Los Angeles is known for its malls in a way almost no other major city is. Its urban built environment is proto-suburban, an odd blend of almost-urban density and car-culture all blended into a stew. So unlike other large cities, where malls feel like something of an afterthought, grafted onto the edges of cities at a beltway, Los Angeles is a place where they feel purposefully like hubs within the urban fabric.
The west end of Los Angeles is this sprawling city’s most famous swath–the ten or so miles from the beach in Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles are home to a jumble of infamous neighborhoods, including Hollywood and Beverly Hills. As you might expect with names such as these, it’s a fashionable and affluent stretch of the city, home to multiple malls and miles of street-front retail.
The Beverly Center is something of a monolith at La Cienega and San Vicente Boulevards, between West Hollywood and Beverly Hills (both actually separate cities from LA itself, but totally surrounded by it). From the outside, the mall is positively gargantuan, standing well above all surrounding structures and visible for miles down Beverly Blvd. The center is organized in an odd fashion, with a six story parking garage beginning at ground level and leading up to the mall, which is perched atop the large structure. In actuality, this is horrendous urban form; instead of interfacing with the street and surrounding neighborhood, the mall is above its surroundings as if a massive luxury penthouse.
Opened in 1982, the Beverly Center was developed by legendary mall developer A. Alfred Taubman and replaced a small old amusement park on the site. The mall’s vaulted structure–criticized earlier–does serve a purpose: there’s oil underneath the mall, and the structure of the center allows for an enclosure for active oil wells underneath a portion of the property. Originally anchored by Bullock’s and The Broadway along with a movie theatre, the Beverly Center was also home to the first U.S. location of the Hard Rock Cafe. Today, mall itself is an attractive blend of upscale stores, anchored by Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s (both of which replaced the original anchors after they were absorbed into Federated in the mid 90s). The theatres which opened with the mall in 1982 just closed this month; they were open at the time my photos were taken in March of 2010. The three-level mall is somewhat austere and ’80s modern (with updates, of course), but it earns some significant points from me for its almost total lack of kiosks and its hotel-style center court bar, both of which lend to the un-harried ambiance.
Also, due to its location, the Beverly Center has unsurprisingly been mentioned in a ton of movies, books, songs, and whatever else, plus it has served as a spot for B list (and lower…) celebrities to take part-time retail jobs while waiting for work. Case in point: Danny Pintauro of “Who’s The Boss” apparently worked at The Gap for awhile. Don’t remember Danny Pintauro? That’s why he was working at The Gap!