This month marks the 20th anniversary of The Grove in Los Angeles. Wow! Where has the time gone? In many ways, it seems like yesterday and yet so much has happened in the world of retail since it opened. So, we wanted to take a deep dive and look back at how pivotal The Grove has been to the industry and how it influenced our designs going forward.
Architecturally, The Grove was designed to evoke a small-town past. Rick Caruso, developer of The Grove and CEO of Caruso, described it as “an old downtown that has come back to life.” Highly detailed storefronts by Elkus-Manfredi Architects add charm to the environment. The central circulation spine is a “street,” complete with crowned roadbed, raised sidewalks, and even a streetcar, which winds around a wide “town green” that has a lake and a bridge. The environment encourages people to come together, not just to shop and eat, but to relax and socialize. This philosophy works well because the greater LA region generally lacks traditional “downtowns.”
The 17.5-acre property’s design reflects early to mid-20th century American downtowns and melds well with the mix of styles patch-worked across the LA region. Rather than more modern styles of architecture that are open to interpretation, The Grove was designed to appeal to a broad range of people. The style blends familiar motifs that guests can relate to which trigger recollections of earlier times in their lives, or their perception of what an earlier time might have been.
Through scale and detail, The Grove emphasizes easy walking streets that focus on the central square or park. This creates a familiar, safe, and comfortable environment to stroll and navigate through, which is reinforced by the large trees that grew and provided more shade and intimacy. To help bring this sense of authenticity and permanence to The Grove, Caruso invested substantially in mature landscaping of not just size but character, including a 50-year-old jacaranda, and large, unique magnolia and sycamore trees. Custom-designed decorative streetlights also reflect a more historic, artisanal approach as they line the street alongside 45-foot-high (13.7-meter-high) palm trees.
“The beauty of [Lifescapes] designs is that every day it gets to evolve and get better. But you have to be a good steward of it, too. It’s a great partnership, you know, where they deliver you this beautiful pallet. And then you’re entrusted with all this and you’re responsible for caring for it. When you do, it just continues to get better and blossom and grow.” ~Rick Caruso, CEO
Many developments across the country have since taken their cue from the design philosophy of The Grove to help create a “downtown” in their own suburban sprawl. The detail, richly layered planting, hardscape environment, and cozy destinations within draw guests in on their first visit, but more importantly, encourage repeat visits. This is a key aspect that others across the country have noticed and strive to replicate.
When we began designing The Grove 20+ years ago, we couldn’t have known what would happen 18 years later with a pandemic rocking the retail world. But the forethought of creating outdoor environments with a strong indoor/outdoor connection has proved invaluable. It is important to have a sound relationship with the natural world and fresh air, not just for the human spirit, but for the physical health and perception of safety in a post-pandemic world.
An amazing environment is only part of The Grove’s success, though. Its focus on entertainment-driven offerings is the real key — a 14-theater cineplex, a range of sit-down restaurants that are unique to the area, the Farmers’ Market, a three-level Barnes & Noble bookstore, and a complement of major and exclusive retailers. This energy carries into the landscape, as well, where the lake dances with fountain jets, choreographed to music, throughout the day and night. A gently arching bridge features a wonderful vantage point to view the show, as it leads to the open central lawn that is a perfect play area or hang out, as well as space for programmed performances and activities throughout the year.
The Grove proves that creating a place where guests want to spend more time directly translates to higher revenue. Pre-pandemic, there were more annual visitors to The Grove than Disneyland. The greater amount of F&B and flexible outdoor spaces allow more offerings, for varied experiences every time guests visit. It is an equation that has proven effective for the last 20 years and will be studied and copied for decades to come.