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Ventura Boulevard's Low-Rent Strip Changes Its Stripes

October 22, 1985|DANIEL AKST | Times Staff Writer

Part of Ventura Boulevard in Studio City is a gracious, palm-lined shopping street that invites strollers and commands high rents. But that's just the stretch west of Laurel Canyon Boulevard.

To the east--or more precisely, east of Carpenter Avenue, where the palm trees end--Ventura Boulevard is a kind of commercial poor relation. The cars move faster, there are few pedestrians, and some of the buildings have a ramshackle look. It is dotted with auto repair shops, a few vacant lots and motels with adult movies. Rents generally are lower.

It has been that way for years. But, slowly, things are changing.

Nobody's planting palm trees east of Carpenter, but the gentrification is clearly under way. And, despite a proposed ordinance that could make building more difficult, the pace of development on this segment of the San Fernando Valley's most important street does not appear to be slackening.

Several Projects Planned

New shopping centers, a large mall, new office space and several new restaurants are under construction or being planned between Carpenter and Lankershim Boulevard. Some are already completed. A few of the new projects are run-of-the-mill convenience centers with tenants such as dry cleaners and doughnut shops. But others are substantially fancier, with upscale eateries and shops.

At the same time, there are fewer of the motels that once gave the place a bad name, and that continue to be home for some low-income residents.

Perhaps symbolic of what is happening east of Laurel Canyon is the change of focus of Arthur Bender, a Sherman Oaks developer who owned the Hi-Ho Motel on Ventura Boulevard. Despite his denials, authorities had alleged the Hi-Ho was a haven for prostitutes. Using its "red light abatement" law, the city went to court to close the motel.

The court action failed--Bender said there was never a prostitution conviction tied to the motel when he owned it--but in April he knocked down the Hi-Ho.

Upscale Tenants

Now he's putting up a $3-million, 16,000-square-foot shopping center on the site. Bender said tenants will include David's Cookies and a yuppie-sounding bar called Residuals, aimed at studio executives working in the area.

Real estate specialists say developers like Bender are drawn to that end of Ventura Boulevard for several reasons. It remains relatively undeveloped, so land prices are not yet out of sight. But a Ventura Boulevard address is still coveted by retailers. And the residential areas on both sides of the boulevard are quite affluent, making residents attractive targets for merchants.

But the changes coming to the eastern boulevard have not been entirely welcomed by the area's residents. Despite their relief at the demise of Bender's motel, community leaders are wary of new development on the seedier stretch of the boulevard. They worry that traffic and parking will become impossible.

"We're thrilled to have the motels gone, but we are concerned about the density," said Jerry Hays, president of the Studio City Chamber of Commerce.

Changes Called Overdue

Nevertheless, most agree that a change on this particular stretch of the boulevard is long overdue.

For much of its length, Ventura Boulevard is prime real estate, and the stretch in Studio City west of Laurel Canyon has stores and restaurants that draw customers from a wide area. Monthly rents in that stretch are $1.75 to $2 a square foot, said Craig Stevens, a partner in the Studio City real estate firm of Zugsmith Associates.

In the strip development to the east, rents are in the $1 to $1.35 range, Stevens said.

"The neighborhood is crummy," developer Aldo Genova said.

Nevertheless, Genova has built two office buildings on Ventura Boulevard east of Laurel Canyon, and his Alden Development Co. hopes to begin construction soon on a $50-million, 220,000-square-foot mall on the north side of Ventura between Eureka and Arch drives. His plans, which include a gourmet grocery store, restaurants, and specialty shops, conform to existing zoning and also will meet expected future development limits. The project also has won backing from a divided Studio City Residents Assn., despite some members' concerns about traffic.

'Catalyst' for Area

"We felt it would act as a catalyst to upgrade the area," said association president Daniel M. Shapiro, a real estate lawyer. "We are in favor of the improvement of that area provided we take steps to mitigate the traffic and parking effects."

The Alden project is planned next to an existing shopping center that was a supermarket before it was renovated and expanded about 2 1/2 years ago. It now has a Computerland store, a health club, and a restaurant called the Midnight Rendezvous Cafe.

"That's been incredibly successful," said Seth Dudley, who specializes in Valley properties for Julien J. Studley Inc. real estate.

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