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Larchmont Changes, Tries to Remain Same : Village Keeps Its Small-Town Ambiance as New Retail Stores, Garage Are Developed

December 14, 1986|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

Larchmont Village, the little Laguna of Los Angeles, is changing while remaining much the same.

Impossible? Probably, to some of the 40- or 50-year residents of Hancock Park, Fremont Place and Windsor Square--those venerable neighborhoods Larchmont has served as a business district for 65 years.

To others, though, many of the changes are improving the street while maintaining its small-town character.

Consider the most controversial change: the closing of Safeway in 1985 after 45 years at 226 N. Larchmont Blvd. The 10,000-square-foot building was gutted and remodeled, and the grocery store was replaced last summer by a Quinn's Nutrition Center, which had been across the street in about half as much space.

A three-story underground parking structure and 16,000 square feet of ground-level retail space are now being built on the parking lot part of the 30,000-square-foot site.

Underground Parking

Underground parking in little old Larchmont? Losing the trusty supermarket was enough of a blow to old-timers who didn't want to go as far as the next Safeway about three-quarters of a mile away or to the high-end market, Jurgensen's, which has been in Larchmont Village since 1958. Even to a casual observer, though, underground parking would seem to be a major departure for a village-style environment.

Maybe so, Alice Buckley of Coldwell Banker's residential division and a 12-year resident of Windsor Square, acknowledged, but she welcomes it. Parking has been a problem on the quaint, tree-lined boulevard for years, she said.

"And we who work on the street will want to go in on a monthly basis as we were doing on part of the lot when it was operated by Safeway. We'll probably get to rent spaces on the lowest floor, because that will be the one shoppers will be least excited about using."

One reason: security, a concern that has grown in the area since the Nov. 10 attack on Secretary of State March Fong Eu in her Fremont Place home.

Concern With Safety

"Everybody wonders about security," Buckley said. "We'll probably want to move our cars at the end of the day unless they have a parking attendant."

Richard M. Wolfen, property manager, confirmed that individuals who work on the street probably will have a chance to reserve some of the parking spaces, and added that there will be a "full-time attendant and as much safety equipment as possible, including an intercom system, extra lighting and TV monitors."

Even so, people have mixed emotions about the parking structure, Buckley said, "but it will be far better than driving around the block 40 times." The project's new ground-level shops and restored, brick market also will be far better, she figures, than what might have been built there.

"We could have put up a two-story, concrete-block mini-market, strip or pod center," Ronald A. Simms, one of the developers, said.

Innovative Program

The parking structure will accommodate 155 cars on its three stories and about 18 cars at ground level. The two women who run the district's hometown-style, monthly newspaper--the Larchmont Chronicle--view the structure as a major accomplishment.

"We tried to get more parking on Larchmont for 20 years," Dawn Goodwin, publisher of the 23-year-old publication, said. "The Chronicle was very involved in getting this project accomplished.

"We were able to bring together the homeowners groups, the merchants, the developers and the city. Councilman John Ferraro was very receptive to the idea, which is innovative, with the city participating in the development."

It is the first time that the city's Department of Transportation has purchased subsurface development rights, said Robert Camou, a transportation engineer. The $6-million project includes city purchase, over 15 years, of all subsurface rights for $2.5 million, said Hymie Barber, Simms' partner in the development.

Most of Space Leased

The parking structure isn't expected to be completed until May, but 14,000 of the 16,000 square feet of retail space in it already has been leased through Coldwell Banker's commercial division.

"We'll have a one-hour photo (shop), a quality Italian restaurant, an optician, a frozen yogurt place--all top quality, because it is a first-class street," Wolfen announced. The new stores will have new types of businesses for the street, he added.

"We set a bench mark in rents," Barber noted. "They are comparable to Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills or to the trendy part of Melrose, where (singer) Olivia Newton John's Koala Blue boutique is located."

Koala Blue is in the 7300 block of Melrose Avenue, not far from Larchmont, which stretches from Melrose Avenue to 3rd Street, between La Brea and Western avenues. Larchmont Village is a one-block area between Beverly Boulevard and 1st Street.

Rents Have Risen

Monthly rents in the stylish Beverly/Melrose areas go for slightly more than $3 a square foot. Larchmont merchants are generally paying about $2 a foot, Buckley learned, and that's up from the $1-$1.25 they were paying only five years ago.

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