Monday, May 26, 2008

Glitz Comes to Glendale

I am not the kind of guy who builds his plans for the day around a trip to the mall.

But there are malls. Then there's a Rick Caruso mall.

So I found myself the other day wandering through the $400 million open-air mix of retail and residential glitz known as the Americana, a monument to conspicuous consumption rising along a seedy stretch of Brand Boulevard in Glendale.

If you live in the San Gabriel Valley, none of this would impact your life greatly except for the fact that developer Caruso is coming soon to a town near you.

His Shops at Santa Anita, scheduled to open in 2010, will feature nearly 830,000 square feet of commercial, retail and office development on the southern parking lot of the racetrack, with about nine acres of open space.

He already has The Grove at Farmer's Market on his resume, a wildly popular venture featuring 50 upscale shops, restaurants and movie theaters created in various architectural styles ranging from Art Deco to Italian Renaissance.

Think of the Vegas strip populated with boutiques.

But it wasn't Vegas that came to mind when I set foot in the Americana. It was Disneyland.
Like the Grove, the Americana is a mishmash of architectural styles, featuring an array of high end boutiques centered on a massive "dancing" fountain and what might be described as a village green, a rolling lawn surrounded by paved pathways.

The only transportation inside the Americana is by trolly car, a nice touch that makes us believe that Caruso is yearning for a simpler time. That feeling is underscored by the music of Frank Sinatra piped throughout the development.

At first glance, it looked all the world like Disney's Main Street U.S.A. All that was missing was a barbershop quartet. And Goofy.

I wondered how long it would be until someone staged an Americana on Parade down the mall's main street.

But on closer inspection, this is is no Disneyland. Or if it is, it's a Fantasyland for folks with lots of disposable income.

This is shopping for the European Greens and Chardonnay set.

This is a mall with a concierge desk that provides valet service, wardrobe consultation and styling, dry cleaning, tailoring, even a yoga instructor.

There's Barneys New York, Tiffany and Co., Kate Spade. There are a lot places with names like Custo Barcelona, Lululemon Athletica, Marciano, Rachel Ashwell Shabby Chic, and a boutique called Peek, Aren't You Curious.

There's Calvin Klein, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, Lacoste, Martin+Osa, Free People, H&M, Juicy Couture, XXI from Forever 21.

Caruso calls it a "return to glamour."

I call it a mall aimed at young women with lots of time and money on their hands. Or the guys who love them.

Oh, there's a movie complex, a Barnes and Noble, a couple of restaurants. But this is no country for old men.

There are 100 condos and 238 apartments that sit atop the retail stores. There's nothing new about this. Paseo Colorado in Pasadena had the same configuration years ago.

But Paseo Colorado sits on the edge of the charming Old Pasadena area. The Americana, with condos ranging from the low $700,000s to $2 million and rents from $2,000 to $5,500 a month, sits in south Glendale.

One wonders, especially in today's economic environment, just how high the Americana will fly. While there's not a lot of high-end shopping in the Glendale area, maybe there's a reason for that. Maybe it's the law of the marketplace.

Not that I'd bet against Caruso.

He battled the neighboring Glendale Galleria over his development plans and eventually won the right to proceed from the city's voters.

His plans for Santa Anita had been opposed by Arcadia First!, a group backed in part by the Westfield Group, which owns nearby Westfield Santa Anita mall.

He won both those battles. Whether or not he has won the war - will his vision of a Southern California populated with high-end boutiques, dancing fountains and "a return to glamour" prevail? - remains to be seen.

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