A taste of Americana

Tony Bennett's voice may be among the many that will emanate from hidden speakers at the Americana at Brand for years, but to herald the opening of the development, Bennett and his band showed up in person.

For an audience of about 2,000 people who had some role in the Americana's development, Bennett followed the Four Tops, the Temptations and Natalie Cole at an invite-only, black-tie gala on the rooftop of the Americana parking structure on Thursday night.

For many in attendance, the star-studded event represented the start of a new era in Glendale defined by a high-class destination that some still insist is out of place on Brand Boulevard.

“Some may say that this project is too elegant, that it's too sophisticated for Glendale,” said Rick Caruso, president and chief executive officer of Americana developer Caruso Affiliated. “Well that's just dead wrong.”

Caruso billed the event as a celebration of the project's completion — it opens to the public today — but he also used it as an opportunity to thank those who helped bring it to fruition.

Dozens of former Glendale City Council members and mayors strolled the Americana's nearly 2-acre park, sipping cocktails and marveling at the 15.5-acre development before the crowd was ushered up to the roof for a filet mignon dinner personally catered by Wolfgang Puck.

“The question I keep hearing over and over is, 'Are we in Glendale?'” Mayor John Drayman said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a close friend of Caruso, touted the project as a boon for local businesses.

“With every Caruso project, there is great energy,” Schwarzenegger said. “It makes shopping fun, and also it lifts up the surrounding areas so all the businesses in this are going to benefit from this.”

Other guests included a group of jurors who decided in favor of Caruso Affiliated in its drawn-out legal battle with Glendale Galleria owner General Growth Properties, handing Caruso $89 million in damages in November.

In an address to the audience — his face portrayed on giant video monitors on both sides of a raised stage — Caruso had the jurors stand to rousing applause and then took verbal jabs at General Growth, singling out the mall owner for its staunch opposition to the Americana.

“The reason we're not celebrating our second anniversary is because we had a neighbor?.?.?.” Caruso said. “Everybody's got somebody in their life. Hillary's got Bill. I've got General Growth.”

On Thursday night, there were few, if any, critics of the $435-million, mixed-use megaplex expected to bring hundreds of thousands of new shoppers and residents to Glendale and flood city coffers with tax revenue.

“Not everybody jumped on the trolley at first,” said Councilman Ara Najarian, referencing the vintage-inspired trolley that will snake around the Americana. “But I can tell you now there is nary a naysayer in the city of Glendale.”

Invitations for the party came in black faux-velvet jewelry boxes and wrapped in a black ribbon affixed with a cubic zirconia bow tie.

But not every city official or local business leader — not to mention every voter who helped narrowly approve the project in a 2004 referendum — got one.

John Gantus, chair of the city's Civil Service Commission, didn't get an invite.

“I would have liked to have gone, I won't deny that,” Gantus said. “It's Caruso's party though, and I didn't have anything to do with it?.?.?.?.But I'll tell you, I think tonight is the biggest party in Glendale since L.C. Brand brought airplanes here in the 1920s.”

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