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California and the West

A Mall Strives to Fit In With Its Neighborhood

The Westside Pavilion is getting a makeover with new eateries and a large art-house cinema.

July 13, 2006|Roger Vincent | Times Staff Writer

The Westside Pavilion, a West Los Angeles mall that has struggled to attract shoppers after previous remakes, is being made over again -- this time by adding the nation's biggest art-house theater complex.

Owner Macerich Co. said it hoped that a $30-million renovation, converting former shops and a garden into theaters and restaurants, would revive the mall's western addition at Pico and Westwood boulevards. The addition has performed poorly much of the time since it opened to fanfare in 1991.

Landmark Theatres plans to open its flagship multiplex there when the project is completed next June. It will have 12 screens.

"This is going to be the center of independent film in the country," said Ted Mundorff, senior vice president of West Los Angeles-based Landmark, which expects to host movie premiers and special screenings at the new theaters.

Macerich's modernization plan is in keeping with an industry trend turning shopping centers into entertainment destinations, said retail consultant Aubie Goldenberg of Ernst & Young.

"There is clearly demand for that on the Westside," he said. "This could create a significant amount of business" for the mall.

But any remake will face challenges. Although the demographics of the area's residents are attractive, competition from popular nearby malls such as Westfield Century City and the Grove is intense. The outdoor Grove in the Fairfax district is one of the region's most popular tourist attractions. Westfield is completing a $150-million upgrade of its Century City mall that includes new theaters and restaurants.

Also, neighbors are organized and poised to fight commercial developments they don't like. Additional business isn't necessarily welcome in the congestion-weary neighborhood.

The old mall was "a white elephant," said Joyce Foster of the Westwood Homeowners Assn. "But it didn't add a lot of traffic" to the streets.

Adding a mainstream multiplex with the usual glut of teen-oriented fare was a no-go, for example, because it might get too rowdy, neighbors said. Nightclubs would be considered even worse.

"A lot of our small children use the mall, and you don't want people walking in and out of a nightclub with you on your way to the food court," said attorney Kevin Hughes, who lives nearby.

Santa Monica-based Macerich's strategy to answer such concerns calls for offering grown-up movie fare like "Capote," supported by upscale restaurants and a wine bar.

Independent films -- those not created by major film studios -- traditionally premier in New York and Los Angeles, but usually fare better with viewers in the Big Apple, Landmark's Mundorff said. He blamed the disparity on the lack of modern art-house theaters in L.A.

The Landmark complex operating in the original portion of the mall that opened in 1985 will be replaced with shops, said Laurel Crary of Macerich, a senior property manager who is overseeing the improvements.

Macerich bought the mall in 1998 knowing that Westside Too, as the western addition was known, had problems.

"It never had an identity or a heart," Crary said.

With the exception of bookstore Barnes & Noble, which will return after the renovation, the boutiques and restaurants in the addition, designed by noted Los Angeles architect Jon Jerde, failed to draw many visitors.

Macerich tried to figure out what would work with its Westside Pavilion customers, whom Crary described as "yoga moms" and others "who are sophisticated and understand trends but are not slaves" to them.

Surveys suggested an art house would play well with such shoppers if Macerich could make the mall seem sophisticated but not stuck-up. "We're not trying to be Rodeo Drive," Crary said.

The mall's biggest attraction now is the largest Nordstrom department store on the Westside. Its other anchor retailer, Robinson's-May, is to be converted to a Macy's in early fall.

Theaters are less bothersome to those living nearby than other uses such as offices or even more stores that would be patronized at peak driving times, said Barbara Broide, president of the Westwood South of Santa Monica Boulevard Homeowners Assn.

Broide has been tracking Macerich's plans and helping voice her neighbors' concerns.

For instance, new restaurants are good, she said, but not if they stay open too late. Billboards on the side of the mall promoting movies would be opposed, but slim fabric banners like those often used to promote art exhibits at museums might be OK.

Traffic flow should remain about the same, Macerich's Crary said, and optional valet parking will be added inside the garage. "We really tried to listen to what the community wants."

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