A handful of community leaders, each with a slightly different idea of what the future of Atwater should be, received a briefing Tuesday from someone who is about to reshape the quietly nostalgic community between the Los Angeles River and Glendale.
Some of them liked, and some didn't like, the picture drawn by Emmett R. Albergotti, vice president of acquisitions for Schurgin Development Cos.
Schurgin is negotiating the purchase of the former Franciscan Ceramics plant, which was closed in 1984, and plans to build a large new shopping center on its 45 acres.
Atwater Village, as its sometimes pugnacious admirers prefer to call it, is an urban community that has managed so far to maintain a personal touch. Among its old and varied storefronts on Los Feliz and Glendale boulevards is a shop where candies are still dipped by hand in chocolate.
But change is in the air. Beach's, the old-fashioned grocery, has recently closed. That event will be of only symbolic importance compared to repercussions from the Franciscan development.
In a private moment, Albergotti recalled the gush of excitement he felt the first time he saw the property from a helicopter and recognized the largest piece of available urban land that he had ever hoped to get his hands on.
Almost three years later, he's still gushing. At times Tuesday afternoon, the slender, dry-mannered businessman in yellow Oxford shirt seemed almost to be singing to the muses rather than briefing skeptical community leaders.
So much so that he didn't even flinch when Tom LaBonge, deputy for Councilman John Ferraro, asked whether Schurgin might be willing to donate some money to a couple of neglected community projects.
"We'd like to pitch in and feel part of the neighborhood," he said, without making a specific commitment. "We really want to do that. That's why we're here today."
The group assembled, appropriately, inside the former Franciscan offices in the terra cotta complex.
Albergotti and two associates set up a gallery of color photographs, some showing Schurgin's other shopping centers. The Franciscan development was drawn by an artist over a stunning aerial photograph of the city from the river to the Verdugo Mountains. It showed a horseshoe of commercial buildings around a vast herringbone pattern of parking.
Some of those present needed no persuading.
"I'm for it," Gerald (Red) Meade, owner of an Atwater antique scale shop and president of the Chamber of Commerce, volunteered before the meeting started.
But Ed Waite, the acerbic leader of the Atwater Village Homeowners Assn., was less impressed.
"What do you think?" he asked association member Eric Ludwig, as they examined the photo.
"It looks big," Ludwig said disapprovingly.
Albergotti and an associate began with a short, seductive review of Surgin's plans beginning with its $4.5 million project to remove a toxic slurry pile at the back of the property by the end of summer.
To allow easy access, Los Feliz Boulevard will be widened to seven lanes in front of the property, they said.
When done, early in 1990, it will give the area a new grocery store, dozens of shops, a fancy restaurant and a cinema, all done to uptown specifications.
"It's going to be a real first-class theater," he said, looking right at Waite, who is on record opposing a cinema. "We're working with General Cinema, and they're going to do their downtown theater, not the suburban cheaper building."
Schurgin development manager, John Manavian, then rhapsodied over the architecture, which he said will be something so new it doesn't even have a name yet.
"We want to look like this project didn't just happen in 1989, but has always been there," Manavian said. "It will have that older look."
That pleased Chris Hershey, president of the Boulevard Business Assn., whose primary reservation concerned aesthetics.
But Edmond Stephan, president of the Los Feliz Improvement Assn., said sharply that he didn't see how Los Feliz could be improved by having thousands more cars per day on its principal street.
Manavian suggested that the cars are using the street anyway to drive to the stores in the Valley or the Westside.
"What we're looking for is to capture your traffic that is going elsewhere to do its shopping." he said.
Waite kept his thoughts to himself.
But Ludwig complained that the largest store in the development, a Home Club, would create a warehouse environment.
Albergotti seemed almost hurt.
"True, it looks like a warehouse inside," he said. "But the way we control our design of the shopping center, their building won't look like a warehouse on the outside.
"We feel what is missing is the ability to shop at the kind of value-minded, promotional-minded tenants that we're going to have."
So there it is. Atwater will be new but still look old. It will be value-minded but look upscale. And its residents will shop at home.