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Signs of Resurgence in Westwood Village : Revitalization: Changes are afoot to make the once-quaint area attractive to a wide range of people, not just teen-agers who want to see a movie.

October 29, 1989|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

El Pollo Loco has a sign of the times in Westwood Village.

The discreet, chrome, block-lettered sign edged in green above the entrance of the fast food emporium has special meaning to Westwood activists who are laboring to reverse the recent honky-tonk image of the once-quaint Village.

Like the first daffodil of spring, the sign symbolizes a regeneration of Westwood Village to its boosters, a sign of the future, amid a 60th anniversary celebration of its past this week.

"It's hit rock bottom and it's going to soar over the next decade," predicted Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.

Before passage of a managed-growth plan for the Village nearly a year ago, the chicken franchise sign would have shouted its presence in 36-inch-high red plastic letters across 22 feet at the second-floor level.

That was the sign submitted for the Gayley Avenue restaurant, according to Carole Magnuson, director of community relations for UCLA. The newly functioning Westwood Design Review Board, on which Magnuson sits as a private citizen, rejected the giant sign in favor of something more low-key. Magnuson calls the El Pollo sign, and others like it, the kind of "small, incremental drip, drip improvement" that will soon accumulate and be noticeable to those adults who may have shunned Westwood since it became synonymous with a horde of 15-year-old moviegoers.

There are other signs as well: the construction of the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center, plans for a hotel that will add 2,500 parking spaces and a partnership with UCLA in making the area habitable to a wide range of people. "Diversity is the name of the game for the Village," Yaroslavsky said.

That is a nice way of saying the village cannot sustain itself on the box office receipts and frozen yogurt purchases of a pubescent weekend movie crowd.

By now, the story of the Village's decline is a familiar one. Seventeen movie houses were a magnet for a movie-going public at a time when the average age of box office regulars dropped dramatically.

At the same time, Westside land values soared, pricing shops that provided services to the locals out of business. They were replaced by one fast food shop after another--the kind of profitable operation whose fast turnover pays the rent. T-shirt shops selling trinkets and posters rounded out the commercial scene. Teen-agers with car radios blaring cruised the streets blocking them to through traffic.

Three horrific crimes, including the murder of a UCLA student and her boyfriend, turned the spotlight on Westwood. Adults refused to set foot in the Village on Friday and Saturday nights.

"There was a whole different chemistry coming into the Village," said community activist Sandy Brown, the president of "Celebrate Westwood's 60th Committee."

The UCLA community watched with alarm: "It was not the environment in which we chose to live," said Magnuson. "We preferred it less chaotic, more organized, more civilized."

And UCLA, a state entity that is outside local jurisdiction, intervened to redirect the Village by providing half the funding for a planning study that became the area's blueprint for the future.

The specific plan restricts the number of new fast food restaurants per block, calls for incentives to lure shopkeepers to serve the surrounding residential neighborhood and imposes stringent requirements on developers to provide community amenities such as parking.

During the difficult four-plus year struggle to hammer out the details of the specific plan, naysayers warned the terms were so restrictive that the Village would become anathema to developers.

They already have been proved wrong, said Magnuson. She pointed to a 50,000-square-foot mixed-use building at Gayley and Weyburn that has been approved by the seven-member design review board. Quality remodels, such as one of the historic building at Weyburn and Westwood Boulevard, also speak to a tasteful look for the village, she said.

UCLA owns the biggest piece of undeveloped property in Westwood, currently known as "Lot 32," a parking lot that borders Wilshire Boulevard on the south and stretches north to include about 40 acres.

Magnuson, who has been conducting preliminary meetings with community activists and the university faculty, said the two agree that they would like to see graduate student or faculty housing on the site. She said there is a move afoot to attract graduate students and afford them a richer experience by providing affordable housing amid an intellectual atmosphere.

In building whatever they decide to put on the property, UCLA could possibly reroute some of the traffic from three of the four busiest intersections in the city by cutting more east/west streets north of Wilshire Boulevard, Magnuson said.

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