The wrecking ball claimed a 75-year-old brick building in Eagle Rock last week, despite last-ditch efforts by angry local residents who claimed it should have been preserved as a historic landmark. A Los Angeles developer wants to build a mini-mall on the site.
The Johnson Schumacher building's destruction also angered members of the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission, who had been scheduled to take it under consideration Wednesday as a city cultural monument.
Commission President Armarjit S. Marwah said Wednesday that he would have placed the building under temporary protection had he known the developer's intent.
"We trusted that these people were gentlemen. In the future, I think we should be a little more active," Marwah told the developer's attorney, former Los Angeles City Councilman Arthur K. Snyder.
Residents who researched the building's history claimed that it was historically significant because it was built by two of Eagle Rock's founding families and it was the last stop on the Huntington Yellow Line, a trolley that took passengers to downtown Los Angeles.
Snyder, who lives in Eagle Rock and was that community's councilman, told the commission that his client, developer Hamid Ravan, had tried and failed to reach a compromise with residents.
Late last Thursday night, Ravan ordered the building demolished after a lengthy community meeting with about 80 members of the Eagle Rock Community Assn. proved inconclusive.
Early the following morning, as a demolition crew arrived to destroy the former retail building, an Eagle Rock woman perched herself atop the building and refused to come down until she was arrested.
"As the men threw up their pickaxes, I threw them right back down again," said Kathleen Aberman, who climbed onto the roof of the building on Colorado Boulevard and Townsend Avenue at about 6:30 a.m. Friday after receiving an early morning call about the impending demolition.
"The police told me I had to get off the roof but I told them no. I didn't want the building to be torn down," Aberman said.
Los Angeles police from the Northeast Division arrested Aberman for trespassing about 8:30 a.m. Ravan said he will not file charges.
Prior to the building's destruction, some Eagle Rock Community Assn. members had pleaded with Ravan to renovate the structure and erect the mini-mall around it.
At the March 12 meeting, Ravan replied that renovating the unreinforced brick building was not financially feasible. But he agreed to spend $150,000 above the estimated $1-million construction cost to add brick facing and other improvements that he said would make the mini-mall compatible with older buildings in the community.
Ravan originally planned to build a concrete and stucco mini-mall with few aesthetic touches but agreed to spend the extra money for architectural improvements because "he wants to be a good neighbor," Snyder said.
The new plan calls for a one-story, L-shaped mini-mall with brick facades and trim, landscaping and an "old-town" Eagle Rock look. Ravan has also pledged that he will not lease space to stores open 24 hours, fast-food outlets or shops that feature video games.
Ravan's proposal failed to appease Aberman and others present at the March 12 meeting, however, and they threatened to sue the developer to prevent construction. Aberman also told Ravan that she had applied for a city cultural monument designation which if granted, would have preserved the building permanently.
Snyder said that Aberman's threats that night convinced his client to move forward quickly with the demolition.
"If I had been put in his position, I think I would have done the same thing," Snyder said. "People were saying, give us a few days and we'll fix it so that you can never build your project."
Los Angeles Councilman Richard Alatorre, who represents Eagle Rock, said this week that Ravan showed sensitivity and a willingness to make concessions. Alatorre said his office worked with both sides to mediate the issue.
"People have to understand that an individual has a right to develop his property . . . He had gone as far as he practically could do. . . . Compromise did take place," Alatorre said.
Alatorre came under fire at Thursday's meeting from several residents who charged that he had ignored their letters asking him to intercede with Ravan to save the building. Alatorre said he had not seen the letters.
After Aberman's arrest on Friday, several community preservationists watched grimly from across the street as laborers with pickaxes hacked away at the old building. Joel Fisher, an Eagle Rock accountant, took the day off work and stood on Colorado Boulevard holding up a poster that read "Eagle Rock Loses Again." Another woman wrote "Allatorre Doesn't Care" in spray paint on scaffolding that surrounds the site.
"We were shafted," Fisher said. "The developer never even considered the building's historical significance, they just wanted to build their mini-mall."