WHITTIER — The Lindley Building stood for 99 years on the corner of Greenleaf Avenue and Hadley Street, its sturdy red bricks and elaborate cornice-work weathering changes in ownership as well as city leadership to become the oldest commercial structure in town.
But the Oct. 1 earthquake proved to be too much for the building's unreinforced masonry construction, leaving it crumbled and unsafe. The Lindley Building was one of the first on the city's demolition list, its destruction scheduled for last Saturday morning.
This did not set well with Michael Sullens.
Concerned that the city had not explored all its options before moving quickly to level the Lindley Building and others, Sullens formed a group called Save Our Historic Buildings. Sympathy for the preservation of history runs strong in this city of Quaker roots, and word of Sullens' group spread quickly.
'Save Our Buildings'
The night before demolition was scheduled, a protest march formed along Hadley and about 50 people gathered outside the Lindley Building shouting, "Save our buildings! Save our buildings!"
Somebody called Councilman Myron Claxton, who called Mayor Gene Chandler. The two of them showed up, talked to the group, and the next day, the Lindley Building was taken off the demolition list.
"This building was going to come down and the people weren't going to know about it. Zip, zap and it's gone," said Kevin Campion, operator of Seagull's frozen yogurt in the Lindley Building. "That building has its own pulse, its own heart. . . . It's being saved for the people who enjoyed going there."
Chandler said the City Council agreed, and developed this plan: The building would have to come down this week for public safety reasons, but the demolition contractor would be paid an extra $1,500 to remove the cornice work and re-sell the building's bricks to the city for about $10,000. Windows and woodwork would also be removed and saved.
After the lot has been cleared, Chandler wants the city to buy the land, reconstruct the building from its original materials and recoup the investment by having the Redevelopment Agency sell it. Property owners Julia and John Aranguren, who bought the Lindley Building in 1967, met with city officials this week. They say they are willing to sell if a fair price can be arranged.
"The Lindley Building represents kind of a cornerstone to the Uptown Village," Chandler said. "It's without a doubt the most historical building in town."
Built in 1888, just one year after Whittier became a city, the Lindley Building is one of what were known as the town's "four bricks." The "bricks" were four buildings constructed simultaneously on the corners of the Hadley and Greenleaf intersection by businessman C.W. Harvey, according to a publication of the Whittier Historical Society. Besides the Lindley, the only surviving "brick" is the Harvey Apartments, whose original masonry exterior has been covered in stucco. The fate of the Harvey Apartments is uncertain, though it suffered structural damage severe enough to warrant the evacuation of its tenants.
Hopes for Center
Harvey, who envisioned that intersection as the center of town, was competing with another builder who wanted the center to be Greenleaf and Penn. The center ended up being in between those two corners.
The Lindley Building was named for Hervey Lindley, the treasurer of Pickering Land and Water Co., who was said to be instrumental in establishing businesses in the city. Originally intended to be a bank, the Lindley Building was used as a church meeting place, a school, and home for several stores. The building's best-known business was Hazlitt's, a grocery and meat market which operated there from 1923 to 1967. Most recently, the yogurt shop occupied the first floor, with an apartment upstairs.
The day of the earthquake, Sullens was down the street for the grand opening of his flooring business in Whittier. Needless to say, he didn't get many calls that day and was depressed at the devastation around him.
"I just hit bottom and was feeling terrible," Sullens said. "I had to do something."
When he heard the Lindley Building was going to be leveled, Sullens began posting flyers in the Uptown area asking people to call him if they were interested in saving historic buildings. The founding meeting of Save Our Historic Buildings was held at his house to plan the demonstration.
"I felt like we won," Sullens said. "We stopped the bulldozer."
Buoyed by the group's success, Sullens says the next building on the preservation list is the old Whittier Theater at the corner of Whittier Boulevard and Hadley. The City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a developer's proposal to level the theater and replace it with a $14-million shopping plaza.
Bob Halliday, president of the Whittier Historical Society, says his group has joined forces with Save Our Historic Buildings. Together, he said, he hopes they can stop the destruction of the 1930s film palace.
"I was surprised, frankly, at the fact that the majority of those people (in the new group) were young," Halliday said. "It's really refreshing to see young people being interested in preserving the town in which they choose to live."