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Tight Squeeze Puts Movers Out on Limb : Disputes: W.C. Fields' old home was too big to pass beneath much-loved trees. So workers just chopped away--at 2 a.m.

July 22, 1993|AARON CURTISS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the whole, the guys trucking W.C. Fields' former home through the streets of Toluca Lake early Wednesday probably wished they were in Philadelphia.

So did the residents along Clybourn Avenue, many of whom were rousted out of bed at unholy hours by the growl of chain saws denuding the magnolia trees that line their cozy neighborhood.

It seems the chopped-up sections of Fields' 3,700-square-foot house were too bulky to navigate the dense canopy of branches along Clybourn south of Riverside Drive. So, beginning about 2 a.m., workers began hacking a path through the trees by sawing off limbs and snapping off branches.

Residents fiercely proud of their trees flooded onto the street in their pajamas to protest. The police were called. But once the two sections of the house were halfway down the block, there was no way to go except forward--so the hacking, chopping and sawing continued until the end of the street, leaving a quarter-mile stretch of Clybourn looking as if a hurricane had hit.

By dawn, the two segments of the home sat parked near Riverside Drive across from an outdoor coffee shop, waiting for the rest of their journey to Sylmar.

Residents like to tell the story of how an inebriated Fields would occasionally take a tree or two out as he drove home from a night on the town. They were less enthusiastic about his house doing the same.

"They just thought they could slash their way down the goddamned street," said actor Denver Pyle, who helped plant many of the trees in the early 1960s.

The men moving the house said they were trying to be careful. Earlier this month, in fact, they had moved two other sections of the house down the same street without a hitch.

"We tried to miss the branches the best we could," said Colin Brewsher, a laborer for Bell House Movers in Gardena. "But the house was just too big. There was nothing we could do."

So they asked the tree trimmer who was with them to help out.

And the trouble began.

One resident, Brewsher said, was livid: "He was having a fit, screaming and cussing. He looked like he was going to thump somebody."

In the end, no one got thumped, but the moving company got dinged by officials from Los Angeles and Burbank. Clybourn forms the boundary between the two cities, so the east side is Burbank and the west side is Los Angeles.

Crews from both cities spent the better part of Wednesday picking up the mess.

Burbank City Councilman Bill Wiggins said the company was not authorized to cut the trees, which are city property maintained by city crews. The company did have a permit to transport the house on Burbank streets but did not have permission to touch the trees.

"I have a lot of very, very upset neighbors," Wiggins said.

Los Angeles City Councilman John Ferraro asked the director of the city's street maintenance bureau to find out why the move went haywire. "It's hard to say if there is anybody to blame," Ferraro spokeswoman Erin Rodewald said.

And the house?

It is on its way to Sylmar, where it will be used as a child-care center called "My Little Chickadee" at the Metrolink stop there. It is an ironic twist, considering that the bulbous-nosed Fields was a notorious child-hater.

"It's kind of weird, this house coming from him," Brewsher said. "I guess he didn't like kids much, but that's before my time."

Ahh, yess.

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