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Westwood Art Show Falls Victim to Its Success

August 06, 1989|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | Times Staff Writer

A group of merchants and homeowners have apparently succeeded in ejecting the long-running Westwood Art Show from the streets of Westwood Village, maintaining that the popular event has deteriorated into a tacky bazaar that draws too many of the wrong kind of customers to the area.

"We feel like we're the orphan kids who've been kicked out in the rain," said Dori Pye, founder of the Los Angeles Business Council, which sponsors the event. "They're trying to supplant a 20-year tradition . . . an institution."

New Home

Pye said the art show is looking for a new home, possibly Westwood Park, next to the Federal Building parking lot, south of Wilshire. "It's outrageous the merchants have been able to garner the support to push us out," she said.

Though the final decision will be made by the Los Angeles Board of Public Works, the deed is as good as done, both sides agree.

Ironically, the art show, which is held for one weekend each spring and fall, was first mounted 20 years ago to help merchants draw customers to the village.

It has succeeded too well, the merchants say. In recent years, the show has attracted from 30,000 to 40,000 people a weekend, a crowd that merchants and homeowners view as an unprofitable invasion that offers nothing in return to the community.

Underlying the dispute is dissatisfaction among merchants and community activists that the proceeds of the art show fill the coffers of the citywide business council, rather than financing improvements in Westwood Village.

The merchants' main complaint, however, is that their regular weekend customers are thwarted by closed streets and throngs of people who might help fast-food businesses but who do not patronize their own upscale stores.

Fred Silvers, manager of Bel Air Camera, said his store can lose $15,000 in business on an art-show weekend.

Over the years, the show has burgeoned from an exhibit of paintings to several hundred booths, featuring a wide variety of arts and crafts--and, to some critics--a lot of junk.

"The art show today is not the same as it was 15 years ago," Silvers said. "Today it's more like selling belts in the street. . . ."

Scott Regberg, director of the Westwood Merchants Assn., said it makes no sense to close down "one of the world's great shopping centers to bring in a lot of junk jewelry" sold by "Venice Beach-type vendors."

Such a "circus atmosphere" is not in keeping with the image that the merchants want to project, Regberg said. "We felt it was just a bad reflection on the commercial district."

The Holmby-Westwood Property Owners Assn., also dissatisfied with the tenor of the art show, was instrumental in galvanizing the merchants to demand changes.

"It's not classy," said community activist Laura Lake, president of Friends of Westwood. "We want to see class activities in Westwood Village. We don't want to see honky-tonk."

But the real loser, said one artist, will be the community at large. "Because of the argument between the merchants and the council, the people are going to be deprived of the show," said portrait photographer Gayla Hachenberger.

A Sure Victory

The merchants appear certain to prevail, because a majority of those affected have to agree to an event that closes public streets, said Ed Avila, president of Los Angeles Public Works Board. "I don't believe (a property owner) would be too happy with us if we decided to close the streets, have a fair and said, 'We don't care what you think,' " Avila said.

Regberg said the merchants' decision to no longer tolerate the Westwood Art Show in the Village followed years of grumbling and a year's effort to work with the show's sponsors on scaling down the event and providing enough restrooms and other amenities.

Avila got involved when the Los Angeles Business Council filed for permits to close the streets for the May show, and the merchants balked.

Following standard procedure in such controversies, Avila assigned a board member--in this case himself--to monitor the May show. Avila said he found significant problems of non-compliance with fire-lane regulations, overcrowding, and violations of other city rules.

Typically, the recommendation of the board member who studied the matter is likely to be adopted by the full board. But Avila insists no final decision has been reached. Because of the problems, however, "it doesn't look good," he said.

Avila stressed that he is not out to squelch the community event, only to harness it in the face of strong community opposition.

Merchants, too, said they were not against the Westwood Art Show--if it were done differently.

They Felt Ignored

"My first preference would have been to upgrade the show and make it a great show," said Tim Hall, owner of Alice's Restaurant, who said his business does not suffer from the influx of art-show attendees. Hall said a lot of merchants were angry that their objections weren't addressed at the May show.

He said that show's sponsors underestimated the opposition and did not take it seriously.

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