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Echo Park Youth Club Opens After 2 1/2-Year Delay

August 28, 1986|LARRY GORDON | Times Staff Writer

The Boys and Girls Club of Echo Park was originally expected to open in February.

That is, February of 1984.

A long, frustrating series of construction problems and financial disputes kept delaying first the start, and then the finish, of the building at the corner of Court and Patton streets, just east of Glendale Boulevard. The club had been about 95% completed since the spring of 1985 but, until last week, its doors were shut to youngsters anxious to play basketball in its new gymnasium and try their hand at arts and crafts.

Meanwhile, costs mounted from the original estimate of $960,000 to what could top $1.4 million, according to officials in the Los Angeles Community Development Department, which financed the building with federal block grant monies.

Several opening-day parties were scheduled and then embarrassingly canceled. City and club officials privately wondered whether the whole project might be abandoned.

"At one point I was going to quit, I just didn't see any light at the end of the tunnel," recalled Michael Flores, branch director of the club.

Gets Occupancy Certificate

But Flores didn't quit. And while there are still some structural problems with the building and the question of final payment to the contractor has been turned over to an arbitrator, the club received its certificate of occupancy last week. Youngsters are now tossing around basketballs and painting pictures there.

Those youngsters, mainly from low-income Latino and Asian immigrant families, say they really need the clubhouse. There are few alternatives, they say, other than hanging around their homes or playing in the streets. Youth counselors say those alternatives include drugs and gangs, both of which plague Echo Park.

"Staying at home is boring. The only thing to do there is to help my mother clean," Angela Irigoyen, 10, said at the club. "We can do things here we never did before." Her favorite? Handball.

Said 11-year-old Orlando Contreras: "I'm going to come every day."

The building, a two-story beige stucco structure topped with a red Spanish-tile roof, has a large gymnasium with bleachers, locker rooms, weightlifting equipment, a library with a word processor, several pool tables and video games, and rooms for art, music and personal counseling.

Even before the club opened, about 500 boys and girls, ages 7 to 17, paid their $2-a-year membership dues, Flores said. He said he expects to have 2,000 members within a year and is thinking about expansion. He would like to build a concrete patio out front for table games and to acquire nearby property for a softball field.

But the club has a more immediate concern: money.

The City of Los Angeles owns the building and leases it to the Boys Club of Hollywood, the parent agency, for $1 a year. The city does not provide funds for equipment and expenses. Local businesses have donated furniture, guitars, paints and cash; United Way and the Ralph M. Parsons Foundation have given the club large grants.

Nevertheless, club officials are worried about whether they will be able to meet the club's annual expenses, projected to be about $140,000.

They decided to open the club, at least for now, five days a week, instead of being closed only on Sundays as they had wanted. Hours will be 2:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Instead of 10 full- and part-time staff members, there will be eight.

Financial Support

Echo Park is not a rich community and raising large amounts of money there will not be easy, said Larry Garcia, an aide to Councilman Michael Woo, whose staff, after council redistricting this month, inherited concerns about the club from Councilman John Ferraro's staff.

Flores said he hopes to get support from corporations in downtown Los Angeles. "After all," he said, "we're only about eight blocks from downtown."

Meanwhile, final construction work remains to be done. Among other things, the rear alleyway awaits repaving and the main water line into the building must be rebuilt.

Officials say they expect that work to be done in the next few months. The important thing was solving all the other problems and getting the doors open, they said.

Why 2 1/2 years of delays?

"There was a lack of communications on all sides: the contractor, the architect, the city, the Boys Club," said Flores. "If you blame one, you have to blame them all."

"It's been a hell of an experience," said David Briggs, owner of Benji General Building Contractor in Compton, which was awarded the club construction contract in March, 1983.

On the advice of his attorney, Briggs declined to comment further because the matter of his final payment is under arbitration.

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