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After the Quake : Alhambra: Businesses Closed by the Dozen

October 08, 1987|MIKE WARD | Times Staff Writer

Plywood covered the hole where plate-glass windows had shattered, there were deep cracks in the walls, and the city Building Department had taped a sign on the door warning the public against entering the Alhambra Shade and Linoleum Co.

But inside, Helen McCann, the 80-year-old owner, was still at work this week, making window shades and fussing about the business she was losing while her customers were locked out because of earthquake damage.

Her store on Main Street should have been inspected and reopened by now, she said Tuesday, but her landlord had not given the city an engineering report on structural damage. In the meantime, McCann said, if she allowed customers in the store, "I'd be scared to death that somebody might get hurt."

John Jomehri, whose Lovebirds Cafe is a few doors away in the same building, dropped by to commiserate with McCann over lost business and expensive repair bills.

Jomehri said he has had to throw away food, damage to his cafe's wood and glass amounts to $3,000 and he is losing the revenue he usually gets from 300 customers a day.

Both McCann and Jomehri had hoped to reopen Wednesday, but city building inspectors said they want to take a closer look at the building, which has a deep crack on its east side as a result of Sunday's aftershock. Jomehri said he was told that he might not be able to reopen until structural repairs were made and that the building might even be demolished.

"If they have to condemn the building, I'll lose $70,000 to $80,000," Jomehri said Wednesday. "I'm getting nervous."

The cafe and linoleum store are just two of dozens of businesses along Main Street that have been closed by the quake and its aftershocks. The city estimated Wednesday that 50 to 80 businesses are shut down either voluntarily or at the direction of the city.

Officials said they do not have accurate figures for the number of residents forced out of their homes, but about 250 residential and commercial buildings and more than 1,000 chimneys were damaged. The total property loss to public and private structures is estimated at more than $20 million.

City Manager Kevin Murphy said most of the commercial damage has occurred to the 600 business and apartment buildings along Main Street and adjoining side streets that were constructed of unreinforced masonry before 1933. Murphy said the city policy has been to require demolition or structural improvements to such buildings only when their use changes in a way that would bring more people into the buildings. He said that in light of the earthquake damage, this policy will be re-evaluated.

Two of the commercial buildings that may face demolition because of quake damage are the El Rey and Alhambra Cinema theaters, both part of the Edwards Theaters chain.

The Alhambra Cinema consists of two theaters joined by a lobby. The larger, 900-seat theater has been partially demolished, and engineers are trying to determine whether they can save the second theater, which is part of a building that has apartments on the second floor and a long-closed bowling alley in the basement.

James Edwards, the 80-year-old founder and chairman of Edwards Theaters, said the Alhambra Cinema was constructed in 1922. He acquired it in 1930, making it the second theater in his chain, which now has 140 screens.

Edwards said such entertainers as Bing Crosby and the Marx Brothers appeared on the stage when the Alhambra theater was part of what was called "the coffee-and-doughnuts circuit, meaning that about all you would get there was coffee and doughnuts and maybe a $10 bill." He said important vaudeville acts would play outlying theaters such as the Alhambra while they were in between more lucrative engagements in larger cities.

In the 1930s, Edwards said, he staged shows that featured five acts of vaudeville and a movie. In 1937, he said, the Alhambra Cinema became a forerunner to today's multiplex theaters when it added a second screen.

Edwards, whose office is in Newport Beach, inspected the damage to the theater Saturday. "My wife and I felt like we've lost a member of the family," Edwards said, "It was part of the beginning of our circuit."

If the Alhambra Cinema is torn down and the El Rey, another former vaudeville house, is demolished, Edwards said they will become the second and third theaters he has lost in Alhambra to earthquakes. The Capri Theater was razed after the Sylmar earthquake in 1971.

In addition to widespread damage to commercial buildings, Alhambra sustained more than $5 million in damage to residences, according to city spokeswoman Judy Feuer. At least one house collapsed, she said, and another sustained heavy damage when a chimney fell through a roof.

Two of the city's four fire stations have been closed since Thursday's earthquake, and the city's headquarters station, although open, suffered some damage. Murphy said one of the fire stations may have to be demolished.

The damage to city property is estimated at $1.5 million.

Other badly damaged structures include five apartment buildings, an auto repair shop and a small hotel.

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