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Fairfax District Is Rediscovered

Development: Investing in older neighborhoods has become a trend, as new construction sweeps the area.


Cranes are looming over enormous construction sites along 3rd Street near Fairfax Avenue, where developers are building the first major new structures in a decade in this aging Los Angeles neighborhood.

Beyond the clouds of dust, diverted traffic and construction fences, city residents may see something else in the Fairfax district: a new pattern of investment that is luring investors from the suburbs back to the city's older neighborhoods.

The Fairfax area is one of a small but growing number of established neighborhoods to benefit from new construction--in this case, a 575,000-square-foot expansion of Farmers Market called the Grove; nearly 1,300 new luxury apartments next to Park La Brea; and a new public recreation center in Pan Pacific Park.

The benefits could come at a price. High-density development carries the potential to alter--and possibly spoil--the quality of life and charm of one of L.A.'s most stable neighborhoods. Although neighbors got some concessions from the developers, the density of the projects remains undiminished.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday April 5, 2001 Home Edition Business Part C Page 2 Financial Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Fairfax district--A story in Tuesday's Business section on Los Angeles' Fairfax district may have implied that Mordigan's Nursery was forced to close to make way for new construction. Mordigan's has moved to 7933 W. 3rd St., west of Fairfax Avenue.

Investing in older neighborhoods is a fairly new strategy in Los Angeles, where most development occurs on the suburban periphery, said Con Howe, the city's planning director.

"Instead of treating existing neighborhoods as past history and just letting them slide into neglect, people in the development community and the retail community are looking into the opportunity for reinvestment in the city," Howe said.

Such reinvestment is good public policy, said a report, "Sprawl Hits the Wall," that was released in February by the Southern California Studies Center at USC and the Brookings Institution. "Business should be encouraged to rediscover the hidden assets [both workers and markets] that are currently locked in thriving but overlooked older neighborhoods," the report said.

A pattern of reinvestment is emerging throughout L.A., highlighted by three major projects in the historic Hollywood district: the massive retail, hotel and entertainment complex at Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue; the expansion of the Cinerama Dome into an "entertainment center" with shops and a multiplex theater; and the Hollywood Marketplace retail-and-residential building at Sunset Boulevard and Vine Steet.

In the Mid-City area, Costco Wholesale Corp. and Home Depot Inc. propose an unprecedented triple-decker store (the third level would be parking) on the former site of Builders Emporium at La Brea Boulevard and San Vicente Avenue.

Rick Caruso, president of Caruso Affiliated Holdings, which is developing the Grove in partnership with longtime Farmers Market owner A.F. Gilmore Co., said developers in the Fairfax district are "placing a lot of investment in a neighborhood that has been really rich in demographics and history, but has been neglected, from an investment standpoint, for a long time."

When people are driving on 3rd Street a year from now, Caruso added, "all they will see is Barnes & Noble, Nordstrom, FAO Schwarz," which are the anchor stores of the new mall. That collection of merchants "makes the area a much a more desirable place to live in, and sends the message that this is a place to invest in."

But if investment brings new value to older neighborhoods, it can also bring loss. Local landmarks are obliterated by new construction. Familiar streets become new, unfamiliar places. Construction near 3rd and Fairfax required the loss of longtime businesses, including Mordigan's Nursery just east of Farmers Market, and the tennis club next to Park La Brea.

"We have lived here our entire lives . . . and now the entire area around Farmers Market will never be the same," said a mournful Diana Plotkin, president of the Beverly Wilshire Homes Assn., a homeowners group.

The changing landscape in the Fairfax area is particularly jarring to local residents, because the neighborhood has been a haven of stability amid the tear-it-down, build-it-again real estate culture of the city's newer Westside neighborhoods.

Beginning in the early 1940s, the area gained popularity with Jewish families and immigrants, said Marc Futterman, an architect and urban designer who lives in Park La Brea, one of the district's largest housing communities. "People loved the area and stayed there," he said. "There was a real sense of solidity to the neighborhood."

By the 1940s and early '50s, the district was already built-out, he said. The Fairfax area continued to "age in place," even when such regional attractions as the La Brea Tar Pits, Museum Row on Wilshire Boulevard, the Beverly Center mall and the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center brought teeming traffic and a large daytime population to the edges of the neighborhood.

"We have tremendous traffic," Plotkin said, "and it is putting our children and the elderly in jeopardy." She predicted that shoppers looking for parking places near the Grove will "create havoc in our community."

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