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The Capital of Hip : What Profiteth a Seaside Town If It Gains Black Squid Risotto but Loses Its Soul?

April 28, 1991|JILL STEWART | Jill Stewart, a former Times staff writer who used to live in relentlessly unhip Glendale, recently moved to the capital of Eastern European Hip, Prague.

RESTAURATEURS BRUCE and Rebecca Marder are a classic Santa Monica couple having a classic Santa Monica argument. Young, smart, prominent members of the Armani crowd, the Marders are doting parents and business partners. But they are also opposites in that subtle way their hometown has of creating political chasms measured by the millimeter.

Bruce, surly, darkly handsome and wearing his starched white chef's coat, is taking a break to listen to his wife with a mixture of disapproval and respect. Rebecca is a gregarious beauty, a former dancer with a burst of copper hair, and perfectly faded jeans lashed onto her thin frame with a huge black belt. A big supporter of homeless programs, she's known around town for having a heart of gold.

The Marders were the first on their block in Santa Monica Canyon to turn their bungalow into a mini-mansion, with vaulted ceilings and an airy studio, and it's filled with important furnishings like a Chuck Arnoldi end table and a Frank Gehry corrugated-cardboard dining ensemble. But Rebecca, who knows the alcoholic homeless lady named Josephine who lives on the beach, donates food from their restaurants to the city's homeless, whom she calls "a truly wonderful bunch of people, really terrific."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 14, 1991 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 1 Metro Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Hardware store--The April 28 issue of the Los Angeles Times Magazine incorrectly reported that the Busy Bee hardware store in Santa Monica had been razed. The store is open for business.

She's been bugging Bruce for months to lower prices at their tres chic , artsy restaurants--Broadway Deli and DC-3 in Santa Monica, and Rebecca's and the West Beach Cafe just down the road in Venice--because she's worried about fueling Santa Monica's encroaching elitism with $6 fresh-squeezed melon drinks and the like. Bruce finds her ideals somewhat odd, even for Santa Monica.

Their discussion this evening goes like this:

Rebecca: "My dream is that prices are going to come down every month little by little. Bruce is finally working with me on that. I have this real hard time with elitism and the rich getting richer and the poor being excluded."

Bruce: "Rebecca's motivated by having more people come in to experience our restaurants, but I don't know whether pricing is the issue here."

Rebecca: "I just like things fair, and I feel that the more you give, the more you get. It's from my parents--the fairness and equanimity."

Bruce: "But, honey, for each dollar spent under cheaper pricing, you're doing more labor, more work, serving more food but not necessarily making more profit."

Rebecca: "It's embarrassing and uncomfortable for me to be associated with elitism. I told him I thought there was a trend in which fancy restaurants were not as acceptable. He saw a Wall Street Journal article on it and started to change because of that."

Bruce: "If everyone in town was only interested in low prices, there'd be no good food."

Santa Monica is struggling with its soul these days, and whether the Marders know it or not, they are articulating the core debate.

THE SIGNS OF ADVANCED HIPNESS ARE everywhere in this sun-washed David Hockney paintscape of a city. There are the region's hottest restaurants, from established spots such as Wolfgang Puck's Chinois-on-Main and Michael McCarty's eponymous, art-soaked Michael's, to the pretty pasta oases that make the city feel like a town on the Ligurian Coast. The art scene is roaring forth like 1970s Manhattan, evidenced in an estimated 75 galleries featuring works of national artists and local heroes such as Arnoldi, Alexis Smith, Robbie Conal and Laddie John Dill. Two of the nation's leading pop architects, Frank Gehry and Charles Moore, have bases here, and all across town, mod mini-malls and spectacular pallazzos are springing up, burying the dowdy shops and bungalows of what was once just another Southern California beach town. Last month, the city hosted its first international film festival and drew 9,000 film types and millions of dollars.

Residents such as Michelle Pfeiffer can be spotted poking at the tomatoes in grocery stores on Montana Avenue, and Jeff Bridges is embroiled in a battle off Ocean Avenue with a neighbor whose steel-girded monolith of a house sits unfinished, rusting and wrecking the view. Vocalists Wendy Wilson and Chynna Phillips, of Wilson Phillips, each recently bought themselves $550,000 ocean-view condos. In February, Sugar Ray Leonard spent $1.1 million on his condo.

"We are becoming the California center of glitz, glitter and long consultations with our yoga trainers," says Assemblyman Tom Hayden, the honorary governor of what used to be called the People's Republic of Santa Monica and the leading environmental conscience for its 87,000 people. "Beverly Hills and Bel-Air are passe when you can live at the beach and still get your canapes delivered and your Rolls-Royce buffed at shops just down the street."

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