The design of Highland Park’s first Starbucks has proven a letdown for many residents. The Eastsider asked architect Catherine Garrison of Highland Park to review the building and figure out where this drive-thru Starbucks took a wrong turn.
HIGHLAND PARK — Whether or not you are a fan of the Starbucks brand, they have a well-developed approach to store design. Their mission statement says, “we design our stores to reflect the unique character of the neighborhoods they serve.” No wonder Highland Park residents are not happy with the new Starbucks, it shows a lack of respect for the neighborhood.
The building has no legible design intent; awkward space planning and poor craftsmanship. I am surprised that Starbucks let this retail outlet be built under their brand.
Between being a homeowner, practicing architect, and a fan of the unique businesses in Highland Park, I had an ambivalent opinion on whether Starbucks coming to the neighborhood was a good thing. I was not against it. In the very least, I expected we would get a predictable, but acceptable new store. For example a strip-mall prototype, like the new Habit Burger in the Figueroa Plaza, which looks more like a typical Starbucks than this building. Or a Highland Park themed Starbucks, like the Craftsman Jack-in-Box on Ave 43 and Figueroa. When I saw the new Starbucks on York, I thought the building was not only disappointing, but insulting to Highland Park.
The real missed opportunity is that the design of the new Starbucks does not match the design sophistication of the neighborhood. The building was formally Classic Burger and Starbucks had an opportunity re-invent a piece of roadside architecture. Starbucks has successfully occupied other building types across the city. They should have taken on the challenge of repurposing a classic Los Angeles typology, the burger stand. Or if the constraints were too challenging, start from scratch and build something worthy of the neighborhood.
Instead the new Starbucks is a tragic pastiche of design approaches; Classic Burger building massing, with the addition of strip-mall finishes, and a dash of Highland Park themed details. The Classic Burger mansard roof has been re-clad in an asphalt shingle to resemble a shake roof. There is an assembly of salvaged wood windows and a river rock curb at the edge of the outdoor seating area, which I interpret to be a nod to the historic architecture of Highland Park. The elements were poorly considered and executed. For example, the concrete block curb is veneered with river rock on the sides, not on top, so you can see that the rocks have been sliced and applied. These details are barely recognizable as the architectural elements they are meant to reference.
I am not against what architects refer to as the “decorated shed.” The idea of the decorated shed is that the applied ornament is symbolic and works as a sign, or is a sign, that communicates the building’s use and values. And the independent systems of space and structure serve the building’s use. This building is not a successful decorated shed on either account, in its use of ornament or space. The covered outdoor area is an undefined space with a bathroom door at its center. Starbucks usually bothers to tuck the bathroom door in a corner or off a hall. The spot where walk-up customers order is a pinched, 4-foot wide window. The lack of storefront windows means that the outdoor space is primarily experienced as a concrete and stucco environment. The indoor dining room mentioned in planning does not exist and there is very little parking. The Highland Park Starbucks clearly preferences drive-thru users over those looking for community space.
The Highland Park location will probably still make money, in spite of the design. The neighborhood, however, demands better design and this building leaves a hole in the market for businesses that better reflect the community. Because of this I suspect the Starbucks will be remodeled in 3-5 years. If it doesn’t, it risks watering down its brand. Such as shame since good design and longevity are the foundations of sustainable design.