On a night when their frail health normally would keep many of them at home, about 75 elderly tenants threatened with eviction braved the chilly night air on Tuesday and gathered outside the home of a Westside developer, where they sang songs of fight and protest to the tune of traditional Christmas carols.
Songs such as "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" got new lyrics to tell developer Richard W. Selby that the tenants will fight plans to demolish their Westdale Manor apartments in Mar Vista. Selby plans to build 285 luxury apartment units at the property on Sawtelle Boulevard south of National Boulevard.
As curious bystanders and neighbors watched outside Selby's posh Brentwood home, the protesters walked in a circle and chanted the "Jingle Bells" tune to lyrics that reflected not the Christmas spirit but expedience and greed:
Real estate, real estate
Money's all that counts .
Some folks would sell your grandmother for
Fifty cents an ounce.
"What a wonderful thing it would be if Mr. Selby gave us back our apartments for Christmas," said protester R. C. Treadwell, 84.
Having endured quadruple bypass surgery two years ago and now relying on a pacemaker, Treadwell said he would have difficulty surviving eviction. So, he said, would his 82-year-old wife, Lilly, who recently had cataract surgery and faces a second cataract operation on Monday.
About three-quarters of Westdale Manor's 160 tenants are older than 62, according to Barbara Spark, communications director for the Westdale Manor Tenants Assn. Twenty-one percent are older than 80, she said.
Many of the elderly tenants who participated in the protest shouted with enthusiasm, convinced that only active opposition and participation could stop the demolition.
"It's much like a fight," said demonstrator Robert Lipsky, 72. "You have to go out there and throw punches in order to win. The bottom line is need before greed."
Even Selby's neighbors applauded the senior citizens' fighting spirit.
Rich Egan, 18, spoke out against the proposed demolition. "I mean, we have enough problems with the homeless right now," he said. "Especially around Christmastime, this isn't fair. It's not like he needs any more money." Egan said he lives two homes down from Selby's house on Chaparral Street.
Bill Vogel, who lives across the street from Selby, said the protest was "great."
'Surprised to See This'
"He (Selby) seems like a very reasonable and nice man," he added. "I'm very surprised to see this."
Selby refused to comment on the demonstration.
The Westdale Manor apartments are ideal for senior citizens because they have low rents and are located near grocery stores, churches and doctors' offices, Spark said. They also provide a support network of helpful neighbors while affording an independence that would be absent in rest homes, she said.
The tenants' protests have already begun paying off. The city Department of Building and Safety on Dec. 2 ordered an environmental impact report on the proposed demolition.
The order will delay demolition by at least one year and could result in a lengthier delay if officials determine that the eviction would be a significant hardship to tenants, said Cindy Miscikowski, City Councilman Marvin Braude's chief deputy.
Selby has refused to release details of his intentions for the property, which is still in escrow. Fred C. Wasson, president of the Westdale Homeowners Assn., said Selby told him in a meeting two weeks ago that the developer plans to close escrow soon and intends to build at least two two-story buildings with underground parking.
Although pleased that an environmental impact report will be required, the tenants want assurances that their apartments will not be destroyed for as long as they live.
"It's a crisis," said tenant Nat Hoffenberg, 69. "Where are these people going to go?"