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SANTA MONICA : Quake Damage Dooms Building Despite Landmark Designation

August 18, 1994|SUSAN STEINBERG

Demolition has begun on the earthquake-damaged Henshey's department store, ending the hopes of historical preservationists who had sought to save the landmark building, parts of which date to 1924.

City officials last week had ordered the building to be torn down because the un-reinforced masonry was a threat to public safety. Preservationists were disappointed at the outcome, but did not strenuously object.

"I'm saddened the building is going down. But I also know that it has been thoroughly evaluated in the proper process," said Pam O'Connor, who heads a coalition created to save quake-damaged historic buildings.

"The outcome was not what we had hoped for, but we're confident that (demolition) was not a casual decision," said O'Connor, also a Santa Monica planning commissioner.

Preservationists had hoped the building, designated as a landmark on June 20, could be repaired and remodeled as an example of early 20th-Century architecture.

But the Jan. 17 earthquake and aftershocks have severely damaged the Henshey, which has stood empty since the store closed in July, 1992, after 67 years, because of economic pressure.

Crews began to remove asbestos and bricks at three corners of the building this week in the first phase of the demolition work. The corners are nearing collapse and have continued to weaken from the vibrations caused by the steady stream of buses and cars roaring by on Santa Monica Boulevard and 4th Street, city officials said.

The demolition is expected to take several weeks, said city planning director Suzanne Frick. What will become of the 2.2-acre site remains unclear.

Five days before the earthquake, representatives of the Toys R Us chain signed an agreement to buy 30,000 square feet of the site fronting 4th Street from the H. C. Henshey Co., according to Henshey Co. consultant William A. Spurgin.

But after the quake, toy store representatives decided they would need to have a new store built, and the negotiations required Henshey Co. to have the old building demolished.

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