The Village Hillcrest retail complex on 5th has had several tenant changes in the past year, dropping a sushi joint, an Indian restaurant and Pizza Nova. These have been replaced with the vegetarian Lotus Cafe, a Smashburger and the just-opened Jersey Mike’s subs, which was packed when we visited last weekend. All three of the new eateries feature outdoor seating, bringing the number of al fresco options on this block to 9 (d Bar, Snooze, Freebirds, Bombay, Wine Lover and Brazen). The street seems more vibrant than ever, with plenty of pedestrians and lots of underground parking at VH and Union Bank. I’m not sure why this street needs to have 3 lanes dedicated to traffic, but that’s hardly unique to this block of Uptown.
While the sidewalk tables at Village Hillcrest are a plus, as you make your way into the complex from 5th you’re essentially cut off from the streetlife. The architecture of VH is a trip back in time, and in this case it’s a bad trip – not just because of the regrettable 1980’s post-modern design, but because it seals the complex off from the street, a-la Horton Plaza downtown. With Horton, this “fortress” approach was employed to make shoppers feel safe from the distasteful goings-on in the Gaslamp at the time it was built; maybe that was the idea for Village Hillcrest too? Yet Westfield is redesigning Horton Plaza (“so exuberantly modern it makes your eyes hurt“) with a new urban plaza that will open up the mall. We also recently came across a video showing proposed changes to the eye-hurting interior, but I can’t track that down at the moment.
Here’s the view from in front of VH’s Landmark Theaters, facing toward 5th:
You’d never know there’s a vibrant street scene going on beyond that staircase. If you move to your right a bit you can see a sliver of sidewalk:
…but not much. An entry to the underground parking garage is located at that spot on 5th:
To open up the interior plaza to the street, ideally that entrance would be closed and the staircase removed, replaced with a broad entryway. There’s another entrance just around the corner on Washington that drivers could be directed to with signage. Alternatively, a deck over the top of the 5th Ave entrance could be built, where an outdoor bar could serve pre-movie drinks to theater-goers, while providing a view to the action on the street below.
Speaking of the theater, boy does its sign take me back to 1984 and my junior high school nights at the theaters in Clifton Country Mall in upstate NY:
As a teenager of the 80’s I have mostly fond memories of the decade, but the architecture and design of the period haven’t aged well. Maybe time will change my mind, but in the meantime, Village Hillcrest provides us all with a vivid flashback to its 1991 completion date, “whether you like it or not“. I sent them an email asking if they have any renovation plans but haven’t heard back.
– Elsewhere: Village Vino wine bar in Kensington is open, as is Seven Grand in North Park (complete with a rotating sign featuring a surreal-looking deer), and Avenue 5 in Bankers Hill is up for sale…. Brian’s American Eatery, a Hillcrest institution, has closed due to a rift among its current and former owners, but is said to be re-opening “within a few blocks” of the current location on Washington…. Up in LA, the county’s longest “transit-adjacent” bike path has opened to the public.