A meticulous makeover is underway in Larchmont Village.
Tucked away in a high-end Central L.A. neighborhood, the area’s walkable shopping strip draws praise from locals as “charming,” “pleasant” and an “oasis.”
Now a stretch of 14 storefronts, located in a building at 124 ½ to 148 N. Larchmont Blvd., is being renovated by Malibu-based Christina Development Corp., which purchased the property in 2018.
The Larchmont Mercantile project, as it’s known, is designed by Gensler, and CBRE Group Inc.’s Zachary Card and Erik Krasney are leasing the storefronts.
The 17,000-square-foot building was developed in 1921 by Julius La Bonte. The sale to Christina marked the first ownership change for the property, according to CBRE.
Adam Rosenkranz, director of asset management for Christina, said the company’s plan from day one was to “repair, upgrade and refresh the property.”
He added that Christina was chosen as the buyer because the company wanted to “restore the building to its glory” and not bulldoze it.
“This is one of the most prominent spaces in Larchmont, and there’s quite a good deal of history in the project,” Rosenkranz said.
Among the changes Christina has on tap are new HVAC, electrical systems and upgrades meant to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
But the storefronts themselves, which each measure roughly 1,000 square feet, will retain much of their current look and feel.
CBRE’s Card said the Larchmont Mercantile was the largest piece of real estate in the area under one owner.
“It’s the first chance for someone to merchandize the street,” he said, adding that the buildings all having one owner would lead to more cohesion.
In addition to the 14 ground-level storefronts, there could be one tenant in the second floor space. Although there is some flexibility that could allow a tenant to sign for more than one storefront, Card said it was likely there would be 14 tenants.
No date has been announced for a grand opening, but Card said tenants would likely start to occupy the space in the third and fourth quarter of this year.
He’s in the process now of seeking tenants. Leases expired at the end of last year for previous tenants at the property, and Rosenkranz said it’s possible some of them could return.
Larchmont is known for being pedestrian friendly with lots of crosswalks, wide sidewalks and parking in the area.
“Larchmont Village is truly one of the very few charming, walkable small village corridors in all of Los Angeles. It’s hard to find something like that and replicate it,” Jones Lang LaSalle Inc.’s Greg Briest said.
Mark Ventre, a senior vice president at Stepp Commercial who used to live near the famed street, called Larchmont “an oasis nestled in the heart of Los Angeles. It’s like a mini-Montana Avenue in Santa Monica. It’s a very pleasant place to be.”
Carine Mamann with Cushman & Wakefield Inc. called Larchmont “a little village.”
Card said Larchmont is “the busiest street in L.A. The great thing about Larchmont is it already has the built-in foot traffic that tenants look for.”
The area also has residential density, nearby office density and high average household income. Many visitors come from Hancock Park and other affluent communities nearby.
Those factors helped insulate Larchmont from the worst of the coronavirus downturn. Ventre said multifamily rents in the Larchmont area declined about 4% during Covid, compared to a drop of more than 8% in greater L.A.
Briest said the area hasn’t seen much retail turnover. Some locations that were vacant prior to the pandemic have remained available, he added, but much of that vacancy was in the Christina Development project, which was planned long before Covid.
Duncan Paterson, a principal with Gensler who’s involved in the Larchmont project, said it was important to preserve and acknowledge the area’s history and charm in the design of the Larchmont Mercantile.
“Our goal with the project is not only to create modern, unique and extraordinary space for retailers but to … repurpose and renovate and bring it to its further glory,” he said.
Paterson added that Gensler was getting rid of “false pieces of history,” which were added to the building later, and was restoring actual historic elements.
The centerpiece of the project, he said, is the historic part of the building that is being preserved. There are wings on both sides as well.
One major change, Paterson said, is creating a new way to do signage with a surface application that lights up, so tenants are easier to spot.
Gensler is updating the exterior, but Paterson said individual tenants would curate the look on the inside of the stores.
Paterson called Christina founder Larry Taylor a “placemaking expert” who was open to ideas and worked to create a property that fit with the rest of the street.
But experts think the street will retain its charm.
“Larchmont is always going to be Larchmont. It is always going to be a good street to shop on … It’s a solid street. It will always be good,” Mamann said.
Unlike some other shopping areas in L.A., Larchmont has not been overrun by chain stores.
The street is filled with local favorites and boutique stores, some of which have been there for decades and give the street a quaint feel.
“Their mandate is that all of the shops remain local, boutique artisan owners. You aren’t going to see a lot of chains. It will never turn into that,” Ventre said.
That’s something people involved with the Larchmont Mercantile are focused on.
Rosenkranz said the project’s storefronts “catered to smaller, more boutique, community-oriented retailers. We want to have smaller, focused retailers that are going to really provide a service and a business.”
He added that the 14 storefronts would likely be filled by a mix of food, fashion and wellness stores.
Card said it’s unlikely any sit-down restaurants will go into the area but that there will probably be takeaway food options or places with counter pick-up and limited seating.
“We see a balanced mix here of innovative and elevated grab-and-go food. You could also call it incidental food,” he said.
Retail tenants, he said, would be boutique brands.
Rosenkranz added that while everyone has been impacted by Covid, open-air, walkable retail areas have been less affected than shopping malls. He said he believes Larchmont will benefit from pent-up demand. “We think it will do well,” he said.
Card said the “mall environment was a concept that wasn’t resonating with the consumer, especially in Southern California and Los Angeles,” and added that people still wanted to go to brick-and-mortar stores in some form.
The key is to create a unique environment, something Larchmont offers, Card said. Many retailers now want smaller storefronts, like those that will make up the Larchmont Mercantile.
Ventre said some retail projects are going on now because “a lot of developers see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
He added that there would likely be increased interest by the time the project wrapped.
“People are going to want to get out again, and storefront retail like this is going to bounce back with a vengeance,” Ventre said. “A little neighborhood retail corridor like this, I think, is going to remain strong, especially in a higher income-earning area like Larchmont.”