I still remember seeing the very first rendering on Curbed 13 years ago — “Bulls-Eye: Is This Your New Hollywood Target?” — my eyes drawing quickly toward and fixating upon the two red concentric circles on the upper-left corner of the building. A Target in Hollywood? One I could walk to? It seemed too good to be true. And, as it turns out, it almost was.
Some will tell you this Target was a decade in the making, but believe me when I say the story goes back further than that. This is a big-box store that was proposed during the George W. Bush administration, one for which ground was broken during the Obama administration, and one that was completed in the last days (one hopes) of the Trump administration. It was in 2007 that I saw the post on Curbed, when the store (it’s officially called the Sunset Boulevard Target, since another Target is now being built elsewhere in Hollywood, though it’s known colloquially as Target Husk) was first revealed as the replacement for an East Hollywood strip mall, a cluster of beige stucco boxes where I used to buy groceries. The plans were approved by the city in 2010, but the La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association fought them, filing two lawsuits over six years, one of which argued that a Target would — do you have your NIMBY bingo card handy? — “disrupt the existing character of the neighborhood.” There was already a giant Home Depot across the street.
The main gripe that the group (which consists, in all likelihood, of only one person) cited was that the building was taller than the local height limit, and technically it was, having been granted a variance by L.A.’s City Council. Litigating such a development was a speciality of the La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Association’s lawyer, Robert Silverstein, who has, over the past decade, successfully slowed or stopped the construction of at least a dozen other projects in Hollywood. (His record includes evicting three dozen tenants from a brand-new apartment tower when a judge ruled the development illegal and ordered everyone to move out.) At one point, construction on the Target — called, amusingly, Super Target on all the legal filings, as if to fully acknowledge the unstoppable power of its phoenix-like resurrection — was halted for six whole years, and it seemed likely that it might be torn down. Only after a California Supreme Court judge ruled in the city’s favor was it cleared for completion. The store soft-opened a few days before the scheduled grand opening last Sunday, October 25, as if to make up for even more lost time.
One good thing about a new big-box opening during a pandemic is that it’s one of the few places you’re actually allowed to go. The store covers 143,000 square feet, so spacious that it’s almost as if it had been designed with a highly contagious airborne disease in mind. The aisles are wide enough that you can pass other shoppers at a safe six feet; the vast expanse of buffed concrete at the checkout gleams with righteous social-distancing potential. A friendly employee stationed by the hand sanitizer gave out stickers to my delighted children — yes, in the time it took to make one Target, I made two humans — as we shopped for essential items, like Reese’s peanut-butter pumpkins. It was about as pleasant as any cautious COVID-era outing could be, and I now have a face mask whose fabric matches an impulse-buy sundress, which is, in many ways, the most 2020 Target purchase I could have made.
Impulse buys aside, I was really here to see the sidewalk. This Target was designed in this litigiously density-forward way to make it more pedestrian friendly, which was particularly ironic when construction was paused, closing the sidewalk for almost six years — not just fed under a sidewalk shed but completely fenced off. As I walked to the subway station or bus stop, I had two options: pick my way around the abandoned worksite on side streets oozing with construction detritus, or wait at long lights to cross Sunset, then cross back again.
Now, if you wonder why I, a person who has made it extremely clear that she prefers sidewalks to parking lots, would have cheered the arrival of a big-box store in my neighborhood, think back to what the world was like before everything was piped straight to your door by Jeff Bezos. When I lived in Hollywood in the early 2000s, I lived in a place built for tourists. I could walk to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum, but to fulfill my daily needs, I had to make trips to multiple destinations all over L.A. The nearby Target would have been convenient enough for me and my transit-dependent neighbors to get things like groceries as we needed them but would also allow us to consolidate many types of trips into a single visit. It was a net gain toward true city living.
But if this development was sold as an attempt to welcome and serve me and my neighbors, there is little evidence of that in the final product. As you approach the store from either corner of its freshly poured, unbuckled pavement — a true rarity in L.A. — it feels as if you’re walking into a parking garage, because, in a sense, you are. Even though the garage entrance is around back, the “pedestrian plaza” on Sunset is really just the breezeway between the wide, busy street and a cavernous parking structure, with a handful of zigzagging escalators and stairways looming overhead. For all the years I had gazed deep into this mysterious hole of a site, I’d never looked closely at the actual plans. The only reason the entire second floor exists is as a place to park hundreds of cars. We really just replaced that old beige stucco strip mall with another beige stucco strip mall; except this time we spent millions so the parking lot could be suspended between the store and the street. There’s absolutely no reason that this particular project, in this form, needed to be three stories tall — and yet three stories is also not nearly tall enough.
On the same day the Sunset Target officially opened, five more Target stores opened across Southern California. All the others were “smaller format” stores, known as City Targets, which are closer to 30,000 square feet. There’s one of these a few blocks from my family’s house already — it opened in 2018 and took about two years to build — and it more than serves our everyday needs. We walk or bike there a few times a month. There are no Hollywood Sign vistas, but with five floors of housing on top, it’s a much better use of the land. In fact, one of the alternatives proposed for Sunset Target would have placed the parking underground, the Target itself on the ground floor, and 150 homes above; in other words, it would have built an urban-centric store instead of trucking in a suburban one. Those families would have lived an elevator ride from a grocery store, three blocks from a subway station, and within walking distance of thousands of jobs. If any exception to the zoning had been made, it should have been made to house 150 families.
The councilmember who made the exception for this Target — triggering years of lawsuits and setting a precedent for how deals like this would go down — went on to become mayor. Eric Garcetti’s planning department has been rocked by an epic corruption scandal where elected officials and lobbyists accepted bribes from developers who wanted to build bigger than the zoning allowed, sometimes by eliminating proposed affordable housing in the process. And for what? So we can build more places to park 500 cars or 1,900 cars or 18,000 cars without ever trying, just for a moment, to pretend that the spending habits of the owners of those cars aren’t already prioritized in every single aspect of our city over the people who ride the bus to work there or the people who can no longer afford to live there or the people who won’t even be allowed to stop and sit there without being nudged along by a security guard.
I had waited so long for this one store to open that I convinced myself its existence might somehow signify a city moving past our many collective missteps, onward and upward — NIMBYs be damned! But instead, this Target is a giant, life-size time capsule of everything that was wrong with L.A. in 2007 and everything that’s still wrong with L.A. in 2020, a red-polka-dotted reminder splayed out along an entire block of Sunset Boulevard. Super.