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Melrose Place: Almost Famous

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Melrose Place is an aesthetically charming high-end shopping street in Los Angeles with so much potential. With a few conscious tweaks, this striking stretch that runs quietly east from La Cienega Blvd and dead ends at Melrose Ave has the potential to be one of LA's most exciting luxury shopping destinations. To date however, largely because of the high rent and a lack of comprehensive vision, it misses the mark.

Marc Jacobs, a brand with an incredible ability to taste-make a neighborhood, put the intersection of Melrose Place and Melrose Avenue on the map in 2005 when it colonized the very visible southwest corner with its LA flagship. With racy super signage overhead, as well as affiliates Marc Jacobs Men and Book Marc also on Melrose Place, Marc Jacobs singlehandedly validates luxury fashion on this stretch, once a sleepy province of antique stores.

After the arrival of Marc Jacobs, Chloe, Marni, Oscar de la Renta, Temperley, Monique Lhuillier and other sexy brands, the perception commercial leasing brokers were selling was that Melrose Place was destined to be the next Robertson Blvd. While an ambitious notion, it proved to be premature and far from reality. It's clear from the many recent tenant departures and current vacancies that Melrose Place is still way ahead of itself regarding space rent to actual business ratio. The market rarely lies, and the market has proven brutally over the last three years that luxury retailers without a deep-pocketed parent company to back them are ahead of their customers in this relatively quiet location.

With its marquis name made famous in 1992 by the hit TV show, Melrose Place has brand name appeal that would otherwise take years to develop. Tree-lined with charming architecture of various styles and a slight flower filled bend on the east end of the street, Melrose Place has presence. With storefronts varying in size from smallish to medium, and many featuring beautifully landscaped setbacks and precious courtyards, the street is remarkably unique and human in scale, making it all the more compelling as a luxury shopping destination in Los Angeles, a city often criticized for its failure to promote human connection.

So what's missing? Why has Melrose Place not reached its potential? The answer is simple: the street has yet to ignite because it has failed to attract a galvanizing life force that would serve to connect what now amounts to just a collection of wonderful shops. A life force is something bigger than any particular shop. It's the energy that connects people to a place and allows that place to transcend the sum of its parts. It's the electricity that you feel when you go there.

In transitional neighborhoods, a "life force" is typically born from a congregation point or center of gravity that appeals to most everyone who flows through the neighborhood. We know from experience that foot traffic must be coaxed to life, especially in a city like Los Angeles that relies so heavily on the automobile. A life force draws us out of our cars.

Food is literally the life force that we consume -- and so restaurants and bars often become the life force of our urban neighborhoods. Consider Urth Café's influence on the stretch between La Cienega and the Pacific Design Center, or what the News Café did for Ocean Drive in Miami in the 1990s. Think of the influence Keith McNally's restaurants have had, time and again, on numerous neighborhoods in transition in Manhattan, the most celebrated of which is Pastis, a French café style restaurant whose opening almost singlehandedly transformed the Meatpacking district from a place of S&M clubs into one of New York's most glamorous shopping destinations.

Melrose Place would benefit greatly by the addition of a moderately priced café style restaurant and bar as well as a hip little coffee joint both with plenty of outdoor seating to galvanize the street's raison d'être. Much like Urth or Pastis, this café would become the morning, noon, and night energizer bunny of Melrose Place, a constant touch point of bustling and contagious life on the street. Not everyone can afford an Oscar de la Renta dress but most people who roll through Melrose Place can afford a croque monsieur, a beer, or a cappuccino. With enticing outdoor seating with sight lines to the street, Melrose Place would be well on its way to actually justifying the asking rents and fully realizing its star potential.