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The Americana at Brand

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2008, Elkus Manfredi Architects; Caruso Affiliated, developer. 889 Americana Way.
  • Opening day, May 2, 2008

The Americana at Brand is a mixed-use lifestyle center located in Glendale. The 15.5-acre site is bounded by Brand Boulevard on the east, Colorado Street to the south, Central Avenue on the west, and the Glendale Galleria to the north. The complex contains 242 rental apartments, 100 condominiums, 900,000 square feet of retail, and over 2,700 parking spaces. An 18-screen Pacific Theatres cinema, Nordstrom, Barnes and Noble Booksellers, and Apple Store anchor the 75 retail tenants.

The Americana at Brand was first conceived in the mid-1990s during a public planning process that culminated in the “Greater Downtown Strategic Plan.” Also known as the Cooper Report for its primary author, Cooper Robertson Partners, the Plan called for a “Town Center” as a south anchor to the one-mile-long office/retail corridor of Brand Boulevard. The Town Center site would fill in a two-block-wide gap between Brand Boulevard itself and the Glendale Galleria, a regional indoor mall built during the 1970s and expanded in the 1980s. Detailed drawings for the Town Center included in the Cooper Report were drawn up by the Pasadena firm Moule and Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists.

Following adoption of the Greater Downtown Strategic Plan in 1996, the Glendale Redevelopment Agency began acquiring property for the proposed Town Center. The Agency put out a solicitation for developers interested in enacting the Town Center vision. Caruso Affiliated, a retail developer now famous for The Grove retail center in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles, was awarded the bid.

General Growth Properties, owner of the adjacent Glendale Galleria mall, contested Caruso Affiliated’s plans for the Town Center site at both the ballot box and in court. Glendale residents narrowly supported a referendum favoring the Caruso proposal in September 2004 and the Los Angeles Superior Court ruled against a subsequent General Growth Properties lawsuit in November 2005. During this time, Caruso Affiliated engaged in a robust public relations campaign, including a competition amongst Glendale residents to name the Town Center project, which resulted in its current name. The Americana at Brand opened in May 2008 at a cost of over $400 million.

The development has since expanded. In 2011 Caruso Affiliated acquired the adjacent Golden Key Hotel, which was demolished and replaced with a new 130,000-square-foot Nordstrom department store that opened in 2013. The design by Callison (now CallisonRTKL) echoes midcentury modern architecture. In 2015, Caruso Affiliated purchased properties across Brand Boulevard, including the landmarked Masonic Temple, originally designed in 1929 by architect Arthur Lindley. The historic building was renovated for creative office space, while the adjacent empty lot was developed with a one-story restaurant center, both opening in early 2016.

The Americana at Brand is credited to Elkus Manfredi Architects, with Harley Ellis Devereux serving as the architect of record. However, David Williams, vice president for design at Caruso Affiliated, also exercised a strong guiding hand throughout project development. According to the Caruso design team, Boston’s Newbury Street and traditional town squares served as the inspiration for the architecture of The Americana at Brand. This description, however, belies a more diverse collection of architectural references and quotations. Although brick and precast concrete details evoking Boston architecture are present throughout, other structures are developed in French Empire, Art Deco, and even Modernist architecture styles. For example, standing in the central fountain is a gold Neoclassical sculpture of a young man, which is a cast reproduction of Donald Harcourt De Lue’s 1949 The Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves located at the Normandy American Cemetery in France. The primary elevator tower off the parking garage, meanwhile, is clad in a rusticated steel frame reminiscent of rust belt factories, and is topped with a spire that echoes the shape and lighting scheme of the Eiffel Tower. A red trolley car that recalls San Francisco’s cable cars or Disneyland’s Main Street, periodically circuits The Americana property.

At the center of The Americana is a 2-acre square or green, dominated by a “dancing fountain” from WET Design, a firm famous for similar water features in Las Vegas. As one stands in the green and looks north, the dominant feature is the aforementioned parking garage elevator tower. The multi-level parking structure, however, is obscured from view by 5-story, mixed-use building. Running the length of the 600-foot-long garage, the facade of this building varies every few window bays from brick to stucco cladding, mimicking the organic evolution of a cityscape created by multiple structures built over time. Like most storefronts at The Americana, ground-floor spaces feature styles unique to individual retailers.

Rotating counterclockwise is a gap within the facade walls enclosing the green and a small, one-story cafe, which obscures the driveway from Central Avenue. Also tucked behind the cafe are the only pedestrian access to Central Avenue and a heavily-used crosswalk to the Glendale Galleria’s main entrance. A Victorian-styled clock tower stands in front of the cafe, serving as a pivot point at this corner of the green. Continuing counterclockwise, a one-story restaurant wing capped with a patinaed dome fronts the green, which rises into another 5-story, mixed-use structure to enclose the west side of the green. Next in view, looking southwest, is the marquee entry to the cinema multiplex. Holding the green on the south is a 3-story, copper-colored Art Deco structure, anchored by Barnes and Noble Booksellers.

Squeezed into the southeast corner of the green is Nordstrom’s midcentury modern styled entry, which is separated from the bookstore by a 15-foot-wide pedestrian passage. Down this passageway adhered to the department store wall is the facade of one-story brick garage, last used as a recording studio. This is the result of negotiations with the local Glendale Historical Society and is the only remnant of structures on the site predating the Americana’s construction. This passageway is also the only dedicated pedestrian access to Colorado Street to the south. Adjacent to the Nordstrom entry is a 5-story tower capped with a small gold dome. The tower is actually a wing of the French Empire–style, mixed-use condominium building, which extends east with a dominant frontage on Brand Boulevard.

Completing the 360-degree rotation, on the east side of the green is another 5-story mixed-use building. Flanked on the north and south by pedestrian passages connecting the green to Brand Boulevard and, with a facade fronting Brand as well, this building is fully four-sided and therefore arguably the most architecturally sophisticated structure in the complex. Like other buildings at The Americana, it features a mixture of neo-Georgian architectural stylistic elements, including brick facades, precast concrete cornices and arched headers, multistory pilasters, and traditional balcony rails. Facing the intersection of Brand Boulevard and Harvard Avenue, the building features a large neon roof sign declaring “The Americana at Brand: Always Welcome.”

Decorative details and features are abundant throughout The Americana, ranging from Victorian-style pedestrian lighting to brick paving to vintage-inspired neon blade signs and faux-frescos in public lobbies. Within the green are number of garden kiosks and pavilions for small-scale food vendors, which front dining terraces and decks, festooned with cafe string lights and awnings. Landscaping, including a number of mature trees in the green, is equally robust.

At the time it was designed and built, The Americana at Brand represented an evolution of the outdoor retail “lifestyle center” in three significant respects. As first conceived, the central green was public space, unlike similar malls where the primary gathering space is entirely private property. Under the terms of the original development deal, the City’s Redevelopment Agency retained ownership of the 2-acre green as a public park, although Caruso Affiliated had exclusive rights to design, manage, and program the park with activities and limited commercial kiosks. Commenting on this arrangement, Christopher Hawthorne, architecture critic of the Los Angeles Times, noted, “at the Americana, the park is public space masquerading as private space that is masquerading as public.” Today, however, the green is fully owned by Caruso Affiliated, which purchased the property when the State of California dissolved redevelopment agencies, forcing them to sell their assets.

Second, whereas the Glendale Galleria and other urban malls turn away from adjacent public streets and sidewalks with blank doorless walls, The Americana at Brand engages its namesake, Brand Boulevard. Where The Americana fronts Glendale’s historic main street, its buildings open up storefronts, sidewalk dining, residential windows, balconies, and other traditional facade elements. In addition, rather than a single long facade, the Brand frontage is split into three individual buildings separated by two “streets” that align with the downtown Glendale grid, although cars are quickly diverted off these streets into valet zones or the parking garage, with the streets continuing to the central green as pedestrian passages. Only the trolley is allowed to drive past the vehicle barriers to circle the green, and briefly rolls down the sidewalk on Brand Boulevard—an homage to the Pacific Electric Red Cars that once ran the length of the boulevard towards downtown Los Angeles. One of the more surprisingly urban moments at The Americana occurs along this facade, where a pedestrian arcade, lined with an indoor version of sidewalk dining, cuts through the condominium building to link Brand Boulevard to a second entrance at Nordstroms. While The Americana is by no means a case study in New Urbanist planning—like previous malls it presents blank walls towards Colorado Street and Central Avenue and two existing streets were vacated to create its 15-acre superblock—the urban gesture towards Brand Boulevard helped reinvigorate downtown Glendale retail, and precipitated Caruso’s redevelopment of the Masonic Temple across the street.

Finally, the mall incorporated housing in the form of condominiums and rental apartments located directly over retail stores in mixed-use buildings. Prior to The Americana, most similar “lifestyle centers,” such as Caruso’s previous property, The Grove, or Victoria Gardens in Rancho Cucamonga, offered outdoor shopping streets and plazas, but exclusively for commercial uses. Today, most mall redevelopment proposals include housing options. In Glendale, The Americana pioneered the concept of mixed-use urban residential in a downtown and inspired a 10-year building boom that added over 3,000 new residential units across 20-plus projects to the immediate area.

References

“The Americana at Brand.” Caruso Affiliated. Accessed September 18, 2018. https://caruso.com/.

Hawthorne, Christopher. “Faux New World At Glendale's new mega-project, is a park really a park? Maybe not.”  Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2008.

Ulin, David. “A Man of the Street.” Los Angeles Times, June 3, 2007.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Alan Loomis
Coordinator: 
Emily Bills
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Data

Timeline

  • 2006

    Built

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Citation

Alan Loomis, "The Americana at Brand", [Glendale, California], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/CA-01-037-0093.

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