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Renovation: Crescent Moon is the first new shop to open along a once-blighted stretch of boulevard.

May 02, 1996|KATE FOLMAR | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SHERMAN OAKS — A persistent patch of Sherman Oaks blight quietly disappeared Wednesday, replaced in part by an upscale gift shop, of all things.

Opened by husband-and-wife team Herb and Tamera Greenberg, the 2,100-square-foot store called Crescent Moon is brimming with hard-to-find objets, from aromatherapy candles to handmade cards displayed fetchingly on weathered furniture.

But the opening of the shop--with its country-elegance style, comfy couch and faux-brick fireplace--is fraught with more significance than the typical small-business debut.

It is the vanguard of a $1-million renovation of a troubled 50-year-old strip of retail property on Ventura Boulevard between Woodman and Ventura Canyon avenues, locals say, and an emblem of the revitalization of Ventura Boulevard.

Crescent Moon is but the first of several stores in the 22,000-square-foot development that will open in upcoming months.

"The opening of the first store is indicative of something that I've been saying for months: Sherman Oaks is back," said City Councilman Mike Feuer, who brought the property owners and homeowners activists to his field office and told them to build consensus.

The project's many meanings are not lost on the Greenbergs, who live a mile from what has become known as the Woodman-Ventura project. As area residents, "we've been waiting for this block to open for a long time," Tamera Greenberg said.

It has been a protracted rough spell for the property, which became a battlefield between potential developers who favored high-density projects and homeowners who wanted to keep a small-town feel to that stretch of the boulevard.

In late 1988, developer Jacky Gamliel served eviction papers to original stores along the stretch, including the popular Scene of the Crime bookstore and Mary's Lamb restaurant, in an attempt to build a three-story office building. His overtures were rebuffed by the city and homeowners.

A second proposal for the site from developer Ovadia Oved for a mixed-use project including retail space and senior-citizen housing sputtered for lack of funding.

When Gamliel's lease ended in early 1994, owners Mel Guthman and Shep Weiner reclaimed the property, explained Mitch Guthman, manager of the Woodman-Ventura project and an owner's son.

In the interim, the stretch was boarded up and became a magnet for transients, vandals and rats. When renovation began last fall, workers had to "shovel out loads of petrified human waste and needles," Mitch Guthman said. "You could almost smell that block before you got there."

Now the only smell is fresh paint.

The nine-building project has space for nine to 17 shops or offices depending on the configuration, Guthman said. About 60% of the space is already leased.

In addition to Crescent Moon, the Michael Ruth Salon and W.L. Mayes Interiors will open within the next few weeks. Also expected are a small art school, a dry cleaner, an optometrist and a florist. Guthman said he is in negotiation with a coffee shop, a clothing store and a juice bar. If those shops sign, he added, the Woodman-Ventura project "will be nearly totally leased."

Virginia Shabaik, a Sherman Oaks homeowner, predicted early success for the project. "I think the community will really support it."

Even Sherman Oaks homeowner activist Richard H. Close, who often opposes high-density developments, couldn't be more pleased about the renovation.

"This isn't just good, it's fantastic," he said. "In the late '80s, there was high interest in putting mall-type facilities [on Ventura Boulevard]. And now the boulevard has come back 360 degrees to what it was before--small shops serving the neighborhood. This is our Main Street."

Guthman credits much of the speed of the renovation--announced nine months ago--to Feuer, who helped Guthman and contractor Howard Lichtman of Lichtman Design and Construction get all the necessary permits.

"It could have been very, very hard to build this thing," Guthman said. "Instead, it was very, very easy. . . . The city treated us right."

Guthman's only regret, in fact, is that tenant Ruth Windfeldt of Scene of the Crime has not returned.

Without success, Windfeldt twice attempted to resurrect her popular store catering to mystery buffs.

"I would love to have her come back," Guthman said ruefully. "We have a great space for her."

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