On the corner of Van Nuys and Burbank Boulevards, two large commercial buildings are going up simultaneously.
Chipolte (2011 net income was $214.9 million, an increase of 20.1%) is erecting a restaurant on the NE side, with the requisite peel-on bricks and pointy top roof, but commendably, its building comes right up to the sidewalk and will enliven the street with its presence.
But on the NW corner, the CVS Corporation ($7.2 b in net income, 2010) is constructing one of its signature cheapy drug stores, entirely of cinderblock, set back some 30 feet from the sidewalk, without windows and seemingly without any concern or regard for the urban possibilities and architectural imagination which it can surely afford.
It is a small point to discuss this one small drugstore, but one that has larger implications into how Angelenos and our city fail to plan and design commercial architecture to improve our neighborhoods through pedestrian-oriented design.
This area of Van Nuys is full of pleasant apartments and small houses, though much of it recently has seceded and renamed itself “Sherman Oaks”. It’s confusing, but the car dealerships are allowed to call themselves “Van Nuys” but the homes behind them are now in “Sherman Oaks”.
During the day, the street is a blindingly boring stretch of car dealerships that are slowly climbing back to sell us more of what is bankrupting us. Fill ‘er up!
And at night, the whole area is floodlit with acre upon acre of parking lots full of cars, watched over by security guards and security cameras. Dog walkers with plastic bags full of warm shit stroll by quickly. There is nothing to do here other than get out fast.
So the corner of Van Nuys and Burbank cries out for some lively alternative, such as one of those Owl Drugstores that were all over Los Angeles in the 1940s, the ones that had plate glass windows and soda counters. Those are still the best example of what a drug store can aspire to.
And who would not prefer Owl with its old, artful, graceful pharmacy lamps and glass counters, corner awnings and decorative script lettering; against the modern, plastic CVS- a windowless box in a parking lot- which has aisles filled with disposable umbrellas, generic whisky, Halloween costumes and XXL t-shirts, which are stuffed into their ugly, fluorescent-lit emporiums?
In a few months, the new CVS will open and the parking lot will be filled with cars and litter, loud music and asphalt baking in the sun. It will do a certain amount of business, and its numbers will be verified and approved by accountants, lawyers, and the CEOs of CVS.
But Van Nuys will gain nothing.