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After the Quake : San Gabriel: Mission and Landmark Theater Take the Brunt

October 08, 1987|JEFFREY MILLER | Times Staff Writer

Earthquake damage in San Gabriel may not have equaled that of neighboring cities in terms of dollars, but two of the city's most prominent landmarks were forced to close because of the temblor and its numerous aftershocks.

Mission San Gabriel, the 182-year-old structure for which the city is named, was closed immediately after last Thursday's quake when large cracks appeared in its ceiling and walls. The San Gabriel Civic Auditorium, a mission-style building built in 1927, was closed Sunday after one of its bell towers toppled off the roof and crashed into the theater's foyer.

Structural engineers from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles spent the week inspecting damage that Mission San Gabriel sustained in last Thursday's 6.1 earthquake and Sunday's 5.5 aftershock.

Statues Tumble

The quakes showered the mission's floor with mortar and caused religious statues, including a 200-year-old crucifix, to tumble to the floor. A nearby century-old adobe building that serves as a museum was also seriously damaged and will be closed indefinitely.

Father Arnold Gonzalez, the priest at the mission, said every effort will be made to repair the historic structure. Architects have yet to report on the cost or the feasibility of such repair work, but Pat Collins, a buildings staff member for the archdiocese, said preservation of the mission is a high priority.

"I know there is quite a lot of damage, but . . . my own thinking is that they wouldn't demolish it unless it was absolutely necessary," Collins said.

The two remaining bell towers atop the San Gabriel Civic Auditorium are slated for demolition this week. A structural engineer had ordered the demolition after Thursday's earthquake; the aftershock on Sunday merely hastened the process.

Cost Estimates Rise

Damage to the auditorium was estimated at $750,000, and auditorium manager Bill Shaw said it could ultimately reach $1 million.

"With each hour and with each inspection, the damage estimates (increase)," Shaw said.

When the bell tower collapsed Sunday, it punctured the roof over the foyer and an adjacent storage room. "We're now calling that the Civic Auditorium's skylight lounge," Shaw said of the storage room.

Although full renovation may take as long as a year, Shaw said the auditorium will reopen soon after the bell towers have been removed and the theater's collapsed ceiling is replaced.

"The building will reopen as soon as all the architects say it is safe and secure," Shaw said. He added that the auditorium has canceled all events scheduled through the end of the year.

Elsewhere in San Gabriel, Sunday's aftershock damaged at least 10 commercial buildings that had appeared unharmed after last Thursday's earthquake.

Early Damage Hidden

"After the first (earthquake) I'm sure they had something wrong with them, but it just didn't show up," said Bob Billings, a senior building inspector with the City of San Gabriel.

Following the aftershock, 25 commercial buildings and more than 200 residences had been damaged by earthquakes, Billings said. Other than the mission and the auditorium, damage was estimated at $1.7 million for businesses and $1.3 million for homes.

Construction of Mission San Gabriel began in 1791 under the aegis of Father Junipero Serra and was completed in 1805. Seven years after it was finished, the building was rocked by a major earthquake that caused the mission's high-arched roof to collapse and toppled its bell tower.

The mission was rebuilt with a more modest bell tower and a flat, wood-reinforced roof and has since survived major earthquakes in 1858, 1933 and 1971. A portrait of the mission painted early in the 19th Century aptly referred to it as "La mision de los temblores," the mission of earthquakes.

The San Gabriel Civic Auditorium was built more than a century later to commemorate the mission period of California history. Designed as a replica of San Antonio de Padua Mission near Monterey, the auditorium opened as the Mission Playhouse in March, 1927. For its first eight years, the theater presented "The Mission Play."

'Big Production'

"It depicted the romance of early California and the life of Father Serra and the Indians at the missions," Shaw said. "It was quite a big production in this area."

When the locally produced play closed after eight years, the playhouse became a movie theater. By 1945, the theater had begun to deteriorate, Shaw said, prompting San Gabriel city officials to buy the building and renovate it.

"This place has housed everything from symphonies to major ballet companies to wrestling," Shaw said. After Sunday's aftershock, he said, he was besieged with calls from residents who were concerned that the auditorium would have to be demolished.

"This building has become a special place to so many people," Shaw said. "People come up and say, 'This is where I had my first date' or 'This is where I had my first job'. . . . There was an old couple who had danced here in the '20s who came up the other day and were sobbing."

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