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Dick Turpin

Burbank in Position to Correct Past

February 05, 1989|Dick Turpin

Over the years, the city fathers of Burbank, admirably imbued with fiscal caution but constantly hampered by narrow vision, have consistently missed opportunities to create what some historians might call a model city within the San Fernando Valley.

Blessed with a combination of valley and hillside real estate and supported by a great tax base--motion picture, television, aviation and defense industries and all their related branches as well as an airport--the city fell far short of its potential during the post-World War II years.

Following the war, a housing construction boom of historic proportions overtook vast portions of the valley and Burbank, at its eastern end, enjoyed the convenient proximity to downtown Los Angeles for commuters and automatically became a highly desirable place to live and work.

At that time, the regional shopping center as we know it, was in its beginning stages. The first of its kind was established in the Crenshaw area in 1947 and just recently has been rehabilitated with considerable civic fanfare.

The May Co. chain saw the great potential for suburban shopping centers when it placed a branch at that site. Another likely location seemed to be the Burbank area, with plentiful developable land and a population of 90,000.

It got an unwelcome response from the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the town's daily paper, the Burbank Review. The rationale was: We want to remain a small city. We don't want all the commotion of a big business district. The big store would kill off the little businesses lining San Fernando Boulevard.

Turned away, the May Co. soon established (Sept. 12, 1955) a pioneering branch in North Hollywood, at Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Oxnard Street. That location now contains the headquarters for May Co. California.

A Times account of the opening noted at that time that it "was the fifth link in the chain of May Co. stores" in the Los Angeles area and that it gave the "San Fernando Valley the largest suburban store in the West" with its 452,000 square feet of floor space and parking for 3,000 cars.

As it turned out, that rejection became the first in a series of several major enterprises that were not established in Burbank in the bustling postwar era and the following years and became descriptive of the city's official attitude.

Other potential civic customers included a midget auto race track sponsored by war veterans, Disneyland itself, and over the last 20 years, Carnation Co. offices and a string of developers whose plans to build a major shopping complex--including Ernest Hahn, nationally known builder/developer and Disney interests again--for various reasons slipped off the track.

(In one memorable arrangement, the long-since defunct St. Louis Browns baseball club spent its spring training at the Olive Recreation Center diamond.)

But regardless of past reluctance to expand and develop the city, Burbank's brightest spot is its Media District, in its southern sector, made up of various entertainment industry firms and the NBC complex.

Finally, last week the Burbank City Council voted unanimously to negotiate with a major Southland developer to bring about a long-awaited shopping complex on a redevelopment site just west of "beautiful downtown Burbank," the disparaging misnomer that has identified the city for so long.

This news will not alarm neighboring Glendale, which over the same period of time, has become a suburban financial center with a respectable skyline and a profitable and enviable shopping complex, the Galleria.

The Burbank redevelopment site, on the north side of the Golden State Freeway between Burbank and Magnolia boulevards, covers 41 acres. For about two decades, various attempts to transform it into a commercial showcase have failed frustratingly.

This time around, the council has chosen to negotiate with Alexander Haagen Co. on plans for a $160-million enclosed, two-level mall with offices, hotel and restaurants. Anchoring the complex would be Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Buffums department stores and an Ikea furniture store. City officials and the Haagen organization are to iron out the details and financial arrangements within the next 60 days and present a final plan for adoption.

Incidentally, the Haagan firm was involved in the newly completed renovation of the pioneering Crenshaw complex.

From an old Burbank hand, one who knows where Turkey Crossing is, let's hope this time around that the long-delayed and jinxed project will come alive very soon.

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