The ‘Fairfax Mile’ - Home of Solid Gold Mega Developments, and a Few Big Questions

DEEGAN ON LA-The “Fairfax Mile” building boom of mega developments continues, from Fairfax and Wilshire north to Fairfax and Beverly, including a major stop at Fairfax and Third.

This mile-long cluster is unlike any of the other building booms across a city that is loaded with cranes and construction such as Hollywood, Koreatown and Downtown LA. The Fairfax Mile” between Wilshire and Beverly (exactly one mile) is home to a collection of solid gold marquee names: LACMA, the Petersen Automotive Museum, the La Brea Tar Pits and Museum, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and the almost completed Motion Picture Academy’s Movie Museum -- all at Wilshire-Fairfax – as well as the well-established Farmers Market, The Grove at Third and Fairfax, and CBS Television City at Fairfax and Beverly. 

To add to the wattage, some of the projects have world-renowned architects such as Pritzker Prize winners Peter Zumthor and Renzo Piano at LACMA and the Movie Museum respectively, and William Pereira (architect of the original LACMA campus, recently expanded by Piano) and Charles Luckman who together created CBS Television City. 

Amid all this value there is uncertainty surrounding what will develop on both sides of the Farmers Market and The Grove properties. A run-down shopping center called Town and Country is on the south side, and CBS Television City on the north side. 

Town and Country owner Ira Smedra has just announced redevelopment plans that have raised eyebrows and drawn vocal opposition from the surrounding community that is objecting to his proposal for a twenty-six story, 380-unit, apartment tower next to the Farmers Market-The Grove complex. A spokesperson for David Ryu (CD4) told CityWatchthat Councilmember Ryu has concerns with the project in its current iteration, specifically the height and potential traffic impacts.” 

The community has been there before, actually, at the property immediately adjacent to the east of Town and Country, where developer Alan Casden once tried to erect a 300-unit apartment building on the site of Ross Dress for Less. A combination of strong community opposition and a methane explosion that had injured 23 people in 1985 helped end that project. More methane under the Town and Country shopping center could be why developer Smedra wants all his parking above ground, resulting in seven levels of parking topped by 19 floors of high-end apartments, for a total of twenty-six floors in the apartment tower. 

At a very aggressive public meeting a few nights ago, the Mid City West Community Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUC) warned Smedra he may get what they inferred would be the Casden treatment” from the neighborhood council and community: a prolonged and ugly fight opposing his project. 

Swept aside by the wrecker’s ball may be Andres Italian Restaurant a mom and pop, very affordable neighborhood eatery and icon that has been located in its Town and Country space since 1963 -- serving affordable meals to multiple generations of the community it knows and understands so well, for over half a century -- long before the current property owner arrived on the scene. 

As Aron Celnik, owner and partner at Andre's restaurant (photo left), told the neighborhood council, While Whole Foods (the anchor tenant at Town and Country) has the niche clientele, so does Andre's, especially workers that come to Andre's to eat. On the other hand, not many of our customers can afford to shop at Whole Foods. What I'm asking the council to consider is this, will the new shopping center serve the community any better than the existing facilities? And whether yes or no, how is it possible that Andre's, that has been a family destination for so many generations, was not even offered a space at the new revitalized center?” 

That neatly summarizes the distance between the high-end housing plans of developer Smedra, whose project presentation did not include any low-income housing, and the community he thinks he is serving. The lines out the doors of Andre’s are testament to a huge need for affordability” in this tightly-knit neighborhood. 

Of all the developments along the Fairfax Mile, the most intriguing is the CBS Television City property on the southeast corner of Fairfax and Beverly, a 25-acre campus that the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission recently approved a recommendation for historic and cultural monument status that would preserve its facade under certain conditions. Some speculate that the property, even with an awkward site plan for development that may need to work around the existing studio complex, could be worth almost one-billion-dollars, if sold to a developer. That’s just the land cost: to build would increase the figure, making this a very expensive showpiece smack in the middle of the city.  CBS founder William Paley reportedly spent $7 million to build the complex in the early 1950s. 

It might be hard for a developer to reconcile density with the price of the land and improvements: that will be one of the big questions facing anyone, including the community, that looks closely at the development of this project. How big and dense would it have to be to make it affordable to the developer, and what would be the entitlements and trade-offs? 

To provide some perspective, the 25-acre CBS property is 150% the size of neighbor The Grove (18 acres). Like The Grove, which is located at Third and Fairfax, CBS sits at the intersection of the major transit routes of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard. And, like The Grove has become, CBS is a very famous name. 

What’s missing along the Fairfax Mile, and could factor into the argument for developing the CBS property, is light rail to connect Museum Row with West Hollywood. The Crenshaw extension and the Purple Line Extension (with its Museum Row station) are the most likely places for an alignment to WEHO -- and one of the speculated routes is along Fairfax. This could significantly mitigate traffic along the Mile if the CBS property is developed, The Grove’s visitor count continues to build (unofficial estimates are more than 20 million annual visitors), and the Farmers Market continues its unabated popularity, especially among locals who can walk or hop quick transit to it, as well as the millions of annual visitors to Museum Row just a few blocks south. 

Will CBS stay or go? Does the CBS boardroom drama that erupted into public view a few days ago, pitting the Redstone family (which owns majority control of CBS) against the CBS management auger an asset sale” of the CBS Television City property to someone who may not have the needs of the community in mind, unlike CBS which has been a community partner for two-thirds of a century? Will they sell or develop…either by themselves or in partnership? 

The next steps for the property of CBS Television City -- a major studio center forAmerica’s most watched network” -- could become the community’s most watched development project.” Also, on the radar is how high the City will allow his building to be, and how will Ira Smedra deal with Andre’s and its strong community following: will he let them eat pasta?”

 

(Tim Deegan is a civic activist whose DEEGAN ON LA weekly column about city planning, new urbanism, the environment, and the homeless appear in CityWatch. Tim can be reached at timdeegan2015@gmail.com.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.