WHITTIER — The owner of the rundown Whittier Theater is selling out because he is tired of fighting with the city and conservationists over the fate of the Depression-era landmark, according to an associate.
Peter Doerkin will put the theater up for sale this week, making way for a buyer to either restore or demolish it, said Don Gerstein, an executive and spokesman for Doerkin Properties Inc. of Santa Monica.
"We're tired of dealing with Whittier," Gerstein said. "We're going to put our tail between our legs and go on to something else."
Gerstein would not disclose how much Doerkin is asking for the theater, which he purchased for about $1.1 million from the Pacific Theater chain in 1987. "We are not asking an excessive amount," Gerstein said. "We want enough to recover our costs."
The historic film palace at Hadley Avenue and Whittier Boulevard has been at the center of debate since before the Oct. 1, 1987, earthquake.
When Doerkin purchased the theater in June, 1987, he told the council he was going to restore it and convert it to a performing arts center. But several months later, he asked the city for permission to replace the theater with a $14-million shopping plaza because, he said, fixing up the theater would be a losing proposition.
The council had not yet acted on Doerkin's request when the 5.9-magnitude earthquake rocked the area in October, 1987, severely damaging the historic building.
City building inspectors ordered that the theater be demolished because they said the earthquake had made it unsafe. A wrecking crew worked on the theater for about 45 minutes in November, 1987, before lawyers for the Whittier Conservancy--which had successfully argued in court that the city had to obtain an environmental impact report before razing the theater--arrived with a restraining order to stop the destruction.
The city completed the environmental impact report in October and voted to tear the theater down because no one wanted to restore it. The conservationists vowed to stop the city's wrecking ball and asked the court not to lift the restraining order.
Meanwhile, Doerkin is loosing $15,000 a month on the theater while waiting for the fight to end, Gerstein said.
He asked the Los Angeles Conservancy to help find a buyer for the theater. So far, a few people have expressed interest, Gerstein said.
Helen Rahder, spokeswoman for the Whittier Conservancy, said local preservationists also are scrambling to find a buyer.
"This opens a whole range of possibilities," Rahder said. "This is a viable piece of property that could be restored."
But City Manager Tom Mauk was less optimistic.
"It (Doerkin's decision to sell) does not make any difference," Mauk said. "The place is a mess and it needs to be demolished. Anyone who considers buying it is going to have his hands full."