Sportsmen’s Lodge has a storied past as one of the San Fernando Valley’s most cherished institutions, stretching from its days in the 1930s as a trout fishing attraction and later celebrity hangout to its years as a post-war venue where couples got married and families shared big occasions.
Now, the Studio City landmark is about to change again as work on a long-anticipated $100-million redevelopment is set to begin in August, the owners said Friday.
The construction of the Shops at Sportsmen’s Lodge marks a milestone in a strained years-long effort to transform the historic Ventura Boulevard locale into an upscale shopping and dining destination.
“We hope to draw customers from as far away as Beverly Hills,” said John Usdan, chief executive of property owner Midwood Investment & Development.
The project, scheduled to open in the fall of 2020, will retain the existing hotel on the property but replace the meeting and convention space with 23 shops and restaurants, an Erewhon Organic Grocer & Cafe and an Equinox gym.
It also will leverage the property’s rustic, wooded feel by retaining the landscaped pond — which is no longer stocked with trout — and adding access to the Los Angeles River, which forms the northern boundary.
The plans have their origin in a similar proposal by Malibu developer Richard Weintraub, who owned the events center and planned to redevelop the property into a riverfront attraction dubbed Sportsmen’s Landing before it got bogged down in legal battles with Midwood, which owned the hotel.
In 2017, New York-based Midwood acquired the entire property, resolving the dispute. Weintraub remained a partner while Midwood took over the development of the events center into what will become the Shops at Sportsmen’s Lodge.
Midwood turned to architectural firm Gensler to update the plans with a focus on making it an outdoorsy “lifestyle” center emphasizing the aged trees, pond and proximity of the Los Angeles River.
“People who are walking, biking or rollerblading along the river will have a direct connection” to the mall via stairs across from Erewhon and Equinox, said Usdan, whose grandfather financed development of the complex in 1962.
The new development will raise the number of parking spaces to more than 450, but they will be moved to the edge of the property to help create a park-like environment, said architect Rob Jernigan, co-managing principal of Gensler’s Los Angeles office.
The notion is to make the place feel like a small village, an oasis from the asphalt sprawl outside. Patrons will have to give up the convenience of parking right in front of stores, Jernigan said, because successful malls in this age of competition from internet retailers like Amazon emphasize experience over expedience.
“For expedience, you go online and have it delivered tomorrow,” he said. “Here it will be a natural park with trees and a water feature with big stones you can sit on and relax, or have a cup of coffee while the kids run around.”
Food choices in the 94,000-square-foot mall will include healthy fast-casual fare, family-style restaurants and fine dining.
The path to the redevelopment at Sportsmen’s Lodge, which has been approved by city officials, has been rocky in the past. Some neighbors argued that the retail complex would increase noise and traffic while providing too little parking.
But Usdon attributed much of the concern to “the diversity of interests” between Weintraub and Midwood that has since been resolved.
One of the concerned neighbors was Eric Preven, a longtime Studio City resident and Neighborhood Council member who said this week that he is still apprehensive about increased traffic at the busy intersection of Ventura Boulevard and Coldwater Canyon Avenue outside Sportsmen’s Lodge.
Preven said he hoped the upmarket nature of the coming mall won’t diminish the charm of Studio City as a more affordable neighborhood compared with Beverly Hills a few miles away over the hill via Coldwater Canyon.
“Some people in Studio City are chasing Beverly Hills,” Preven said, “and some people are running from it.”
The location of Sportsmen’s Lodge has a long history as a destination for recreation, dating to at least the 1880s as a fishing spot. In 1913, it went commercial with the founding of Hollywood Trout Farms, which featured ponds and a bait-and-tackle shop. In 1946, the first dining room and kitchen were added and it reopened as Sportsmen’s Lodge.
The rustic dining hall became a movie studio hangout at a time when sheep grazed hillsides later claimed by Universal Studios.
Surrounded by orange groves, the Ventura Boulevard restaurant quickly became a hot spot, a place where patrons could hook their dinner and have it fried fresh in the kitchen. In the 1960s, the new meeting facilities made it a social center for Studio City.