For one block above Sunset Boulevard, Swarthmore Avenue is a typical Pacific Palisades commercial street, lined with Indian laurel trees, parked cars and small shops.
It is a pleasant piece of the small-town atmosphere that Palisades residents frequently boast they have preserved even though their community is part of the sprawling city of Los Angeles.
Now, a committee of Palisades merchants hopes to make Swarthmore even more inviting for walking and lingering. The face lift they have in mind is being watched by Los Angeles officials who see it as a possible model in a city notorious for its residents' reluctance to forgo their cars.
The committee wants to raise $100,000 in private donations to extend Swarthmore's sidewalks, narrow the street from 50 feet to 16 feet, concentrate the parking at the ends of the block and install cafe tables, planters to protect the trees and special lighting.
Although cafes are not unknown in Los Angeles, restaurants with sidewalk tables tend to front on wide, busy streets. Consequently, patrons often have a close-up view of a mass of cars and buses, rather than a Paris-style people-watching experience.
But Southern California's mild climate is so well-suited to outdoor life that "we'd like to take back the streets for people rather than the cars," said Cindy Miscikowski, aide to 11th District Councilman Marvin Braude.
The Swarthmore remodeling is designed to result in "a pedestrian-friendly street," said John Dalessio, a committee member and an attorney whose office window overlooks the block designated for the experiment. "It'll be a nice little place for people to sit awhile."
Already, the city has cooperated by transforming most of the block into a one-way street to reduce traffic. Since Feb. 1, automobiles have been allowed to travel only away from Sunset toward Monument Street, according to Miscikowski. Two-way traffic continues to be permitted on Swarthmore between Sunset and a nearby alley to accommodate delivery trucks that use the alley.
If the Swarthmore project is successful, Miscikowski said, "we have one or two other streets in mind" in the Palisades that could also be converted. "La Cruz near the post office is one," Miscikowski said.
Elsewhere in Los Angeles, "clearly there are lots of neighborhoods that are becoming more and more places where people can walk around," Miscikowski said. "Where we've got the ability to do something to encourage that, we're going to do something about it."
Several Permits Required
The Swarthmore committee will need several city permits, but apparently no public hearing is required. Dalessio said a community forum on the proposal will be scheduled within a month.
Most of the Swarthmore merchants apparently favor the plan. "I think it'll be a nice kind of community street and it will bring more people past the store," said Jean Church, an employee at Medford's, a gift shop.
Problem With Parking
But the proposal is not universally popular. "It's all right for a retail store or a restaurant, but I'm a service business," said W. H. (Bud) Emerson, owner of Emerson's LaMay Cleaners.
He said he objects to the suggested change in parking, from parallel spaces all along Swarthmore to diagonal spots at the ends of the block.
Although the number of spaces apparently would stay the same, "there isn't enough parking now and we have people now who double-park to bring their laundry in," Emerson said. "They can't do that with the diagonal spaces and those will be filled with people going down the street to the cafes."
Emerson's establishment has been on Swarthmore for 30 years. "The street has always been the best shopping street in the Palisades," he said. "Why do you want to change it then?"