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BAY AREA QUAKE : Landmarks Totter : Preservationists Fear Quake-Damaged Historic Buildings Will Be Torn Down

October 25, 1989|JACK CHEEVERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although preservationists praise some cities' actions, they are outraged at rapid demolitions of buildings like Salinas' Cominos Hotel, where Steinbeck sometimes drank and which he used as a setting in his novel, "East of Eden."

"It was a magnificently beautiful building," Brusa said. "She was very regal, very grand. The marquee was solid copper. It was very luxurious in its day. Presidents stayed there, governors stayed there, actors and actresses stayed there. "

Brusa said that before the quake local preservationists had been embroiled in a legal battle with the city over the hotel. The city had sought to knock down the hotel, which is in a redevelopment district, and replace it with a $25-million complex featuring a movie theater, office building and Steinbeck museum.

A local judge had granted an injunction against the hotel's demolition, but after the quake, city officials persuaded him to let them tear the building down, arguing that it was in imminent danger of collapsing, she said.

But officials refused to let preservationists review the engineer's report, Brusa said, adding that it took repeated hammering with a wrecking ball before the hotel came apart.

Paul Ogden, assistant executive director of the Salinas Redevelopment Agency, said the structure was so heavily damaged that city authorities had "little choice" but to raze it.

He said the city-owned building was not an official landmark, but acknowledged that city officials have not designated any local structures as historically or architecturally important.

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