Whittier has spent 10 years and $326,000 in court costs trying to shut down the X-rated Pussycat Theater in the heart of its historic business district.
But Mother Nature has done what the City Council never could do--close the Pussycat's ticket booth.
"Several people have commented to me, 'Gosh, of all the places, it would be great if that one would have severe damage,' " said Councilman Myron Claxton, as some residents tried to find a silver lining in the earthquake that destroyed much of the Uptown area.
City officials posted an "unsafe" sign beneath the Pussycat's shattered marquee after the exterior wall of an adjacent building partially crumbled under the force of Thursday's earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.
A spokesman for the theater, however, said the shutdown is just temporary. The Pussycat's film projectors will roll again, he said, as soon as police reopen the Uptown streets.
"That structure is built like a fortress," said Ron Naslund, property manager for Walnut Properties Inc., which owns the 700-seat theater. "There's no problems on our end . . . though (opponents) probably all raced to the theater to see if it was down."
Walnut Properties bought the 1930s-era Wardman theater in 1977 and began screening adult movies. The City Council immediately passed a zoning ordinance prohibiting businesses from selling sexually explicit material within 1,000 feet of churches or schools and 500 feet of residences. That ordinance would have forced the Pussycat out because it is within one block of four churches.
Attorneys for Walnut Properties, which owns 47 other movie houses across the state, contended that the ordinance was unconstitutional and designed to kick the city's only remaining adult theater out of town.
A legal battle ensued in both state and federal courts, with Whittier losing the last round in U.S. District Court. But new hope for the city came last year when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a similar ordinance passed in Renton, Wash., a Seattle suburb. Based on that precedent, Whittier has appealed to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and expects a response early next year.
Up until last week, not one court battle had stopped the theater's neon marquee from glowing nightly amid the quaint shops and restaurants lining Greenleaf Avenue.
Naslund, who has already placed an order for a replacement marquee, said Walnut will not pressure city officials to reopen the area, even though the theater itself is sound.
"Safety comes first," Naslund said. "We don't want to be anything but a good neighbor."