The Americana

Catherine Yesayan

On a recent Mother’s Day Sunday, my husband and I visited the Americana in Glendale to watch “Letters to Juliet,” but since the movie was already sold out, we decided to sit down and enjoy the perfect weather and have coffee at the food court among the kiosks.

We noticed a new addition to the food court, a coffee and pastry booth called Kurtosh, named after a Hungarian pastry. The owner, a young and energetic guy, was on hand to give us a little history of the making of the traditional, Hungarian cylindrical pastry that the recipe had been passed down from generation to generation. The girls inside the kiosk were busy making, rolling and wrapping the dough around a wooden rotary cylinder to be baked in a special oven. The aroma of the flaky pastry was like that of cinnamon rolls permeated the air and aroused our interest to buy a few cones to take home.

Sitting there, admiring the surroundings having coffee and nibbling on the new-found pastry, we met Rosa Puente and her daughter, Veronica Smith. Like many, they too were celebrating Mother’s Day at Americana.

Puente, a yoga teacher, lives in Mt. Washington – a 20-minute drive from Glendale. Every Saturday she commutes to the Americana to buy fresh and organic fruits and vegetables from Gigi’s Farmers market. “I love the atmosphere here and I enjoy spending Saturday mornings in Americana,” says Puente, 73. who attributes her good health and vivacious attitude to being a vegetarian for 26 years.

Not too far from Kurtosh, on the lawn across from Tiffany, Sean Edwards, a 35- year-old actor, is moonlighting by selling sculptured balloons. There is a long queue of parents and kids watching Edwards as he skillfully twists, and bends long and narrow balloons into all sorts of shapes, from motorcycles to eight-legged octopuses. One couldn’t miss the big smiles on the kids’ faces when they were handed a sculptured balloon. Parents were happy to pay $3 for smaller creations and $5 for larger ones.

At 5 p.m. the fountains started their usual choreographed dance to the music while young and old, mothers and daughters dressed in colorful outfits and looking very smart, grandparents alongside stroller-pushing new parents, eased their way toward the edge of the water to watch the water show and take pictures.

Watching the crowd, my husband repeats the same refrain, “How else could we have this pleasant atmosphere if it was not for Rick Caruso, who was able to go through all the hurdles and create this posh community in our backyard.”

Controversy

Before coming into fruition, the Americana project generated a lot of disagreement between different segments of the community in Glendale. Some rallied behind the project, some worried that the Americana would worsen the traffic, some were concerned that it would hurt the existing businesses, and some were just against Rick Caruso as developer.

The main opposition came from General Growth Properties Inc., which owns the shopping mall across the street from the Americana, the Glendale Galleria. Fearing a negative impact on their business, General Growth filed two lawsuits against Caruso Affiliated, and was able to gather enough petitions to put the project on the ballot. Glendalians went to the polls and voted. The Americana project prevailed by a mere half percent.

While General Growth Properties Inc. which owns numerous malls around the country, has filed the biggest real estate bankruptcy in U.S. history – $27 billion, there is no question that the booming Glendale Galleria is its most prized possession. It is clear that contrary to General Growth’s assumption that the Americana would have gobbled up the business, the Americana has resuscitated the area and the Glendale Galleria has become one of the most successful malls in the country.

Today Glendale, with two thriving malls, is a Mecca for shoppers. Driving on Central Avenue, one cannot miss the stream of people crossing the street, going back and forth between the Americana and the Glendale Galleria.

During the opening gala Rick Caruso, the man behind Americana and the chief executive officer of Caruso Affiliated, took verbal jabs at General Growth saying, “The reason we’re not celebrating our second anniversary is because we had a neighbor.” Caruso jokingly continued, “everybody’s got somebody in their life. Hillary’s got Bill. I’ve got General Growth.”

Location

The Americana at Brand, located in the heart of downtown Glendale, is bordered by three major streets: Central Avenue to the west, Brand Boulevard to the east, and Colorado to the south. The north side of the Americana is adjacent to Glendale Galleria. It covers about 15.5 acres with a mixed use of retail stores, apartments and condominiums. The two acres of open space features an immaculate lawn and a huge pond in the middle with dancing fountains that are choreographed to music every half hour like the fountains in front of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas. Additionally, there are about 70 retail stores and several upscale restaurants and an 18-screen state-of-the-art movie theater.

“The Americana might be considered, one of the loveliest, the prettiest and the classiest of all outdoor malls in California,” says Elizabeth Manasserian, a real estate broker in Glendale and president of Healthy Kids, who often visits Americana for entertainment.

She continues, “Americana is a beautiful spot where community can come together to enjoy a summer stroll in the park-like surroundings. It is a place where generations can strengthen their bonds, such as a grandfather watching his grandson playing on the playground while grandma is trying outfits at Chico’s. We have had other developments in Glendale but none have provided the high quality and the charm that Americana is offering.”

Amenities

One may find the same stores at any upscale mall, but what makes it special is the landscape and the architecture, which is a mix of Art Deco with Mediterranean styles. All too often I park my car at a top level of the parking structure to be able to have a bird’s eye view of the posh surroundings – the pond, the buildings, the crowd – while descending by the glass elevator.

When the elevator arrives at the ground level, I am flattered to be welcomed by a bellhop wearing a uniform and white gloves. And if instead of the elevator, one takes the escalator to the ground level, the swanky lobby with a playing piano, plush sofas where patrons can lounge and the concierge desk whose service has been named as “best in the nation” by the Wall Street Journal, gives you a feel that you are in a most luxurious hotel. “How else downtown Glendale could get so much glamour and high life?” I wonder.

On Sunday mornings, whenever I get up early, I head to Americana for a free yoga class, on the lush green lawn, offered by Lululemon, an athletic store. After yoga class I go to Barnes and Noble, have a coffee at the Starbucks located inside the store, and then I sit in the balcony, overlooking the seductive landscape and read books and magazines. I am totally absorbed by the atmosphere; it is so refreshing and relaxing to watch from above as people interact, kids play on the playground, and the fountains dance, while the vintage trolley snakes through the huge lawn.

“Americana is a great place to entertain, especially out-of-town guests,” says Atieh Rod. “We have often impressed our guests, by taking them to the Cheesecake Factory with its divine and scrumptious menu or to Frida restaurant that offers Mariachis as entertainment.”

With all the upscale stores such as Juicy Couture, Tiffany & Co., A/X Armani Exchange, to name a few, it is like having Rodeo Drive in our backyard. I get so much satisfaction and inspiration by just walking around, window shopping and learning about the newest fashion and design trends. I love watching the groups of giggling girlfriends, chatting unceasingly and browsing around.

For me, a visit to Americana will not be complete if I don’t pass by Anthropologie, a women’s fashion store that always offers the most intriguing, the most creative and the most amusing of window displays – nothing short of a creative design in a modern gallery. Since we are not allowed to take pictures of the whimsical and artfully presented goods, inside of the store, I satisfy my curiosity by just taking pictures of the window arrangement from outside.

What are you in the mood for? A hot relaxing sauna? Or having a martini while lounging at the poolside? Chances are the concierge service of Americana residences will be able to bring it to you. In the past, the concept of living above a retail storefront in Los Angeles may not have sounded so luxurious, but with all the amenities that the Americana provides, this new community model may be ideal for Angelenos to embrace.

Margaret Shepherd, who moved to Falls Church, Va., a few years ago, says, “When I left Glendale, Americana was under discussion. Now it’s a reason to move back.”

Keeping with their promise, as an added attraction, a month ago, Caruso Affiliated launched the much-anticipated free public transportation of replica vintage trolleys, running along Brand Boulevard from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. My mother-in-law says that she and her friends are looking with anticipation to ride on the trolley which starts at Monterey Road, just a short block from their apartment.

With all these amenities, It’s no wonder that Americana, today, despite the down economy, is bustling with diverse crowd, coming from all over and from different levels and ethnicities. Like its predecessor, the Grove, another brainchild of Rick Caruso, the Americana has become a destination in Los Angeles, by bringing young and old together and by putting the city of Glendale on the map.