Change Coming to Larchmont Village, Hollywood's Version of Mayberry

Larchmont Village Hollywood's Mayberry - Prado -H 2017
Courtesy of Erica Brown

Business owners are fighting zoning rules for the future of a small-town street in the shadow of Paramount Pictures.

Ever since Julius LaBonte developed Los Angeles' Larchmont Village during the 1920s, the four-block stretch near Paramount Pictures has been cherished — and fiercely defended — as a slice of Mayberry wedged between Koreatown and Hollywood. But with the death in July of LaBonte's only heir, Charlotte Lipson, who owned more property along Larchmont than anyone, there is concern that the star-friendly neighborhood, where Dave Navarro and Showtime's David Nevins own homes, can't stem the tide of modernity for much longer.

"It's a big question," says John Welborne, who owns and runs the community newspaper, Larchmont Chronicle, of the fate of the 250 feet of street frontage Lipson owned, all on the village's most trafficked (and contentious) block between 1st Street and Beverly Boulevard. For decades, Lipson, who died the day after her 100th birthday, carried out her father's wishes by supporting "neighborhood-servicing" retail and providing small businesses like Chevalier's Books and Larchmont Barber Shop with space at what most believe are rents well below market. But that hasn't kept surrounding rents from soaring. Space along Larchmont now leases for between $8 and $10 per square foot, one of L.A.'s highest retail rates. (THR's calls to Lipson's lawyers were not returned.)

A longtime resident, Welborne in the 1990s helped craft Larchmont's Q Conditions, zoning rules that specify acceptable width and height of storefronts and place a cap on certain types of businesses. These restrictions have helped drive up residential prices (the median price of a 2,300-square-foot Larchmont Village home is $1.5 million, according to neighborhood real estate agency Loveland Carr — modest compared with the many grand homes in surrounding Hancock Park and Windsor Square but up nearly 25 percent from three years ago).

Many business owners are chafing at the rules, which resulted in the closure in August of the popular Larchmont Bungalow. Albert Mizrahi, another prominent neighborhood landlord, operated the restaurant as a sit-down spot (as opposed to takeout) in defiance of the Q Conditions, which cap the number of full-service restaurants at 10 — an effort to keep businesses along the strip local and diverse. It took the City Attorney's office eight years to compel the Mizrahi family to close the Bungalow (Albert died Aug. 12, 2016).

Steve Vernetti, who opened his eponymous Italian eatery south of Beverly in 2015, calls the restrictions "extremely wasteful" and "grossly out of date," adding, "The street cannot be sustained by just counting on local revenue. The world doesn't work that way."

The Larchmont Business Improvement District, which represents property owners like Vernetti, hopes to strike a truce between commerce and character. "Larchmont is still a village with a small-town character," says BID spokesperson Heather Duffy Boylston. "But we have to balance that with the reality that there are very sophisticated shoppers and diners who live in the area."

This story first appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.