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Around the Foothills

The mayor takes in two grand openings--and hits perfect pitch.

December 13, 1990|DOUG SMITH

Anyone who keeps an eye on Glendale Mayor Larry Zarian, as reporters are apt to do, would have noticed a couple of unusual stops on his exhausting itinerary of openings, dedications and festive gatherings.

By the demands of commerce and society, most of the mayor's appearances are on the northern side of the city, where the high-rise buildings, the expensive homes and, of course, the Verdugo Club are found.

The south side has a different kind of energy, expressed by dense apartments, automotive services and truck routes. So it seems worth reviewing two recent grand openings the mayor took in on the south side. Each in its own way was quite grand.

The earlier, last month, was for R. H. & Co. Jewelers.

That's the intriguing building that looks as if it had been picked up off 5th Avenue in New York and placed down among a grocery store, mini-mall and florist at the corner of Central Avenue and Chevy Chase Drive.

The red granite exterior, offsetting chrome-framed show windows, is only a foreshadowing of the display of marble inside. Walls are mauve with lavender pillars by the door. Counter tops and display case pedestals are Burgundy, veined with black and olive. Trim is chrome and blue velvet. All is embraced by a turquoise dome under which is suspended a massive pinwheel-like fixture in the shape of R. H. & Co.'s logo, derived from the ancient Armenian symbol for infinity.

It was put there by Roben and Vergie Hagobian, whose story is as rich as their building. They immigrated from Iran 27 years ago as sweethearts, attended Glendale College together and married. He went on to UCLA and became an engineer with the Los Angeles County Road Department, but he yearned to be in business.

Then he drove to Arizona with a shipment of imported Persian turquoise. Indian craftsmen snapped it up in a week, launching Hagobian in the business of selling precious stones to the Indians and buying back their finished product. Later, teaming up with jeweler Norik Aratounian, the Hagobians set up shop in downtown L. A. Lately, they felt the lure of home as the image of the jewelry mart tarnished around them.

"Everybody now is going back to his neighborhood jeweler that can be trusted," Roben said. "Your doctor, your lawyer and your jeweler, you have to trust."

They resolved to come home with a splash.

"I told him," Vergie said, " 'If you are going to make any kind of move, it has to be the best of something.' "

Finding property in north Glendale pricey and hard to get, they moved on to the lower side of town, accepting the risks with unshakable optimism.

"Believe me, this will be a landmark," Roben said. "It's going to take time."

The same optimism is apparent a few blocks farther south where motorcycle luminary Oliver Shokouh last week rechristened his Harley-Davidson dealership as an Art Deco gem on a seedy strip of San Fernando Road.

Selling America's roughneck motorcycle is more like selling fine jewelry than you'd think. The Milwaukee company has fought off Japanese competition by dressing up its product and its image to appeal to the repressed wild edges of the necktie set, the late financier Malcolm Forbes being the epitome of the type.

Shokouh, a reserved and almost-bashful 44, has been at the leading edge of that story. He moved from Michigan to Glendale 15 years ago to reopen a discarded Harley dealership. In 1979 he bought the former Allen Gwynn Chevrolet showroom, its windows then sealed in concrete for manufacturing.

Seven years ago Shokouh inaugurated the Love Ride, a charity for muscular dystrophy in which Harley riders solicit pledges for each mile they put on the odometer in a mass outing. From $42,000 that first year the proceeds have mushroomed to $825,000 this fall.

"It's another way we're trying to tell the public we're not all the villains Hollywood has made us out to be," he said.

The time for the final dressing up arrived when the city told Shokouh his building needed seismic reinforcement.

"Since the building was built in the Art Deco style, I kind of decided to bring back the glory of the past," he said.

Today, the beige exterior features cloth awnings, Art Deco reliefs and trompe l'oeil marble on pilaster bases. The showroom is a just-so blending of auto parts mystique and Calvin Klein couture. Under polished aluminum sconces are racks of the Harley clothing line--from full leather suits to underwear--and glass cases for accessories from chromed tailpipes to gold necklaces. On one wall hangs a collection of Art Deco gas tanks.

Standing rampant in the center stage is the 1991 Softail Custom, with candy black-cherry gas tank, lots of gleaming chrome and a price of $16,300.

"This looks like Beverly Hills," Mayor Zarian beamed at last week's premiere before a crowd of round-bellied men with bushy beards and sassy ladies in black leggings, accented by a few North Brand types in business suits.

For once, the voice of mayoral embellishment hit a perfect pitch.

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