Koreatown is getting its first shopping and entertainment complex, and it will be the first in Los Angeles to be designed with Seoul, South Korea-style architecture.
The mall, to open later this year, is at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue. Its walls are constructed with material that suggests traditional Korean tiles. Made in Korea and transported to Los Angeles, the tiles show the 12 divinities different animals, such as cows and monkeys, that have been used in Asian history to symbolize hours of the day and months of the year.
A unicorn-lion stands guard at the entrance of Madang, which translates as "courtyard." The hybrid beast is believed to offer protection against misfortune.
"The project started with a view of making a new landmark in Koreatown," said Edward Kim, chief executive of RealtyLand, the mall's management company. "We're going to develop it into a space that will be sought for enjoyment by all Americans, and not only by Koreans and other Asians."
In addition to the architecture, another key component of Madang is a three-screen movie theater with 650 seats, only the second cinema in Koreatown.
The multiplex will be run by CJ CGV, Korea's biggest theater chain, which is opening its first American cinema. It will show a mix of movies from Hollywood, Korea and other Asian countries. The only other movie house in Koreatown is the M Park 4 at Wilshire Boulevard near New Hampshire Avenue, which shows Korean and American films.
While the downturn has hit Koreatown particularly hard due to the related slowdown in travel and investment, this project was planned five years ago, and Kim said the timing could position Madang well for the recovery.
It will be the site of concerts, too, in the movie theaters and the mall courtyard, featuring musicians from Korea and such other Asian countries as China and Vietnam.
$34 million construction
The center will also feature a range of retail and dining choices. Bann, a traditional Korean restaurant, will open its doors in September, before the rest of the mall is completed, and will be followed by a Korean-style pub; a beer bar; a wine bar; an Italian restaurant; a karaoke bar; and the fusion restaurant Schoolfood, a Korean chain. Also, Chinese, Japanese and curry restaurants are about to sign leases, Kim said.
Construction cost of the four-level 100,000-square-foot mall was estimated at $34 million. The project was slowed by the challenges of financing and permitting, and when the downturn hit, some tenants canceled their lease agreements. More than 80 percent of available space is signed, Kim said.
Madang is owned by Choi Young-Sook, who developed the project on the site of the restaurant she owned there, Woo Lae Oak, an L.A. chain. Bann, which has its flagship restaurant in New York, is a division of Woo Lae Oak. Young-Sook will also own and operate the pub.
"A lot of attention was paid to the interior decoration of the traditional restaurant and bar to imbue it with an authentic look of traditional Korean aesthetics," Kim said. "But the menu was developed to appeal to the discriminating palates for both the traditional Korean and modern American cuisine."
CJ CGV plans to open its three screens by December, and may open other multiplexes in other American cities after its launch at Madang.
By adding English subtitles to all films from non-English countries, CJ CGV plans to draw American moviegoers who are interested in Asian cultures. The theater will feature the latest in cinema technology and comfort, said Sam Kim, general manager of CJ CGV, who's now in Los Angeles to work on the Madang project.
"We've brought in a 3-D digital film projector to make the picture definition more perfect and the experience that much more enjoyable," Sam Kim said. "We adopted a strategy of 'three-S' large screens, perfect sound and comfortable seats."
The project will add some luster to Koreatown, said Brian Chin, a sales associate in Choice 100 Realty, which specializes in the neighborhood. But there will also be some challenges.
"Vacant lots might give a gloomy impression to visitors," Chin said. "The plan for American and pan-Asian dining and entertainment is not bad. But it is not easy to provide diverse content."
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