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Strolls, Not Rolls, on Rodeo Drive

Beverly Hills officials are considering banning cars on part of the famous street to create a pedestrian attraction.

October 20, 2006|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

Would "Rodeo Promenade" have the same ring?

The Beverly Hills City Council could in the next month consider whether it's time to take the "drive" out of world-famous Rodeo Drive -- at least on the block between Wilshire Boulevard and Dayton Way -- and turn it into a pedestrian-only zone.

Beverly Hills Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad wants the city to study the feasibility of banning Mercedes-Benzes, Ferraris, Rolls-Royces and Porsches (and lesser vehicles) from the 200 block. They would still have the run, or the roar, of the 300 and 400 blocks of the elite, petite street.

Delshad said he planned to study foot-traffic zones in cities "with high-class areas" such as Paris and Cannes and discuss the idea with many people before proceeding.

But would Rodeo lose some of its luster if fancy cars disappeared?

Fred Hayman, who has spent decades promoting Rodeo, thinks so.

"I don't think the street should be closed," he said. "Exotic cars are part of the attraction of California."

Others had their own concerns.

"It'd be a nightmare," said Gillian Cohen, a Rodeo regular who was shopping at Ralph Lauren on Thursday. "I think it will have benches and bring homeless people around. They'll sit, and people will start playing music."

To Cohen, that raises the specter of Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, which she finds "horrific." Heaven forfend that Rodeo, a watchword for luxury with such designer boutiques as Gucci, Prada, Yves Saint Laurent, Tiffany, Chanel and Ferragamo, would reduce itself in such a way.

But Yanique Barnes, assistant manager of Cole Haan in the Two Rodeo shopping area at Wilshire and Rodeo, said an appealing pedestrian zone would be a draw. "We're excited," she said.

The Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce has yet to take a position. But Anita Zusman Eddy, director of economic development and government affairs, said the chamber was "certainly open to considering any business model that works, and certainly that model has proven to be successful in other places."

A recent economic report, she noted, painted Rodeo Drive as a retail engine. In 2005, Rodeo retailers generated $350 million in sales, out of a total of $1.2 billion for the city's so-called golden triangle area.

In addition to contemplating a pedestrian-only block, Delshad would like to see stylish food and beverage kiosks up and down Rodeo, where people could stop to enjoy cappuccino, gelato or finger sandwiches. Hmm, sounds a lot like the Grove, next to the Farmers Market at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue.

In fact, the Grove, Century City and other high-tone retailing destinations have been siphoning customers from Beverly Hills, city officials have said. Seeking to spiff up their most opulent street, the city and merchants recently invested in a nearly $18-million, two-year makeover that included new and wider sidewalks.

Delshad said he was not wedded to the idea of turning a portion or all of Rodeo into a pedestrian zone. Canon Drive might make more sense, he said, given its reputation as a restaurant row where people tend to linger at night. Rodeo, on the other hand, turns quiet as soon as darkness descends.

Despite his concerns about closing the street, Hayman said he does agree that more outdoor seating would lend the street charm and warmth. He likes the idea of Parisian-style wrought-iron tables and chairs and "sponsored" umbrellas.

He would also welcome strolling mariachi musicians and jazz players. "The street has to be more fun to walk," he said. "It must be more of a destination."

One merchant keeping an open mind, Delshad said, is Bijan, the legendary men's clothier at 420 N. Rodeo. "He said he wanted to think about it," Delshad said.

If a trial run is approved and if it demonstrates that all of Rodeo could thrive as a pedestrian street -- both big "ifs" -- one important question would remain: Where would Bijan park the navy blue Rolls-Royce that is usually stationed outside his store?

martha.groves@latimes.com

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