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Mayor of Azusa Says He'll Raze Ghost Town

June 15, 1989|CRAIG QUINTANA | Times Staff Writer

AZUSA — Mayor Eugene F. Moses, facing a public nuisance hearing today on his Western ghost town, has offered to tear down the would-be theme park that city officials contend is illegal.

This month, the city began proceedings against Moses over the 2.5-acre facility he began building, but never completed, at the mouth of the San Gabriel Canyon in the 1970s.

The city has alleged that the ghost town lacks required use and building permits, adequate parking, landscaping and proper storage facilities. A "notice of violations and request for corrections" sent to Moses by the city in March says the ghost town is in a generally dilapidated state.

In asking for a 30-day extension of the hearing, Moses has proposed that the public nuisance action be dropped and that the city allow him to keep three buildings for up to a year. The grace period would allow him time to sell off his numerous Old West relics and antiques, which he would store in the remaining buildings, he said.

A hearing officer could order Moses to demolish the ghost town.

6-Month Grace Period

City officials say they are negotiating with Moses. They said they are willing to continue the hearing for 30 days and are leaning toward giving the mayor a six-month grace period to demolish the last three buildings. "It breaks my heart, but I know it has to be done, because I'm the mayor and I want to comply," Moses said. "I don't want to take any more harassment. It kills me, but I have to take it down."

Originally, Moses said there was nothing wrong with the ghost town and that the nuisance action was a "political vendetta" by his council foes, Councilmen Harry L. Stemrich and Tony D. Naranjo. The councilmen denied Moses' assertions, saying the mayor has been treated the same as everyone else.

While Moses continues to claim the proceedings are political, he said he wanted to avoid a confrontation with the city.

"I'm going to take it down and clean it up," Moses said. "My job was to become a role model resident and do everything I need to do to clean it up. I'm not giving in. But the thing is, I have to do what's right."

Moses would like to sell the dozen remaining cabins, shacks and buildings to Western buffs but said demolition could begin as early as Tuesday, if he gets no buyers.

Resemble Old West Town

Originally intended as a smaller likeness of Knott's Berry Farm, Moses' property contains about 15 cabins, stores and shacks arranged to resemble an Old West town. Among the town's relics are a complete blacksmith's shop, a horse-drawn fire wagon and authentic pieces of Western memorabilia.

An Old West enthusiast, Moses said his dream of a theme park ended when a past City Council approved a large condominium project close to his property.

"They put in the condos, and that put the final dart into the ghost town," he said.

A standard review of city records, which uncovered the alleged code violations, was initiated last year when Moses attempted to sell the property, city officials said.

Upon hearing of Moses' intention to sell, Stemrich in January initiated a study on changing the zoning of the ghost town area. Stemrich said he was concerned an apartment or condominium project would be built on the property, currently zoned commercial-recreational.

Consideration of a possible zoning change, which could make Moses' site much less lucrative, has been put on hold.

Moses said that a potential buyer backed out as a result of Stemrich's action and said he may sue individual council members at a later date. Moses said he did not know what the buyer intended to do with the property.

No Plans for Property

Looking ahead to when the ghost town is gone, Moses said he has no plans for the property, but added that he would not sell to anyone who wants to build condominiums or an apartment building. In the past, Moses has opposed both kinds of developments in the city.

"It's sad," Moses said of the outcome. "A lot of people are going to miss this place."

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