Monday, September 28, 2015

The Village, People: The Militant Takes On The Village at Westfield Topanga

Ah, the shopping mall. The grand cathedral of consumerism. Like the hamburger and surfing, it wasn’t invented in Los Angeles, but we created the archetype by which it is widely known, as well as an entire culture built around it.

The brand-spanking-new The Village at Westfield Topanga, which opened on September 17, is the latest rookie drafted onto the Southland shopping mall roster. Though technically, it’s an outdoor-centric extension of the existing Westifeld Topanga mall, which stands on the other side of Victory Boulevard.

It’s perhaps one of the few outdoor malls that are not a product of one Rick Caruso (shouting at the sky, shaking fist in the air: “CARUSOOOOOOOOO!!”), although Caruso deserves the credit and/or blame for making them the de facto standard for the modern So Cal shopping center. Instead, this one is owned by the great Australian shopping mall megaconglomerate, Westfield, which runs yet another shopping center directly to the south, the Westfield Promenade.

The Militant decided to take a nice long ride on the Metro Orange Line to Warner Center and check this mutha out.

Located in Woodland Hills' Warner Center district (a.k.a. "The Downtown of The Valley," although The Militant thinks the much-more centralized and pedestrian-oriented Van Nuys is more deserving of that title), named so due to the area (including the land The Village now sits on) once belonging to one of the Warner Brothers (no, it wasn't Wakko or Yakko) as a horse ranch from the 1940s to the 1960s.

The Village's design is very SFV: Low-rise (the tallest building is two stories, not including the parking structure, of course), sprawling, and the architecture harkens back to the agricultural and light industrial structures which where once common in the Valley landscape. The ivory-colored facades look a bit odd, though -- one would assume that every store was either a Banana Republic or Sees Candies.

The SFV backyard aesthetic of The Village at Westfield Topanga's street furniture.
But it's also a very 21st-century setup: Aside from the outdoorsy feel, the place is abound with native and drought-tolerant plants -- no expanses of manicured green grass anywhere in sight (save for  artificial turf). The folksy "street furniture" resembles the type of furniture one would find in a San Fernando Valley backyard. And there are elements of appropriated urban hipsteresque accoutrements: Randomly-placed "little library" book kiosks, bocce ball enclosure, doggie treat/dog waste bar receptacles, and yes, a designated space for food trucks. The drinking fountains even have water bottle dispensers (which have digital counters; The Militant's water bottle was the 970th and 974th bottle filled at this particular dispenser), and he's even heard of a large rainwater capture cistern on the property. Very cool. But The Village succeeds in integrating the outdoor food commons of the Costco (long the hallmark of big box shopping center suburbia) into its outdoor mall layout.

"Look honey, food trucks! I think we should try some of those exotic soft tacos!"
But here's what totally blew The Militant away, and made this otherwise average outdoor mall worthy of mention on This Here Blog: The public art incorporated into the shopping center is very...militant.

It kind of hit him as The Militant walked the long stretch of Owensmouth Avenue after alighting from his Orange Line bus, trying to find out where exactly this new-fangled "Village" place was. He was ready to ask the few people walking along the street where it was when he spotted a large parking structure in the distance and finally saw "The Village at Westfield Topanga" sign on the corner of Owensmouth and Victory (which was a long-ass walk, he'll get to that later).

A dirt hiking trail beckons the militant along the northern (Victory Blvd) side of The Village at Westfield Topanga!
Walking westward on Victory, he saw the dirt hiking path that ran parallel to the sidewalk. Almost luring The Militant in to chose the dirt path option than the sanitary concrete option. So hiking path it was. And then he saw it.

It was a large billboard-sized mural, depicting a very natural San Fernando Valley 300 years ago, with  labeled images of the native flora and fauna of the SFV done in great detail, centered around the he Los Angeles River, depicted in its once-naked glory.

A section of the one of the very militant natural history murals at The Village by artist Elkpen
And then he saw another, which focused on the human history of the San Fernando Valley, depicting a cast of characters from Tongva medicine woman Toypurina (though she was actually a San Gabriel Valley gal), Father Juan Crespi, Isaac Van Nuys, William Mulholland to Amelia Earhart. There's even a little Red Car (labeled "Red Car") in the mural.  Yet another mural explains the importance and relationship of water, and even educates the public on what a watershed is.

"Our thinking about The River is evolving."
Like, whoa.

These murals, which were placed on the outside wall of the new Woodland Hills Costco (part of The Village shopping complex) were done by local muralist Elkpen (a.k.a. Christian Kasperkovitz), who is known for her nature-centric murals with a decidedly educational/awareness bent (see her "Birds of Hollywood" mural on Fountain Avenue). Elkpen's Los Angeles River/SFV History murals are part of a project called "Meet Connect Become" which explores the murals' subject matter in deeper perspective through the medium of the Internet (YOU NEED TO VISIT THIS WEBSITE! THIS IS AN ORDER!

In addition, Westfield partnered with UCLA's School of Arts and Architecture for some of The Village's other public arts pieces.

Nova Jiang's "Red Car" sculpture at The Village.

As if The Militant wasn't already blown away by those Elkpen murals, on the Topanga Canyon side, hanging above the 2nd floor rafters above the main plaza was a sculpture of a Pacific Electric Red Car, depicted as an oversized plastic model kit. Very clever. The sculpture was done by UCLA Art school alum Nova Jiang, and a stylized map of the Pacific Electric system (with the San Fernando Valley stops emphasized) dons the wall on the floor below (surrounding the beverage vending machines).

This is

The Militant didn't really buy anything at the stores but he was hankering for an ice cream on this 90-degree So Cal Early Autumn night. He found it at Sloan's, which looked exactly like a 6 year-old girl's candy store fantasyland, and a place The Militant would probably feel embarrassed to be in, but's ice cream, so he got himself a waffle cone full o' dat.

After consuming his cone, he wandered about the rest of The Village. There was a kids' play area, a KCSN-FM studio storefront (no one was inside, the station seemed to be on auto-pilot), and a "trolley" that transports shoppers to the larger Westfield mall on the other side of Victory.

While walking along the Topanga Canyon side of the complex, he spotted this:

From Crate & Barrel to the Los Angeles River.
It's a good mile hike to the Los Angeles River's headwaters on Owensmouth, but props to Westfield for taking this whole Los Angeles River thing seriously. This is amazing.

Now, since The Village has a hiking path along its western and northern perimeter, and they hope to have people hike in the oppressive heat of the San Fernando Valley, you'd think they'd want to make it more transit-friendly. The Village is equidistant from both the Metro Orange Line's Canoga and Warner Center stations (0.7 mile), but who wants to walk nearly a mile when it's 95 degrees outside? Perhaps it might be prudent to have an additional Orange Line station at Owensmouth and Victory, or at least get those cheesy Westfield trolley buses to serve the Orange Line terminus at Warner Center.

But the place is still new, and some of its businesses, most specifically its eateries, are still not yet ready for primetime at the time of this writing (they will be by this weekend). It's just another outdoor mall, really. But do check out those public art pieces. Hopefully people will pay attention and appreciate their Valley on a more deeper level.


evansescent-city said...

never guessed a mall in the valley could have anything this cool. If it ever cools off, I'll go there myself.

Mike said...

Nice work. Since you mention the fabulous "Birds of Hollywood" mural (6010 Fountain) I thought I'd let you know that it was unceremoniously destroyed this summer when the building was remodeled. In its place are roll-down riot doors, for some reason. Anyway, I took a picture for you yesterday if you're interested. On the right hand side of the building it's still possible to see purplish and greenish stripes, which are all that's left of the mural. I don't know exactly when this happened, but it was some time between May and August 2015. Keep up the good work!

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