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L.A. at Large

On the Sunny Side of the Mall

Pedestrian-friendly centers make the L.A. pastime a worthwhile exercise.


"Pedestrian shopping experience" is apparently the new term for malls. It's always nice to see capitalists making hay while the post-ironic sun shines, and it's as good a term as any, if you don't mind having a word that once meant a sensual, emotional occurrence--that would be "experience," not "shopping"--dragooned into the ever-swelling ranks of synonyms for "stores."

But time spent at the newest local "experiences"--Hollywood & Highland in Hollywood, the Grove in the Fairfax district and Paseo Colorado in Pasadena--leaves one longing for a well-placed hyphen. As in "pedestrian-shopping experiences." As in shopping for pedestrians.

For all its drive-by reputation, Los Angeles has become a runway of pedestrians. These three are but the newest links in a bracelet of similar marketplaces strung across Southern California. Somewhere between the creation of the Century City Mall and the refurbs of Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and Pasadena's Old Town, urban planners and merchants realized that people like to see the sky as they duck in and out of doorways, that they prefer the breezy noise of the open street to the trapped cacophony of the average indoor mall.

Many argue that a true street scene can never emerge from some prefab Main-Street-in-a-Box. And it's true that within the frescoed and fountained faux-ness of the three new marketplaces many of the stores are redundant (does every Angeleno have his or her own personal Banana Republic yet?)

Los Angeles Times Saturday April 27, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 27 words Type of Material: Correction
Store's name--A story about shopping centers in Thursday's Southern California Living section gave an incorrect name of a store at the Paseo Colorado mall in Pasadena. The store is Tommy Bahama.

But the people milling about within them are not.

From the backpack-and-camera-strung tourists of Hollywood Boulevard to the cell-phone addicted locals in the Fairfax district to the Pasadena moms in their khaki capri pants and white canvas tennis shoes, the crowds could not embody the neighborhoods better if Central Casting had been involved.

Hollywood & Highland

In the courtyard of Hollywood & Highland on a Monday, at least seven languages are being spoken, including French, German, Japanese and Russian--and that's just from the folks perusing the kiosk stacked with sunglasses. High above, white marble elephants rage, but the frescoes of jackals and pharaohs frame less-than-exotic stores--an Ann Taylor, a Nestle Tollhouse cookie shop.

Unidentifiable disco and a small white sun beat down on the pale cement, coating everything with a glittery silver haze. It is not an inviting light, and this may explain why so many of the folks are simply circling the courtyard, rather than sitting at one of the mosaic-topped tables to take their rest. Or it could simply be that most of these people are tourists and it is too early in the day for tourists to sit down.

People who are on vacation often need to buy things. Not just touristy things like T-shirts and snow globes, but high-end items like gold jewelry and expensive handbags. This is the main reason Hollywood & Highland exists.

In Los Angeles, all tourist roads lead to the Grauman's Chinese Theatre where people from Rhode Island and the Ukraine take similar comfort from the size of John Wayne's feet and Trigger's hooves.

For years, residents have watched the inevitable disappointment bloom on the faces of visitors as they realize that not only is there no Hollywood in the real Hollywood, there's not even a decent place to shop.

So now Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton lurk beside the stores that sell Marilyn posters. Wandering past them, and occasionally through them, are barelegged and relentlessly blond German families, multi-generational clusters of Asian women, a conga line of Australian teens and a French couple with two toddlers.

In the first hours after the stores' 10 a.m. opening, there are more security guards than shoppers. But by noon, people have tired of looking at stars in the sidewalk and of trying to picture the red carpet on the concrete outside the Kodak Theatre, and the mall becomes a floor show of vacation wear--fanny packs and shirts that wick, hybrids of Teva sandals and lots of expensive video equipment. Cameras outnumber shopping bags by about 3 to 1, which is not a good sign for the mall.

"I cannot see what stores there are," said a woman with a Down Under accent, peering out of the shade in the white light of the courtyard.

"And so many stairs," said her mother, pausing to take a picture.

Reports are that business is not as good as planners had hoped at Hollywood & Highland, and on this day that is not surprising. Even when locals beef up the lunchtime crowds, there are simply not that many people here. In the tunnels that spin off the courtyard, there is not much to do after one has admired what may be the nicest Burger King in town. And everyone looks slightly lost in the dim light. But lost to a disco beat, and that may, along with the elephants, the Oscar walk and the sheer size of this thing, live up to someone's idea of L.A.

The Grove

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