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Snag Stalls Long-Awaited Demolition of Elks Lodge

October 18, 1990|MARTHA L. WILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than four years after their lodge was mysteriously destroyed by arson, leaders of the Glendale Elks came prepared Monday to toast the demolition of the remnants of their old building and the symbolic start of a new one.

"We were going to have a celebration," said chapter Exalted Ruler Stanley Germain, who was among about 30 Elks who showed up at the demolition site Monday with magnums of champagne. "We put up a sign at the club: 'Big party and lunch to follow.' "

But the bubbles burst before the ceremony began.

Demolition of the burned-out Elks building, long an eyesore at 120 E. Colorado St., has been delayed a month or more because of a communications snafu between Glendale city officials and developers.

The former lodge, built in 1917 and listed on the city's roster of historic places, was destroyed in a $2-million blaze in January, 1986. Only a 1940s-era addition at the rear of the property remains. Members have been meeting in temporary quarters in Pasadena.

After almost two years of negotiations, the Elks and a local developer last month signed an agreement to build a five-story hotel and lodge on the site. Demolition of the old building was to begin Monday.

But, because of the site's historic designation, Elks learned Monday that they must first obtain permission from the city's Historic Preservation Commission and the City Council before demolition can begin. The building is the first to be demolished since the city adopted historic preservation rules in 1985.

"They've been begging us to tear that building down for four years," Germain said. "Now they tell us we can't get a permit without a special meeting. We went all the way to the city manager."

"It's been a long time for those poor guys to be without a home," said developer Mike Howard of the Howard-Platz Group of Glendale, which wants to build the hotel and lodge. "They thought they finally were going to see something physically happening."

City officials blamed the delay on a misunderstanding by developers. Dana Ogdon, a city planner, said the project contractor, Roland Constructors of Phoenix, was notified in April of the need for a demolition hearing. "They understood they had to go through the process, that any alteration of the site has to go to the commission and the council," Ogdon said. "It was just a misunderstanding of what they had to do."

The burned rubble of the historic part of the lodge was cleared away in 1988 without a hearing before the preservation commission because city officials said the debris was a safety hazard. Demolition of the rest of the building, however, is considered a voluntary alteration of a historic site, Ogdon said.

Howard said developers had hoped to get the demolition, which will take about four weeks, completed before the holiday shopping season. The site is just east of the Glendale Galleria.

The earliest that the demolition proposal could be brought before the preservation commission is Nov. 5. It will then take another two weeks to bring the commission's recommendation to the City Council, which can permit demolition of a historic site if preservation is deemed infeasible. The city can also decide whether a historic marker should be placed on a site.

However, the delay is expected to push the project back to about Thanksgiving, which could cause construction vehicles to snarl holiday shopping traffic, Howard said. As a result, the project may have to be postponed until after the first of the year, he said.

"It's a little frustrating to be held up by a technicality," Howard said. "But we'll just have to abide by it."

Just a few months before the lodge burned, the Elks had sought to have the dilapidated building's historic designation removed so that the club could have the structure razed. Club officials complained that the building had become costly to maintain and was too large for the club's shrinking membership. Renovation would have cost more than $1 million.

The City Council turned down the club's request, suggesting that the Elks follow rules that permit demolition in cases of undue hardship. The fire occurred before the request was filed.

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