PASADENA — For four decades, Hutch's Barbeque on East Walnut Street near the Civic Center, has been the most convenient lunch spot for City Hall workers.
Now, the restaurant's owners are fighting City Hall to keep their prime location.
The city Board of Directors is expected to decide Monday whether to begin condemnation proceedings to obtain the property, which lies on the western edge of the Plaza Las Fuentes redevelopment project.
The restaurant site was not originally in the project area, which will include a $120-million hotel and office complex.
However, Maguire Thomas Partners Inc., which plans to begin construction in November, decided earlier this year that it needed Hutch's property for underground parking and open space so that the hotel could have windows on its western side.
Franco Acilio and Pietro DeCecco, who bought the restaurant 10 years ago, say they would move only if certain conditions are met.
First, they want a new location that matches the present site's high visibility and minimal competition.
They also want the city to pay the cost of moving the building or at least its distinctive facade, which they say is to Hutch's what the golden arches are to McDonald's.
"What is important is the front of the building, the windows," Acilio said. "The characteristics of that are part of the good will, part of the atmosphere."
Built in 1910, the two-story, English-style house was first used for business in the 1930s as the Twizzletwig Tea Room and became Hutch's shortly after World War II.
Acilio said that when he and his partner bought the business, they retained the name, the cooks, the waitresses and the customers.
"We have a very good clientele. Many of them have been coming here for years," Acilio said. "Lots of them were brought by their parents, and now they're bringing their kids. This is an institution in Pasadena. It's part of Pasadena, and that's why I don't want to destroy it."
In its final offer, the city made no provision for moving the building. Instead, Acilio and DeCecco say that they have been offered $335,000 for the building and $69,000 for fixtures.
They have rejected this, saying that if they must move to a new building, they want additional compensation for loss of business and good will.
Although they bought the restaurant for $115,000, the owners say they spent $32,000 to build an addition.
Since they purchased Hutch's, several office buildings have been built in the area, greatly increasing the restaurant's "walk-by" business and hence its value, Acilio said.
"To the city, this place can be dropped anywhere," Acilio said. "But the restaurant is not just the tables and chairs and the refrigerator. . . . We are enjoying a location with beautiful exposure and no competition."
On July 14, the Board of Directors considered condemnation of Hutch's and two other properties: the Odd Fellows' Temple and the offices of chiropractor Charles Clark.
The city has offered to spend $1.4 million to buy the Odd Fellows Temple and move it to city-owned land six blocks away, but the organization's membership has yet to vote on the proposal.
Clark, who has had his practice on the corner of Walnut and Los Robles for 40 years, declined to discuss his negotiations with the city. His attorney, Thomas Stoever, said Clark and the city still are far apart.
New Hearing Slated
The board voted to continue the hearing on Hutch's. The directors asked city staff to consider moving Hutch's to another part of the restaurant's property, to one of two adjacent sites currently owned by All Saints Church or to a city-owned parcel at the corner of Marengo and Walnut.
However, it does not appear the staff will recommend any of these actions. While declining to be specific about the negotiations or the charges made by the owners of Hutch's, Planning Director William Reynolds said the staff had not changed its position.
"The recommendation is to authorize the acquisition of that property," Reynolds said.
According to Acilio, the city staff has been consistently intractable in its dealings with the restaurant owners.
'I Believe in Progress'
"Every time I talk to them, the first thing they mention is 'Don't forget we have the power of condemnation and eminent domain,' " Acilio said.
"I never refused to sell the property," he said. "I believe in progress, but also I don't want to be pushed around."
Acilio and DeCecco have retained real estate consultant Bert Tibbet and the law firm of Gronemeier, Barker and Huerta, which has litigated several redevelopment cases.
Speaking to the board last week, Tibbet assailed the appraisal of the property, saying that Hutch's was valued at $1.15 a square foot per month when comparable retail locations in Pasadena were being leased for as much as $2 a square foot.
Tibbet also questioned the methods employed by appraiser Ronald Laurain, whom he said used sites in Compton, Long Beach, Norwalk and Seal Beach to determine the comparable value of Hutch's.