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Cover Story : Property Owners Try to Put Finances on Firm Ground

March 17, 1994|NANCY HILL-HOLTZMAN

Uncertainty abounds in Santa Monica as property owners struggle to rebuild, prompting a range of emotions from hope to despair.

Santa Monica property manager Carl Lambert met his bank's engineer the other day at a yellow-tagged apartment building on Euclid Street.

As he expected, the news was not good: It would cost as much to repair the building as to build it anew, the engineer said.

"The bank's going to get this one back," Lambert said glumly. "A building is going to fall into the vortex. It's never going to be rebuilt or repaired."

The picture looks brighter for Mitzi Maltz and her husband, Perry, who already have a $1-million loan to fix El Cortez, their circa 1926 building on 4th Street.

The Maltzes went to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster assistance center in Malibu the day of the quake. Federal workers crossed "L.A. fires" off the application for federal aid and wrote in "L.A. earthquake," Mitzi Maltz said.

Because the couple have financial assets and a historically significant building, they got a loan within weeks.

"We're very, very committed to restoring it to its old glory days," she said. "Once we fix the facade, she'll look like a beautiful grande dame again."

Somewhere in the middle is the owner of the Charmont down the street. Susan Connolly, daughter of the late Texas Gov. John J. Connolly, has been offered a $1.5-million loan from the government and is scouting around for about $500,000 more to repair her building.

With a $400,000 mortgage and $500,000 in damage, Mary Tabatabai is desperately seeking financing for her building, which used to be worth $1.2 million. Even if she gets the money, should she repair or rebuild--or will either make sense financially?

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The owner of the Sea Castle apartments, Robert Braun, is still fighting with the city over shoring up his building so tenants can remove their valuables. No decisions have been made about the building's future, said Braun's attorney, Sherman Stacey.

The future of one of the more dramatically damaged apartment houses was decided the moment of the earthquake. The San Vicente Boulevard building has already been demolished because it could have collapsed at any time. Blocks away, a tiny brick apartment on Montana Avenue looks abandoned, with the same pile of bricks in the front yard that fell during the quake.

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