Adjusting to Life in Caruso’s “Pleasantville”
By BOB VICKREY
Special to Circling the News
When initial plans were unveiled for Rick Caruso’s Palisades Village Project, I wasn’t entirely sure whether my Monument Street bungalow would one day overlook a quaint, friendly Nantucket-like setting, or quite possibly be perched above our own version of the open-air street market in downtown Jakarta.
Even during the long construction phase, I was still curious if I would own one of the most enviable sites in Pacific Palisades for an accessible stroll in our bucolic town center, or perhaps find myself unable to cross Monument because of traffic congestion backed up to Brentwood.
After the original plans were revealed for the large marquee atop the Bay Theater across the street from my house, I began to envision becoming hypnotized by the flashing neon lights streaming through my front windows at night, and suddenly developing hallucinogenic-induced facial tics just before bedtime. Thankfully, the sign model was scaled back, and I was able to store the Ray-Ban’s I had bought to wear in my living room after dark.
However, when the Christmas lights were strung in the trees during the holiday season, I was forced to retrieve them. The dazzling lights of Palisades Village were so bright that NASA astronauts circling the earth had no problem spotting our town when passing over the Western Hemisphere.
Let’s face it; we all had our own personal design in mind as to what kind of stores we’d like to see open in our town center. When the final curtain was raised in September, many longtime residents were baffled by some of the choices. Grumbling among the natives was overheard shortly after the opening, and quietly continues into the New Year.
But back in 2014, almost everyone who lived here agreed that redevelopment of some kind was overdue to help bring back some much-needed energy to a badly blighted Swarthmore Avenue.
Enter billionaire developer Rick Caruso and his merry band of well-tailored associates. After meeting Rick several times, I realized why he had become one of the most successful commercial property developers in the nation. He’s confident and well spoken. He’s handsome and charming. In fact, I’m told he’s capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound.
Rick is like that suave guy in those long-running Dos Equis commercials described as “the most interesting man in the world.” They seem to share uncanny similarities. Remember these quips? “When in Rome, they do as he does.” “He is the life of parties he never attended.” “Mosquitoes refuse to bite him, purely out of respect.” “He lives vicariously through himself.” “He bowls overhand.”
During the project’s early planning stages, Rick was savvy enough to make himself available to the community. He often deflected criticism with his self-deprecating sense of humor. In one early meeting, he said, “My wife loves the Palisades, and if I don’t get this one right, I’m not going to be able to go back home.”
When many of us heard there had been applications submitted for as many as ten liquor licenses for stores in this small village, we began to assume that there would be drinks served not only in the new restaurants, but in other establishments as well. I anticipated the sign above the door of the local cleaners that would read, “Pick up Your Dry Cleaning at Happy Hour!”
Many early critics of the project have mellowed to some extent and seem to be making their peace with the new village. One friend mused, “I’m not going to make myself unhappy over all this because I can simply walk right past the shops that hold no interest for me and find a few places that appeal to my taste.”
Speaking of “taste,” the new restaurants seem to have been the big winners thus far and have given local residents who want to meet their friends in town, far more dining choices than in recent years. Hank’s, Porto Via, The Draycott, Blue Ribbon Sushi, and Edo Little Bites all seem to be buzzing with business these days. Edo may be the smallest restaurant in the complex, but if they keep adding outside tables, they may soon be taking over the entire sidewalk along “Steadfast Lane.” (Which was aptly named by my friend Howard.)
Since I’m a guy who utilizes his kitchen only as a convenient passageway to reach another room in the house, I feel like a lottery winner with the arrival of Vintage Grocers’ elaborate hot-food counter that offers instant dinners for bargain prices. I’ve eaten more vegetables in the last three months than I have in the last decade, and my whole digestive system has been in a state of confusion due to the ingestion of these foreign substances.
I’m happy to report that for those of us who live directly across the street from the project, life has not been altered as dramatically as first feared. We have been able to cross the street without a well-trained crossing guard, and some of our worries have been alleviated about issues raised in those early planning meetings. And although there have been some concerns about the noise level of amplified music in the greenbelt parkway, rumors of a scheduled Led Zeppelin concert there turned out to be completely false.
I’m still getting adjusted to Frank Sinatra lurking in the flowerbeds along Swarthmore and serenading me from underneath the petunias when I least expect it. But better Frank, than ABBA.
Early on, when Rick spotted me in my driveway from across the street, he always extended a friendly wave. From his years of business experience, he likely recognized a potential troublemaker when he saw one. Nowadays, he’ll probably remember my initial skepticism and chuckle to himself, “I knew old ‘what’s-his-name’ would finally come around.”
Anyway, everyone keeps telling me that real estate values in the area have gone up since the opening of the new project. Wanna make a bet that Santa’s little cottage on the parkway will hit the market in 2019 and fetch a quick $2.2 million. See “Nextdoor” ad:
Nicely furnished studio unit decorated tastefully in red and white—completely done in candy cane theme. Large security battalion just outside your door. Full-time gardening staff replaces lawn and flowerbeds daily. Bathroom facilities available above concierge office just around the corner. Fireplace operational only in December. Piped-in music soundtrack (Permanent loop of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” available upon request). VERY short walk to shops and restaurants.
Any takers out there? Must act quickly!
Bob Vickrey is a longtime resident of Pacific Palisades whose columns appear in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald. His long-running “Lunch Club” series was published by the Palisades News. You can find more columns on his website: bobvickrey.net