By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Click here for main feature, Rick Caruso's Aria: L.A.'s Mall King Mulls a Mayoral Run, by Matthew Fleischer.
I’m lying in the grass at the park in the center of the Americana mall, and I smell. Bad. I’ve been wearing the same clothes for at least five days, and I haven’t showered in even longer. My face is caked with dirt that I slapped on moments before I arrived. My unwashed hair is wild and knotted, and it casts a particularly unpleasant, sour tang.
Children are playing all around me, but they really don’t have much choice. It’s a 100-degree day and I’ve deposited myself on the only shady patch of grass in the mall’s 2-acre park. Anyone who wants to stay cool needs to share.
Resting next to me is a small plastic bag of bottles and cans I’ve collected from nearby trash bins. Some of the cans still have liquid in them, which is starting to leak out onto my already filthy pants.
It’s a Saturday afternoon, and hundreds, if not thousands, of shoppers surround me on all sides. Roughly 10 yards away, diners on the outdoor patio of the wildly expensive sushi restaurant Katsuya look on as the Americana’s signature “dancing fountain” erupts, shooting elaborate columns of crystalline water high into the air.
The spectacle is interesting enough if you’ve never seen it before, but several of the restaurant’s patrons do their best to look away. I suspect it’s because my reeking, filthy carcass is directly in their line of sight — an unavoidable blip on their radar screen.
I close my eyes and attempt to drift off to sleep, but the unceasing Americana soundtrack of Frank Sinatra and other classic crooners prevents me from relaxing.
That and the constant supervision.
A walkie-talkie crackles behind me. I can’t hear what’s being said, but I have a good idea. Footsteps approach. I open my eyes to see a man with a badge and a crisp, clean uniform standing over me.
“Excuse me, sir ...”
In his landmark 1965 essay, “You Have to Pay for the Public Life,” architect and public-space theorist Charles W. Moore launched a fascinating defense of Disneyland, arguing that the amusement park “is enormously successful because it re-creates all the chances to respond to a public environment which Los Angeles particularly no longer has.”
Beautiful public space capable of fostering advanced community interaction is something that needs to be cultivated, and often comes at significant expense. “Versailles cost someone a great deal of money,” Moore noted. Since Los Angeles wasn’t willing to develop that sort of space, Disneyland stepped in to fill a vital social vacuum.
“Single-handed, it is engaged in replacing many of those elements of the public realm which have vanished in the featureless private floating world of Southern California.”
Despite its artificiality, Disney nonetheless provided a unique medium to meet and interact with strangers — to see and be seen, to flirt, to play, to adopt a public persona. The space was artificial but the interactions were not. Little has changed since Moore’s piece was published. Los Angeles still lacks adequate public communal-gathering space, and the trend of private developers capitalizing on the woeful state of the Southland’s public sphere has only been exacerbated.
The Grove, the Americana’s spiritual antecedent, is the most prominent, and successful, 21st-century attempt of the private sector to fill the void of public life in Los Angeles. Its critics, like those of Disney before it, dismiss the Grove as a manufactured universe free of the gruff realities of urban life. Yet the Grove attracts more people than even Disneyland, while the withered Pan Pacific Park, right next door, offering all the opportunities one could want for “real” public interaction, is barely used.
The Grove is safe and clean because, as a private development, it has control over who and what to allow. Unlike a public park, the Grove can legally toss the overtly political, the intoxicated or the indigent out — eliminating the fringe and ensuring a beigist medium for safe social and commercial interaction among the majority.
Though critics continue to spew impotent rage at the Grove, the space is what it is — a fancy outdoor mall. The Americana, however, while aesthetically and conceptually similar to the Grove, is a much, much different story. It is a strange and uncertain hybrid.
When Rick Caruso agreed to develop the 15.5-acre plot of city land in Glendale that would become the Americana, he assented to creating a new town center — replete with housing, retail and public space. The selling point of the project was the development of a new, 2-acre park at its center, which would be open for public use. Glendale agreed to provide the land for the entire development, free of charge, with the condition that the city would retain ownership of the park. Caruso Affiliated would be responsible for its design and maintenance.
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