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Residents Consider Measures to Discourage Cruisers : Beverly-Fairfax Area Distraught Over Reputation as Pickup Paradise

December 31, 1987|RON RUSSELL | Times Staff Writer

When Maurice and Rachel Kierzenblat bought their four-bedroom home in the Beverly-Fairfax district 22 years ago, they thought that they were buying into the American dream.

The nightmare came later.

"I can't say that I've had a decent night's sleep at home in years," said Rachel Kierzenblat, who lives at the corner of Sierra Bonita and Clinton a block south of Melrose. "My entire family goes around like zombies."

Their experience isn't unusual in a neighborhood that police and residents say has become a hot spot during the wee hours for people looking for sex partners.

T-shirts touting the area, on the fringe of West Hollywood, are said to have popped up in gay bars as far away as Europe.

Residents say that the nightly procession of cars cruising the neighborhood often includes many with out-of-state license plates.

Best Pickup Spots

Last month, when a weekly newspaper listed Beverly-Fairfax, with its tree-lined streets dotted by comfortable homes and manicured lawns, as among the best pickup spots in Los Angeles, residents greeted the news with resignation.

"You put up with it for years but you never get used to it," said Ken Shapiro, 22, who helped organize Neighbors Against Cruising, a group trying to combat the problem they say has plagued the neighborhood for 10 years.

He and others are quick to point out that theirs is not an anti-gay crusade.

"Although the vast majority of the cruisers are homosexual, it's not a gay problem," he said. "It's a noise and nuisance problem."

The cruisers are around every night of the week, he said, and especially on weekends. Residents say they have counted as many as 500 cars some nights.

"I woke up the other night, as I usually do, and noticed the time was 3:27 a.m., so I decided to count the cars just for the heck of it," said Sarah Lesner, who lives on Clinton. "In five minutes I counted 28 cars, four loud radios and four pedestrians.

A Certain Congestion

"You know it's bad when your daughter comes home from a date at 1 in the morning and has to stand and wait in order to cross the street."

Some of the cruisers come to make dates and go elsewhere, she said. Others engage in sex acts in parked vehicles, on sidewalks and on lawns, residents say.

"They whistle. They yell. They play their stereos at fever pitch. They screech tires. They circle. They throw litter. Have I left anything out?" asked Nancy Heilbron, 60, who has lived in the neighborhood all her life.

Like others of her neighbors, she points the finger at Drake's After Midnight, a 24-hour adult bookstore and peep show on Melrose, as the source of the problem.

Earlier this month, when about 100 neighborhood residents gathered at a local synagogue to discuss ways to curb the problem they say has grown worse in recent months, Drake's seemed to be on almost everyone's mind.

"As long as Drake's continues in existence, no one believes the problem will go away," said V. V. Hsu, who attended the meeting with an infant in her arms.

Shutdown Demanded

She and others charge that the bookstore has long served as a "magnet" for men "out looking to pick each other up," and they want to see the business closed.

In a letter to members of the group, Mike Merrick, the manager of Drake's, declined an invitation to the meeting, saying that "nothing constructive" would be gained by his presence. He also declined a reporter's request for an interview.

However, Shapiro said that Merrick met with several members of the group informally and offered to provide a private security service to patrol the neighborhood and install outdoor lighting for anyone in the affected area who wanted it, at Drake's expense.

Later, when the proposal was put to a vote, only a handful of the 100 or so residents in attendance were in favor of accepting either offer.

"There is no question people over here question their sincerity," said Shapiro. "You're talking about an establishment that will not even reveal who its owners are.

"Most people believe that they're simply trying to cover themselves for later, in the event there is a lawsuit, that they're trying to toss out a bone in hopes the whole thing will somehow blow over."

Aggressive Counterattack

Judging from the group's efforts, that doesn't appear likely.

In recent weeks, residents have taken to the streets to pass out leaflets at stop signs to motorists, asking cruisers to leave the neighborhood.

The police have also beefed up their presence in the area, giving tickets to drivers running stop signs, and writing letters to those ticketed, letting them know that they intend to crack down on vehicular cruisers.

Two weekends ago, parking enforcement officers barricaded parts of Clinton, Sierra Bonita and Curson--in the heart of the affected area--from 10 p.m. until almost dawn, in yet another attempt to deal with the problem.

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