New center can't
live up to promise of its name

The following piece on Legacy Village was written by Plain Dealer architecture critic Steven Litt for the newspaper's November 16, 2003 edition.

In jerkwater towns on the Western frontier, shopkeepers built phony storefronts two stories high to make their one-story buildings look bigger than they really were.

A similar hucksterism permeates Legacy Village, the hot new shopping center in Lyndhurst that has caused a minor frenzy in the suburbs east of Cleveland since it opened two weeks ago.

The $147 million development is a sugary-sweet confection of architecture and planning that's packed with empty calories. In truth, Legacy Village is a shopping center in the midst of a vast parking lot. But it pretends to be much, much more.

In breathless hype, the architect's press releases call the project Northeast Ohio's first "lifestyle center." Lifestyle centers, of which there are roughly 60 so far in the United States, are the retail industry's latest variation on the traditional indoor shopping mall, in which shops and restaurants are collected under a big, skylighted atrium.

In a lifestyle center, stores are clustered around cozy-looking outdoor streets and public spaces and designed in a variety of eclectic historical styles, all the better to establish the fictional look of the old-timey town center.

The joke is that once you step outside the core of Legacy Village, you see that the entire thing is surrounded by a sea of asphalt, just like a typical mall or big-box store.

But never mind that it looks like a children's pop-up illustration. People seem to love Legacy Village. Even on weekday mornings, the place is packed with hundreds of shoppers, many laden with bags full of purchases.

Visitors are undeterred by reports of an undersupply of parking spaces. At lunch and dinner, they form long lines outside the Cheesecake Factory, the upscale chain restaurant with the fake-o Italianate facades coated in stucco the golden-orange color of a graham-cracker crust.

So give some credit to developer Mitchell Schneider, president of First Interstate Properties, and his architects, Dorsky Hodgson Partners of Cleveland. They bet that Northeast Ohioans would be turned on by upscale chain stores housed in cutesy-pie architecture. So far, they're right on the money.

With so many people flocking to the place, Legacy Village obviously addresses a need, although it's unclear whether visitors are seeking community or merely a slice of cheesecake.

But whatever its virtues, there is something about Legacy Village that makes you want to scream.

It has a forced cheerfulness that resembles the fictional "village" in which the British spy Patrick McGoohan, aka "No. 6," was trapped in the 1960s CBS television series "The Prisoner."

Instead of that big, bouncing sphere that pounded McGoohan into submission every time he thought of escaping, Legacy Village is staffed with polite, uniformed security guards who try to keep people from straying into traffic lanes and valet parking areas. The guards are needed because the clumsy design of the shopping center has created a conflict between pedestrians and automobiles. But more on that in a moment.

Even more irritating than the security guards is the pop music that throbs from the mushroom-shape Bose loudspeakers installed in virtually every flower bed. The subliminal message of the music is that independent thought is discouraged.

Smile, comrade. Greet your neighbors, open your wallet and spend, spend, spend.

The truism underlying the project is that architecture has a huge effect on mood and behavior. As Winston Churchill said, "We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us."
Chartres Cathedral evokes exaltation. Football stadiums magnify and focus the passions of large crowds. Well-designed schools foster learning.

At Legacy Village, the Pavlovian architecture is intended to arouse salivary glands and lubricate the flow of dollars.

There's nothing wrong with that per se. After all, this is a capitalist society. The fundamental problem with Legacy Village is that it pretends to be something it's not.

Start with the name. Legacy Village is neither a legacy nor a village.

Before the 67-acre site at the northwest corner of Cedar and Richmond roads was developed, it was a forested remnant of the former Chester and Frances Bolton estate, which also housed the headquarters of TRW Corp.

But when TRW downsized several years ago, it sold the land for development. Local voters decided, in a close and hotly contested election, to rezone the property from residential to commercial use. That decision paved the way, literally, for the erasure of the woodland and the construction of the phony "village."

Real villages are built over time, by different hands. But Legacy Village had to be built all at once, which meant that the architects had to avoid homogeneity. To achieve variety, William Dorsky, president of Dorsky Hodgson, assigned the design of individual storefronts to several partners in his firm's Cleveland, Washington and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., offices.

Without question, the method worked. The neo-Mansard office and retail building at the center of the complex contrasts with the Beaux Arts Joseph-Beth Booksellers, which contrasts with the neoclassical Tuscan Grille restaurant.

Then, too, it helped that the big anchor stores in the shopping center were designed by architects working directly for national retailers. The Crate & Barrel, for example, is designed in the company's trademark Modernist style, with flat, machinelike facades that sport round, free-standing columns and ribbon windows.

Legacy Village's architecture certainly deserves attention as an example of high-end, roadside kitsch. It has a lot more verve and conviction than, say, the paper-thin facades of the bloated, overscaled University Square, a new shopping center in University Heights.

But viewing Legacy Village with a straight face requires suspension of disbelief. The architecture pretends to look antique, and visitors pretend not to notice it's all brand new.

The irony, of course, is that Northeast Ohio already has plenty of Main Streets in its older urban centers. But they're dying because places such as Legacy Village are luring shoppers away.

More than anything, Legacy Village symbolizes the ways in which municipalities in Ohio compete with one another, sometimes savagely, for jobs and businesses that boost tax revenues.

The other maddening thing about the project is that it mimics the look of New Urbanism, the community-design movement aimed at providing an antidote to suburban sprawl.

The New Urbanists want to resuscitate the classic town-planning techniques of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when transportation by horse and buggy or streetcar required architects to build dense, intimate communities.

In reality, Legacy Village is much closer to sprawl development than to New Urbanism. It's a regional retail magnet whose reason-for-being is proximity to the Beachwood I-271 exit at Cedar Road, about a mile to the east. As such, it has been designed primarily with motorists in mind, not pedestrians.

The Main Street environment is a tease, an architectural bait-and-switch intended to make visitors overlook how hard it really is to get around on foot.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that east-west traffic lanes cut between the Main Street portion of the complex and the outlying Cheesecake Factory and Claddagh Irish Pub, which flank the main entrance drive leading in from Cedar Road.
The natural desire of pedestrians is to walk straight from the Main Street area to the outlying restaurants. But that means striding across the traffic lanes and marching through flower beds and shrubs.

Another problem is that the Irish pub and the Cheesecake Factory lack sidewalks on the sides facing the main traffic lanes. This has reduced patrons to walking in the gutters to get to the front doors of the establishments. Add a mountain of mid-February slush to this picture, and you've got a recipe for discontent.

Dorsky said this week that he and Schneider will try to correct the problems. In fairness, Dorsky also said he wasn't trying to be a New Urbanist.

Schneider is putting out a different message. He says he wants Legacy Village to foster a sense of community through design, a key goal of New Urbanism.

His idea is that shoppers will linger over long meals in the many restaurants, stroll along the Main Street (called Blossom Way) and experience community. He even gave a speech last week touting the spiritual side of the need for community and suggested his development will serve that need.

Please. If Le Corbusier believed that a house could be a "Machine for Living," Legacy Village is a machine for making money.

The big question is whether shoppers will continue flocking there or whether they'll be turned off by the inconveniences and long lines.

My guess is that the stores in the complex, many of which are new to the region, are the real attraction, not the architecture. The fate of the development depends on the quality of service provided by the retailers, not the Disney-style atmospherics.

Will I shop there? Yes. Like other consumers, I'll look for goods and services I can't find anywhere else.

But I'll also make a conscious effort to spend money at Shaker Square and other neighborhood shopping centers closer to downtown, and I hope others will do the same. If we don't, we might just get stuck with Legacy Village and nothing else, which would be a sad comment about the true nature of Northeast Ohio.

Copyright 2003 The Plain Dealer

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In reality, Legacy Village is much closer to sprawl development than to New Urbanism. It's a regional retail magnet whose reason-for-being is proximity to the Beachwood I-271 exit at Cedar Road, about a mile to the east. As such, it has been designed primarily with motorists in mind, not pedestrians.

The Main Street environment is a tease, an architectural bait-and-switch intended to make visitors overlook how hard it really is to get around on foot.


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