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ANNIVERSARY OF THE RIOTS : A Year After Riots: Recovery Is Slow, Anger Lingers : Rebuild: Government aid to damaged businesses has been devoured quickly. Although some residents are skittish, fear has forged alliances.

April 29, 1993|ROXANA KOPETMAN and TINA GRIEGO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LONG BEACH — There is little physical evidence of the riots that rocked Long Beach one year ago.

The charred skeletons of buildings were quickly demolished, broken glass was replaced and the streets were swept clean of reminders.

But talk to the pawnshop owner who now barters with customers through a heavy wrought-iron gate, the homeless couple wheeling a grocery cart laden with bottles and cans, or the North Long Beach residents who keep a watchful eye out their windows. It becomes clear that nothing has changed for some, and for others, nothing will ever be the same.

One year later, Long Beach is still recovering from the 1992 riots.

For some, it has been a slow process that has drained their savings accounts and left them apprehensive about the future. For others, it has provided an opportunity to bring ethnic groups together to improve the city.

"I think the city has only partially recovered," said Councilwoman Doris Topsy-Elvord, who represents the city's central area that was heavily damaged during the unrest. "You don't see the rubble anymore, but a lot of businesses were unable to rebuild for the simple reason that they didn't have the money to rebuild. And (psychologically,) I think it is going to take more than a year to recover."

Karen J. Adelseck, president of the Houghton Park Neighborhood Assn. in North Long Beach, told herself for months that the riots had not affected her. But now, she said, she and her neighbors are more wary.

"When there are loud noises, when there are groups of people congregating in the park, when there is a rush of cars going by quickly, neighbors are going to their doors and windows and checking it out," said Adelseck, 51, a cafeteria supervisor at Hamilton Middle School. "It's left us more apprehensive."

One year ago today, rioting broke out in neighboring Los Angeles, with only a handful of incidents in Long Beach. The following night, however, the unrest spilled into Long Beach, where more than 400 fires were set, at least 361 people were injured, one was killed and hundreds of businesses were damaged. Authorities ar rested more than 1,200 people, mostly for looting.

Since then, the district attorney's office has prosecuted about 225 felony cases, primarily for burglary, and the city prosecutor has settled hundreds of misdemeanor looting charges with plea bargains.

The damage from the looting and arson was estimated at $32 million to $40 million, and the hardest hit were the nearly 400 business owners forced to replace broken windows, and in some cases, rebuild structures.

Of 164 buildings damaged, 26 were demolished, 12 were replaced and another 21 sought remodeling permits, said David Evans of the city's building and planning department. It's unclear how many reopened, however, because minor repairs do not need building permits.

Joe Chiu is still waiting to rebuild Hanson's Market, a fixture for 26 years on Atlantic Avenue. The store burned to the ground in a few hours.

"Now, one year later, it is still not rebuilt, and it seems like there are so many things to do, talk to the (Small Business Administration,) to the insurance company, the city," said Chiu. "If it is not one thing, it's another. Every day means lost income. You get impatient, you just give up sometimes, but the local people have been very helpful."

Carmen Duarte, on the other hand, reopened her shop two months after looters carted out $70,000 worth of stereos and other electronic equipment. But rather than reopen as a music store, Duarte transformed it into a beauty salon where customers can get a cut and a perm or buy a stuffed teddy bear, children's clothing or even a framed poster of a laughing Marilyn Monroe.

For business owner Mila Glukhovsky, the months since vandals ransacked her store have not passed easily.

On April 29, 1992, the aisles were lined with antiques and collectibles from her native Russia. Gold and silver jewelry filled a safe in the back, next to a rack of mink and other fur coats. On April 30, one day after the not guilty verdicts against four officers in the beating of motorist Rodney G. King, the streets erupted in rage, and most of her stock was gone.

It took Glukhovsky four months to reopen her little shop on Pacific Avenue, and it is a different place now. The hand-painted music boxes and fine china have been replaced by cheap stereo headphones, playing cards, ashtrays, painted plastic boxes. And in the past year, which Glukhovsky calls the "worst nightmare of my life," she has become frustrated, scared and tired. Like the homeless couple that regularly stop by her shop to sell her treasures from the street, Glukhovsky said she feels abandoned.

"In the beginning, everybody wanted to help out," Glukhovsky recalls, her voice raised in a half-shout. "After maybe 90 days, everyone forgets about you."

Glukhovsky received aid from the government and the city, but it was gone like that, she said, snapping her fingers.

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