Ever since the beginning May, a morbid Twitter account called @westwoodisdying has been forming an unofficial file of all "the closed and closing storefronts in Westwood Village," and just documenting the neighborhood's cultural decline in general. (For example: the buffing-over of a Shepard Fairey piece on a parking garage.)
We can't tell if the account is a real-estate agent's marketing scheme, or some grad student's terrible Urban Studies and Planning thesis, or a reverse-psychology Target promotion, or WTF, but it does get us to wondering:
Is Westwood really dead?
According to the Twitter account, Westwood businesses that have closed their doors over the last year or so include the Avco Center 4 movie theater, the Ann Taylor Loft, Baja Fresh ("The very first meal we enjoyed in LA was a veggie burrito from this Baja Fresh location"; single tear), Best Buy and the Mystery Bookstore.
So we call up the Westwood Business Improvement District, formed about one year ago by Westwood Village shops who wanted revitalize the area, to tell the guy at the front desk about the @westwoodisdying Twitter account.
"That's really sad," he says.
RIP Good Choice Gift (2009) Apparently, one was given a free lollipop for buying here. We could use a free lollipop... twitter.com/westwoodisdyin...— Westwood is Dying (@westwoodisdying) June 6, 2012
The district's executive director, Andrew Thomas, goes on to make the argument that Westwood is actually on the up-and-up.
"I've seen momentum building," says Thomas. "It's a reality here that there are vacancies, but there's a lot of movement on them."
The business improvement district has launched a branding campaign that characterizes the UCLA outskirts as having "Neighborhood Charm, City Style." Say what? Thomas explains that while Westwood is very walkable, with "cool and interesting boutiquey shops," it's "not a mall."
"This isn't the Grove," he stresses.
The re-gentrification of Westwood has been a careful one. After a young Long Beach woman was shot in the head by gangsters in 1989, Westwood Village has been struggling to bring back the crowds -- but only the right crowds. It wants to be an urban center -- but not too urban, if you know what we mean.
It does seem the new Westwood Business Improvement District is making significant strides in achieving this delicate balance: A new Target just opened last week, and uber-trendy Umami Burger will be next.
In an April progress report on the district, UCLA's student newspaper applauded it for "power washing the sidewalks, trimming the trees, painting over graffiti and collecting trash more consistently." Also, for helping two of the 10 to 12 homeless folks in the area find permanent homes. (Which already puts it one notch above the Downtown Business Improvement District, where officials are currently doing everything within their power to clear bums from the sidewalks, regardless of whether they've got someplace else to go.)
Of course, this could mean "Westwood Is Dying" in the whitewashed/gentrification sense. But let's be honest: Westwood never had too much street cred to begin with. Besides, you know, a Shepard Fairey commission or two.