I'm only happy if I'm shopping. Wait, that's a slight exaggeration. I'm only happy when I'm not shopping. The last time I was in the Glendale Galleria, Abe Lincoln was off to see a show.
So in a way, I am not the guy you send to spend a night at the Americana at Brand, the new shopping mall/residence right next door. But I do love people. Not all of them, mind you, just the concept of people in general -- the great quivering masses. I like to watch them waddle, to witness the way they stuff waffle cones in their mouths or butter a dinner roll with their thumbs. There's nothing more entertaining than the dimwit in line next to me at the movies (and I'm sure he feels the same about me).
But can Caruso's latest storybook village muster the intangibles necessary to create a vibrant and charming neighborhood? A place to gather and kvetch and quiver? A spot to toss the football? That's what I'm here to find out, with my slumber party at the mall.
The Americana at Brand is part high-end retail, part pricey residential. (Rents start at a little more than two grand.) There is also a heaping dose of Vegas glam, a handsome streetcar and a patch of grass in the middle that the security guards don't want you to walk on, at least during the week.
Hmmm, tough 'hood. Sir, is it OK to sit on this bench? Thanks. How about a morning paper? Oops, no newspaper racks. Hmmm, think I'll get a haircut at the cool little barber shop. Forty bucks? Does that come with lunch?
Hey Pa, this ain't Mayberry, if that's what you're after. It's Caruso's idea of what Mayberry might be like in 2008, a sort of faux SoCal. Look out, Barney Fife's got a credit card!
Like nowhere else in Los Angeles, the residences are front and center with the retail space. Sure, Pasadena's Paseo Colorado is also an apartment-retail hybrid, but it seems far more integrated here in Glendale. Is that good or bad? What about the noise? That's why I'm here.
Certainly, signs of the good life are everywhere. Barneys New York Co-Op is steps from your front door. There's an Anthropologie off to the left, and a Martin + Osa across the way. You can't get anything you actually need at any of these places, just things you covet. But there is also a Rite Aid on the corner and a grand multiplex across the courtyard.
This $400-million development isn't Greenwich Village, to be sure, Jackson Square or even Lincoln Park. Yet, Caruso's latest vision helps give L.A. the thing that everyone says is most missing: somewhere to share an evening.
There, in the store window, a reflection of a fellow shopper. At the edge of the fountain, two lovers slurp-kiss their coffee.
At the other end of the fountain, there's an oddly golden statue, with the skin tone of Cracker Jack, jumping naked toward the Cheesecake Factory. Is this Proteus rising from the sea? Or Caruso ordering a sandwich?
Over the sound system, Sinatra belts out yet another saloon song. The piped-in music is pleasant enough but relentless, like being trapped on an elevator with Steve and Eydie.
"You say po-taye-to, I say po-tah-o . . . "
As with any city, the later it gets, the more I like it. At sundown, the whole place starts to twinkle. I'm a sucker for gas lamps, or for big white bulbs strung in cottonwood trees -- very New York. Spotlights turn the fountain into a giant gin and tonic.
"You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to . . . "
Rome was built at the confluence of the Aniene and Tiber rivers. New York is located on one of the world's great harbors. The Americana was built alongside Glendale's greatest trade route, the Galleria.
The new development is four city blocks. In addition to the shops and restaurants, four distinct rental apartment buildings -- almost like anchor stores -- offer floor plans ranging from lofts at $2,060 to town houses (topping $5,000). In all, there are 238 apartments.
These are luxe units, with balconies, gourmet kitchens and valet parking. A huge part of the appeal is the concierge service, from 6 a.m. to midnight. Need the piano tuned? Or a graduation gift for your niece? Just call. The concierge services are included in the rent, as is the parking.
The Americana also boasts 100 condos, starting at $700,000 and reaching as high as $2 million. As of this month, 20% of the apartments had been rented. The condos just went on sale and figures aren't available, though the Americana says it is delighted with the initial response.
"To the good life . . . " wails the sound system down below.
And that's certainly an issue. The crowds are sedate, but there is that music, which runs till 10 p.m.
"I didn't want to move in. I thought it would be too loud, too crazy. But I love it," says Levon Ketsoyan, who lives at the Americana with his wife, Marina, and 18-month-old daughter, Tatiana.
The three of them are eating pizza and watching the Lakers collapse on a flat-screen TV in the common area of the Marc building, as other residents trickle in after work.
It's an eclectic group, eventually maybe 25 people in all. These are the pioneers, the folks willing to give this place a try when no one was certain it would work. So far, they rave about the friendliness of the place, the activities, the concierge service.
"It feels like you're on vacation here," says one.
"They have Mommy and Me classes every Tuesday," says Tatiana's mom. "She has met lots of kids her age."
There are plenty of activities. The gigantic Barnes & Noble offers a writers group. There is yoga in the park. Live music fills the quad all weekend.
Despite such perks, it seems an odd place for a family, but our own 5-year-old is hooked. He likes the playground and the fountain shows that sprout twice hourly. We catch "Kung-Fu Panda" in the 18-screen multiplex -- a movie-lover's dream.
"People always ask if it's noisy," resident Fred Cuevas says. "Everything shuts down at 10. My wife and I have director's chairs on the patio and we sit there and have martinis. The only thing is I'm going to put on about 100 pounds, since we're right over the Cheesecake Factory."
On the warm evening, my date and I go for a late stroll and take our 5-year-old for a ride on a faux industrial-age elevator. We grab late dessert at one of the kiosks that are everywhere. (Try the pastries at Beard Papa's.) We wander back to our two-bedroom unit, one of the furnished models in the Marc building.
A little before 11, we fall asleep to the smell of soy sauce from the sushi joint below. But noisy? Hardly. This place is quiet as a monk's Christmas.
Hey, what happened to everybody? At 8 a.m., the streets are empty. No place to eat, nothing opens till 10. So we grab a cup of coffee and head to the playground.
Suburban geek that I am, I can't get past the fact that they're over-watering parts of the little park. The sprinklers spray like howitzers, leaving puddles in the sod. I realize they are trying to get this new turf to root deep, to withstand the hot weather.
In fact, this whole enterprise seems trying to root deep, to create a sense of permanence. So it's hard to be too critical of this wager on a more interesting and congenial L.A. lifestyle. It all seems so earnest, so well-intentioned. And certainly, such retail-housing combos are a trend we'll see more of soon, here and across the country.
Of course, some happenstance might be nice -- a real-life street musician, a squirrel or two, a bird. Rooftop community gardens would be a nice add-on at the Americana, as would a swanky little watering hole on the village green.
Mostly, what this instant city needs is a little time. Some people may prefer a perennially shiny new home. Me, I prefer the hum of real life, some patina, that lived-in look -- like creases in a fine old leather chair.
The Americana hasn't paid its dues yet. But as Dean Martin croons in the courtyard: If this ain't love, it'll have to do till the real thing comes along . . . till the real thing comes along.
Chris Erskine can be reached at email@example.com. For more columns, see latimes.com/erskine.
MAN OF THE HOUSE BY CHRIS ERSKINE
The new Mayberry?
The latest lifestyle: mall as home. Our intrepid columnist tests the idea with an Americana sleepover.
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