In Glendale, California, there stand two neighboring malls, living in harmony for over a decade — until recently. After a new Twitter account surfaced, dealing in the currency of memes about the Americana at Brand (the newer, shinier, outdoor mall), began stoking a rivalry with the more classic long-standing mall across the street, the Glendale Galleria.
The account’s staunch position is that the Americana is superbly better than the Galleria which is, in their view, shopping trash. Eventually someone responded by creating an account for the Galleria, and in turn several more accounts appeared for other niche Angeleno shopping experiences in Burbank, Santa Monica, et al. But all lie in the shadow of the Americana at Brand, and although not completely superior to the Galleria in this writer’s opinion, it is indeed something of a special place.
If your face too lights up when you hear those three magical words…Americana at Brand…then you’re in good company, and apparently on trend. Maybe you’ve noticed the increase in affinity for Glendale’s premiere outdoor shopping center. Long have there been Americana devotees in its 11 year history, though it seems to have recently attracted more and more admirers. For a while I thought it was just a loving joke within my friend group, but the popularity of the account has proved the niche fascination is widely relatable.
So just what is it about a well-manicured micro-city in tribute to capitalism that captures the fascination of so many citizens?
The anonymous mallrats behind the Twitter account cite the open-air shopping center’s tranquility as its main draw. “It’s peaceful, and provides beautiful scenery accompanied by relaxing music. It’s a perfect place to walk around with friends without spending money. We genuinely love it, and that’s what’s really behind the account.”
This is where one might argue, yes, but what of The Grove at Farmer’s Market, the spiritual twin and predecessor to the Americana? Though similar in many ways, both owned and operated by billionaire Rick J. Caruso, the Americana at Brand is vastly superior in soul and space than its elder sibling.
The Grove is Hollywood and Highland, the Americana is the Getty Museum.
The Grove is Good Times At Davy Waynes. The Americana? That’s Musso and Franks, baby.
The Grove is standing in the middle of Beachwood Drive trying to get a picture with the Hollywood sign, nearly getting run over. The Americana is the Griffith Observatory itself.
To the uninitiated this may seem absurd, the difference too minuscule to understand — but those who know, know. It’s a feeling, a vibe, a communion from within.
The Twitter account had this to say about the Americana’s predecessor: “One of our followers (@aherman2006) (ed note: The Ringer’s Allison Hermann) said, “The Grove is just The Americana’s rough draft”, and we couldn’t agree more. To start off, The Grove’s fountain only has one ring — The Americana’s has two, a waterfall and a goddamn golden statue. The parking garage at The Grove is a mess. The Americana’s parking situation is so much better…And to top it all off, The Groves’ Sprinkles Cupcakes doesn’t even have an ATM (?!?!?!). Let’s just say Mario Lopez and Maria Menounos had the right idea when they left the Grove to start filming EXTRA at Universal Studios.”
It also probably doesn’t help that The Grove is smack dab in the middle of Hollywood while The Americana is nestled in the idyllic foothills of the Verdugo Mountains, possessing unrivaled views from its parking garage alone.
Even the parking garage is special! Something about its suspense-film lighting casting every isolated joint smoked, every post-movie date walk to the car, every coordinated or random meeting of friends in some comforting, cinematic surreality.
In fact, there’s a larger shadow of surreality over the entire mall. Maybe it’s Glendale, a hybrid land of half-points — a mix of metropolitan and suburban, where the city meets the mountains, where LA becomes the Valley. Even Forest Lawn Memorial Park has been described as the Disneyland of cemeteries, with its headstone-less rolling hills, art, statuary, and replicated buildings. Walt himself is even buried there. Los Angeles Magazine called it a theme park necropolis.
If Glendale is the Jewel City, then the Americana at Brand is its crown jewel.
Dani Rosenberg, a Glendale resident, says part of the appeal is that it provides an atmosphere of separation from society. “You could, if you wanted, enter as one person and leave as another,” she says. “As much as the whole place feels like a Vegas/Downtown Disney fusion, I fucking love it, man. Frank Sinatra always playing with the fountain; it’s like way too much but also very distracting from whatever dumb shit I have going on.”
The Disney-fication of the shopping experience is definitely part of it. Both of its non-commerce, non-dining attractions were designed by former Imagineers. The trolley was designed by George McGinnis, who also worked on the Disney monorails, Space Mountain, and created the jeeps for the Indiana Jones Adventure. The fountain show, “Waters of Americana,” was designed by WET, a water-feature design firm formed by three other ex-Imagineers. They’re also responsible for “the world’s largest performing fountain” in Dubai and the fountains at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Even that damn fountain from Blank Check!
Its fantasyland qualities also give Angelenos a kind of celluloid Christmas each winter, with its fake snow and 100-foot-tall tower of a tree, it becomes a spirited dreamland of holiday consumerism. It’s shiny, cheery kitsch — the same kind of fabricated joy one might find at Clifton’s Cafeteria or Clearman’s North Woods Inn. Which I am all for. It’s LA, baby, where most everything is forced perspective, the movie version of something else.
Although no one state can stake claim to outdoor shopping centers or mall culture in general, what’s more Californian than an outdoor mall? Especially to those of us of a certain age, the Americana at Brand invokes a nostalgia for the mall culture of our youth, now warped by and manifested again within The Simulation.
Matt James, coincidentally another employee of The Ringer, brings up a good point about the meme account’s pitting of The Americana against its more traditional neighbor, The Galleria — one of several in a chain of classic era California malls. “The class warfare going on with The Americana at Brand memes account regarding the Galleria…that angle is really interesting to me as someone who grew up in mall country going to the “ghetto” mall. Is turning a shopping center into Disneyland the perfect ideal of shopping luxury? And why do people sort shopping centers into different tiers? Why is there such a pull to blow your shopping load at the fanciest place in town? The Galleria is the height of luxury compared to that semi abandoned mall attached to the Eagle Rock Target…”
If anything, I find the Galleria to be an ideal counterpart to the Americana’s luxurious sprawl. It’s a mall’s mall, supplementing that which the Americana lacks. When asked if they had any real beef with the Galleria, the meme account responded, “we have nothing to say about the Galleria. Next question.”
Enjoying the Americana in spite of its bourgeois reality is part of the process. Especially attempting to ignore the shadow of the Americana’s creator, the dark wizard of Los Angeles real estate, Rick J. Caruso.
Caruso is almost cartoonishly pulled directly from a modern, L.A. noir. At 26 he was made commissioner of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the youngest in L.A. history, and would later become the president of the Police Commission. He contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars to City Hall and Mayor Eric Garcetti to massage city planning and zoning laws that benefit his projects and properties. He’s the chairman of the board of trustees for USC, where all four of his children have attended. Olivia Jade was on his yacht when news of the admissions scandal broke. His son is a DJ.
Is there ethical consumption under capitalism? Sure. Are we all stuck in the gears and on a dying planet just trying to enjoy what we can? Yes. And in its blinding light of capitalistic serenity, if ignorance is bliss, an afternoon at the Americana is a triple-stack of pharmaceutical grade ecstasy.
It’s such an assault on the senses that it starts to be a salve. There’s something soothing about the crowd, too, humbling even, stripping the city’s strive for uniqueness, something comforting about the human thrum, especially in such a sprawling, somewhat isolating, car-centric town.
Whatever it may be that magics a bougie outdoor mall in Los Angeles, as Randy Newman would say, “we love it!” Summer is here, and I for one can’t wait for those hot Glendale nights at the Americana.