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Community News: Mid-City

WESTLAKE : Troublesome House Meets Wrecking Ball

October 30, 1994|LESLIE BERESTEIN

After two years of fires, shootings, drug activity, transient squatting, an ongoing lawsuit against the owners by the state and innumerable headaches to neighboring residents and merchants, the abandoned building once known as the "Hope House" at 843 S. Bonnie Brae Street has finally met the wrecking ball.

Demolition crews worked to tear down the three-story, 22-unit structure last week, formerly a halfway house for indigent adults. Abandoned in 1992, the building had become a haven for thugs, drug pushers, addicts and several transients who used it as shelter, despite several attempts by the city to board the place up.

Without plumbing or electricity, the building's illegal occupants used the alley behind the building and an adjacent lot as a dumping ground for trash, clothing, spent syringes and human waste.

"It was horrible," said Bertha Wooldridge, whose family has owned a hardware store near the building for 15 years. "They would just throw everything in back."

Police reports indicate that in the three months between March and August of this year, three dead bodies were found in the building. There was also one criminal homicide, one assault with a deadly weapon, one robbery, one attempted robbery and a recovered stolen vehicle, all on the same property.

"That was one of the worst nuisance locations I have ever seen," said Mary Clare Molidor, a lawyer with the city attorney's office assigned to the city's FALCON narcotics abatement unit. "You could literally smell the property half a block away."

Fires were also a problem, said David Marquez, a deputy for Councilman Mike Hernandez. In the time the building sat abandoned, numerous fires were reported there, he said.

The lawsuit by the state against the former owners, who lost the property in court last year, stems from an alleged misuse of several million dollars in state-approved loans. Although the lawsuit did not make an issue of the building's status as a nuisance, the state decided to tear it down after a court-appointed receiver could not cope with the problems that came with the property.

"The receiver just couldn't control it any longer," said an attorney, who would not give his name, working on the case for the San Francisco firm of England and Belote, which is representing the state. "It had no redeeming value, so we decided to do the neighborhood a favor and get rid of it."

Homeless outreach workers have frequented the property over the past two weeks, attempting to inform the many transients who made the building their home about shelters and rehabilitation programs. Their attempts have met with only small success.

"We made contact with some of them, but only three wanted services," said David Bryan, a team leader with the Los Angeles Homeless Service Authority. "The rest just scattered."

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