and size of open space,” Caruso said.

Like the Grove, it is organized around pedestrian thoroughfares and a town square. But unlike traditional malls, it has no department stores. It will have a Tiffany & Co., a Lacoste store and a Cheesecake Factory.

Still, there are plenty of questions. The new stores are hitting the market at a difficult time for the retail industry. March sales were down slightly from a year ago, the International Council of Shopping Centers said. And record gasoline prices and consumer worries about the economy are expected to curb spending in the near future.

Despite worries about an economic downturn, Americana will open with optimistic expectations. Condos are priced from about $700,000 to more than $2 million. Rents run from $2,000 to $5,500 a month.

Caruso certainly spared no expense to lay on the glitz.

In the mall’s main square, a computer-controlled fountain will operate around a tall bronze gilded in 23-karat gold. The statue, a recasting of a sculpture honoring American youth at a World War II cemetery in France, will have a smaller counterpart looking down from a gilded dome.

Metal kiosks imported from Luxembourg will dot the center of the mall, and an 18th century-style chandelier with 1,200 sparkling crystals made in the Czech Republic will hang over one of the center’s streets. A two-car trolley will take riders through the mall, and Victorian-looking streetlights will shine through stained glass.

Even the garage is upscale. It features carpeting, furniture and a concierge, complete with a musician playing a grand piano.

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“The scope and level of detail is well above the Grove,” Caruso said.

Local residents and businesses say they will wait and see how the new mall’s arrival affects the local community. If Americana succeeds, will it give nearby businesses a boost and electrify downtown Glendale?

The owners of the Glendale Galleria, an indoor mall that has operated across the street since 1976, fought hard but failed to prevent the construction of the new center. Today many merchants in the area are sprucing up their stores and bracing for change -- with their fingers crossed.

The Grove draws 18 million visitors a year, according to Caruso, and he predicts that Americana could attract even more because of its larger size and more accessible location.

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Glendale has been working to streamline traffic in and out of Americana, especially from the nearby 5 and 134 freeways.

“Traffic and congestion is a big concern we spent a lot of time and resources on,” said Glendale City Manager James Starbird. “Frankly, as I have told the City Council, coping with the traffic is a good thing.”

Throughout the run-up to development, Caruso maintained that his center would bring in enough shoppers and new residents for everyone to prosper and predicted it would spur sales at the Galleria and at local shops.

Real estate expert Scott Katcher worries Americana may “cannibalize” nearby stores. The new mall “will compete very heavily with Old Pasadena,” said Katcher, managing director at the Studley commercial real estate brokerage. “It will be a destination retail site similar to the Grove for the San Gabriel and San Fernando valleys.”

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Outdoor centers have zoomed in popularity since the late 1990s, said Erin Hershkowitz, a spokeswoman for the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group. Malls such as Americana and the Grove are called lifestyle centers, she said, because they include features such as fountains, seating and landscaping that encourage people to linger.

“Add fine casual restaurants and it is more than just a place to shop and get a quick bite,” Hershkowitz said.

Lifestyle centers also have an air of luxury, even though they don’t often have the ultra-posh stores found on Rodeo Drive and Fifth Avenue.

To help set Americana apart, Caruso cast a wide net to find tenants that weren’t already well known to shoppers. Among them: Paperchase, a stationery boutique from Britain, as well as clothiers Custo Barcelona from Spain and Peter Alexander from Australia.

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Designer Alexander is known for crossing wholesome and saucy styles in his sleepwear line and has been called the pajama king of Australia.

The stores have high ceilings to help set them apart from the housing. Adding luxury units to lifestyle centers is a national trend.

“It adds a vertical element that helps create a sense of intimacy,” said competitor Arthur Coppola, president of Macerich Co.

Macerich, owner of Santa Monica Place and several other large malls across the country, plans to include housing in future upscale projects. It’s currently doing so in the Phoenix area.

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“Luxury housing helps to establish the address,” Coppola said. “It creates an aura about the property.”

Glendale civic leaders have long wanted to inject more life into the downtown district and hope to focus growth in the commercial center by creating a 24-hour ambience. At least three residential high-rises are under consideration.

It took more than a decade to assemble the Americana site and find a developer, City Manager Starbird said. Officials held a national competition among developers and selected Caruso after viewing the Grove while it was going up.

Americana is the first such large-scale housing project in downtown Glendale, Starbird said. He hopes the mall “will be an anchor to keep old downtown vibrant.”

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roger.vincent@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

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The Americana at Brand

Developer: Caruso Affiliated

Size: 900,000 square feet on

15.5 acres

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Cost: $400 million

Location: Bounded by Central Avenue, Brand Boulevard and Colorado Street in Glendale

Retail: 75 shops and restaurants

Residences: 238 apartments and 100 condominiums

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Cinemas: 18-screen Pacific Theatres complex with 3,000 seats

Visitor parking: 3,500 spaces

Architect: Dave Williams of Caruso Affiliated and Elkus/Manfredi


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