When the Glendale Galleria opened in 1976, the opening ceremonies were held in the mall at 9:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. The VIP list included civic and business leaders, as well as the 94-year-old fourth-generation descendant of the man who received the original land grant for San Rafael, now Glendale.
Then there is mega-developer Rick Caruso.
Caruso’s latest project, Americana at Brand, opened Thursday night with a black-tie gala that promised a “return to glamour” -- Caruso’s words -- and delivered an over-the-top Hollywood production, complete with fireworks, Klieg lights and extras.
The belle of the ball was the $400-million Americana, Caruso’s retail and residential development in the heart of Glendale, across the street from the Galleria. The dinner and entertainment part of the evening was held on the top floor of the complex’s parking garage -- with reinforcements brought in to buttress the garage under the weight of the evening’s 2,000 invited guests.
A line of white-jacketed valets greeted guests as they drove into the center, where bar tables topped with douppioni silk stood outside ground-floor shops such as Tiffany, Kate Spade and Calvin Klein. Showgirls in full regalia walked the lawn at the heart of the development. Guests were driven to their seats by male models in golf carts.
Among the guests was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who told the crowd, “I love shopping. So I’ll be back.”
They dined on a sit-down menu of filet mignon with wild mushroom leek tortellini and Grand Marnier souffle catered by Wolfgang Puck. They were serenaded by a host of marquee names, including the Four Tops, the Temptations, Natalie Cole and Tony Bennett.
Oh, and the emcee? None other than “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno.
To get the project built, Caruso waged a seven-year battle that included fighting a ballot referendum against the project funded by General Growth Properties, the owners of the Glendale Galleria.
He acknowledged many of the workers who helped him get there -- some in ways more generous than others. For bringing the project in on time, the construction manager was given a black BMW 7 series, which was driven close to the stage at Caruso’s bidding.
But perhaps his biggest praise went to a couple of residents in the audience, members of a civil court jury that last year awarded Caruso $89 million in damages and compensation, finding that General Growth illegally threatened to prevent the Cheesecake Factory from moving into his complex.
Caruso apparently had tracked them down and added them to the guest list.
“They are a great group of people,” Caruso said. “They are not only the jury on this trial, they are the jury on my next trial,” he joked.
Glendale officials, who recently agreed to name a street after the developer, were a little star-struck by the festivities.
“I don’t think the city of Glendale will ever see a gala of that nature again,” said Councilman Ara Najarian, chairman of the city’s redevelopment agency.
“Even if someone builds a $500-million mall” -- he corrected himself -- “lifestyle center, like Caruso did, I don’t think anyone has the commitment and flair that Mr. Caruso has.”
Glendale Police Capt. Lief Nicolaisen said that about 11 p.m., the event generated more than a few calls to the department’s communications center from people wondering whether they had just heard gunshots. Nope, they were assured; it was just fireworks, marking Americana’s loud debut in their city.