Larry Taylor was a relatively minor player in Westwood Village for the past decade owning a building that housed a pizza parlor and fast-food Asian restaurant.
But in the past four months, the Malibu-based real estate investor has become one of the largest property owners in the Village and is poised to play a major role in crafting the development of the shopping district.
Taylor's firm, Christina Development Corp., along with its financial partner Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette, has spent about $35 million to purchase almost an entire city block of properties along Westwood Boulevard and is in the process of acquiring more.
Taylor said he is in negotiations to buy the 81,000-square-foot Gayley Center, which currently houses a Circuit City store, as well as another 10,000-square-foot lot.
"We're excited about his plan and we have a shared vision of the Village," said Charles Goldwater, president and chief executive of Mann Theaters (the movie theater chain owned by Cinamerica Theater LLP). Cinamerica is proposing a cineplex and retail project on the west side of the Village, near property now owned by Taylor.
Bob Walsh, director of the Westwood Village Community Alliance, a coalition of Village merchants, said that Taylor's activity has sparked "a degree of excitement and anticipation" among merchants and property owners who hope that Taylor will elevate the retail district to the level of his other investments.
Taylor's 20-year-old real estate investment company manages several properties along Montana Avenue in Santa Monica and on Olympic Boulevard in Beverly Hills, including Doheny Plaza and Beverly Palm Plaza.
Taylor, however, is looking farther east toward Paris and New York's Madison's Avenue for a model for his Village development project.
He has hired architect Richard Meier, designer of the Getty Center in Brentwood, to renovate his properties. Taylor hasn't signed any tenants yet, but he said he's targeting boutique retailers that are the caliber of Tiffany's, Versace and Armani.
"In New York there are nine different Cartier's stores and in L.A. you only have one," he said. "Westside residents shouldn't have to drive to Beverly Hills' Golden Triangle to shop."
Taylor added that he also is considering adding more upscale restaurants to Westwood and possibly expanding the David Geffen Playhouse.
Though Taylor's recent interest in Westwood Village may seem sudden, he said his plans have been decades in the making. Taylor, 43, said he has long wanted to purchase properties in the UCLA neighborhood, but Westwood's largest property owner the Bornstein family hadn't been interested in selling their land for the past 30 years.
"It was like winning the lottery" when they finally agreed to sell some of their property, he said. So far, they have sold him almost 100,000 square feet, not including the 80,000 square-foot Gayley Center that's currently in escrow.
"Westwood is a gem," said Taylor, noting that the demographic mix of wealthy neighbors in Bel-Air and Brentwood, the Wilshire office corridor lunch time crowd and visitors to the Armand Hammer Museum make the area "culturally and demographically significant, and deserving of significant investment."
The Village traditionally has been known as a destination to see movies, and two proposed large-scale commercial developments intend to capitalize on that legacy.
Cinamerica's 10-screen cineplex is slated for the west side of the Village, while over on the east side, developer Ira Smedra's Arba Group plans to build a 437,000-square-foot project with restaurants, shops and a 13-screen movie complex.
But Taylor doesn't think new movie theaters will be the ticket for Westwood's revitalization.
"There are plenty of places to go to the movies now," he said, adding that a large-scale "destination site" isn't his vision for Westwood. "The Village needs someone to renovate the buildings that are already there."
To that end, Taylor said he plans to pour millions of dollars into refurbishing the buildings and creating a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere.
Taylor's proposed improvements will run in conjunction with the property owner-financed "streetscape" project now underway, which involves planting 135 new trees, replacing sidewalks and widening Broxton Avenue. Construction is also well underway on a 400-space parking garage on Broxton Avenue, which Taylor intends to connect to his Westwood Boulevard stores via a pedestrian access way.
Taylor, who graduated from USC with a business degree in 1975, started in real estate while he was still an undergrad. In studying the effects of price controls during the Nixon administration, he predicted that apartment rents would skyrocket once the government restrictions were removed. So Taylor used his Master Card to put $1,000 down on an apartment building in Beverly Hills.
He eventually sold the property for a $32,000 return, and it was one of his few investments that he has sold since.
"I don't want to be a developer as much as an investor and a manager," he said. As far as his investment in Westwood Village, Taylor swears that he's in it for the long term. "I realize that the full appreciation of our assets isn't going to happen until the next century," he said.
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