Employees at the Ticor Title Insurance branch in Rosemead had to do without their usual office amenities when they returned to work Tuesday. In fact, they had to without offices--period.
While earthquake damage sustained last Thursday is repaired, the firm has moved its clerical operations into a collection of tents and trailers set up in the building's parking lot on Walnut Grove Avenue.
Once all the telephone and electrical lines have been connected, about 200 employees will occupy 17,000 square feet of makeshift office space, said Steve Bennett, a senior vice president and the firm's Los Angeles County manager.
Damage to the 5-year-old building has been estimated at $10 million.
In the same block along Walnut Grove Avenue, employees returning to work Monday at the California Federal Savings computer center were presented with T-shirts proclaiming "We survived the quake with teamwork."
That building also suffered $10 million worth of damage.
The two office buildings accounted for the bulk of Rosemead's $25 million in earthquake damage, even though both are relatively new.
Assistant City Manager Don Wagner said the extent of the damage is not surprising, since the buildings are located across the street from Whittier Narrows Golf Course. Although seismologists have determined that central Rosemead was the epicenter of Thursday's earthquake, ground motion and property damage were greatest in the Whittier Narrows area.
"The epicenter of the first quake was right under Cal Fed . . . so you figure they got the worst of it," Wagner said. He added that officials with the state Seismic Safety Commission who toured the area were "very impressed with the way the buildings came through it."
However, other structures in Rosemead did not hold up as well. The First Presbyterian Church on Emerson Place and a commercial building housing the Poppy Cleaners and Laundry were condemned after Thursday's quake. Both buildings, in central Rosemead, were constructed of unreinforced masonry before 1933, when building codes were toughened, Wagner said.
Altogether, 140 buildings in Rosemead suffered some structural damage in last Thursday's earthquake or Sunday's major aftershock, Wagner said. These included 112 residences, 21 commercial buildings, six public facilities and one church. Only two buildings have been slated for demolition.
The rear portion of the Ticor Title Insurance building, which contains the company's warehouse space and archives, was determined to be safe, and employees who worked there were not moved. However, Bennett said it may be a month before other office workers can move back inside.
"We just don't want to take any chances," Bennett said. "There are some serious cracks that need to be repaired."
The decision to move to the parking lot was made soon after the earthquake last Thursday, said Gary Beny, the firm's senior vice president in charge of Southern California operations. Although most of the branch's 450 employees were sent to other offices, he said, some had to stay.
"We knew immediately we didn't have space to house people in every facility," Beny said. He added that they needed access to computer and telephone lines in the building to serve clients in the San Gabriel Valley.
Rose Zenguili, a manager in the firm's accounting division, said she preferred to work outside while repairs are made. Zenguili said she and other employees were in a meeting inside the building when the earthquake struck and narrowly escaped injury.
"We went under the conference table, and subsequently a huge light fixture fell on the chairs where we had been sitting," she said.
Zenguili said most other employees shared her preference for working in tents.
"I feel, especially after the aftershock (Sunday morning) that they'd feel more comfortable out here," she said.
However, comfort was lacking in the tent occupied by the firm's typing pool Tuesday. The tents are equipped with large air conditioning units, but the one serving that tent was not working, and temperatures were above 90 degrees.
"It's hard working in the heat," said Elizabeth Ruilas, a reviewer in the typing pool. However, she said she would still rather sweat it out than take her chances inside.
"Right now, I'd rather work in a tent than in the building," Ruilas said. "If we can get the heat under control, it's not too bad. We have everything we need out here."
At the Cal Fed computer center, although plywood covers the windows and some lighting fixtures have not been replaced, the building has been determined to be safe for workers, said Christine Powell, an assistant vice president.
"There's still some cleaning up to do, but the damage is cosmetic, not structural," Powell said. Although the building's computers were without power for 30 hours after Thursday's earthquake, no data was lost, Powell said.
"We feel really blessed," she said. "We couldn't be happier."
Employees helped clean out debris from offices so that the computer center could reopen for business Monday.
"Morale is very high because we really worked together and pulled together and accomplished a lot in a very short time," Powell said.