Let the naysayers bemoan the inauthenticity of The Americana at Brand—the place works.
I know this is old news, but I spent an hour wandering around (and taking illicit photos) at Rick Caruso's 15-acre, $400-million new-faux-ngled "city within a city" last weekend. This was my severalth trip to The Americana and, like the previous outings, it was not undertaken with shopping in mind (although there's plenty of that to be had), but rather just to soak up the ambiance.
Simply hanging out seems to be the primary motivation of the majority of people who congregate here for a dose of walkable urbanity. If Disneyland is The Happiest Place on Earth®, then The Americana is at the very least The Gladest Place in Los Angeles (not yet ®), having stolen that crown a couple of years ago from Caruso's previous fantasyland, The Grove.
Caruso says that the inspiration for the architecture comes from various European cities—a touch of London's Bloomsbury here, a dash of Nice and Marseille there, a sliver of Budapest, and an elevator tower that pays homage to Gustave Eiffel's Paris by way of the Bradbury Building or Terry Gilliam.
But the place seems just an indebted to American models. The canvas-covered entries of the The Excelsior, the condo building, and The Continental, one of The Americana's four rental residential buildings, are channeled from New York's Upper East Side (perhaps by way of Chicago's Gold Coast); Caruso's signature "trolley to nowhere" is right out of Meet Me in St. Louis; and there's a healthy dose of 30's-style American Art Déco; while at the heart of the layout is a good old-fashioned New England village green.
Let's face it: people love it, and a great deal of the appeal is the doing, not of Caruso, but of his architecture firm, Boston's Elkus Manfredi, who also worked on The Grove. Howard Elkus and David Manfredi have a wonderful sense of architecture as nostalgia, but they never resort to cliché. (For some of their best work, check their stunning Peninsula Chicago, which acknowledges the rich precedent of Chicago architecture without pastiche or irony.) And apart from the questionable windows in some of the rental residential units, the build quality is high and made to last.
Not be a snob, but I seriously doubt that most visitors to The Americana realize that a significant part of their attraction to the place lies in the architecture; they simply sense that it offers something that most other shopping or strolling venues in Los Angeles do not. You can purchase $85 shirts across the street at the Glendale Galleria, but you don't get a whiff of Union Square or Greenwich Village in the process.
One quibble: I do question the incessant Frank Sinatra. Not that I have anything against Ol' Blue Eyes, but how would one feel if Paris were wired citywide to spout Edith Piaf? Then again, without Frank, would The Americana be quite The Americana?