SACRAMENTO — A Superior Court judge refused Tuesday to order resumption of demolition of the historic Ahmanson Building at the Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles, but set a hearing Feb. 7 for further arguments.
The ruling by Judge Roger K. Warren represented a win for preservationists and a setback for museum officials and others who want the demolition and expansion project to proceed without delay.
Last week, Warren issued a temporary order sought by preservationists forbidding further destruction of the Ahmanson exhibit hall, a roofless, gutted three-wall shell whose elimination began in November.
On Tuesday the museum, represented by Deputy Atty. Gen. Ramon K. de la Guardia, asked Warren to lift the order and allow the demolition to continue. De la Guardia said that the "site is in ruins" and claimed that the preservationists "waited too long" to sue to stop the razing.
But Warren, hearing the Los Angeles case in the capital for the convenience of litigants, refused to do so. He scheduled the Feb. 7 hearing to consider whether he should issue a preliminary injunction that would prohibit demolition until the issue is resolved, possibly at trial.
He said a resumption of demolition before the hearing might result in "irreparable" damage to the building. He also rejected De la Guardia's argument that failure to resume tearing the structure down could jeopardize financing of the project.
The judge did allow some work at the Ahmanson Building site to proceed, including relocating utilities, cleaning heaps of debris and strengthening the remaining three walls, if necessary.
The lawsuit represents the latest chapter in a long-running controversy over rehabilitating the state's oldest museum of its kind. The case was brought by the Southern California chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians, other preservation organizations and two Northern California state senators, Democrats Nicholas Petris of Oakland and Milton Marks of San Francisco.
On the other side are two Los Angeles legislators whose districts include the museum site, Assemblywoman Marguerite Archie-Hudson and state Sen. Diane Watson, who also are Democrats.
The controversy has developed into a south versus north political fight over money. Among other things, the preservationists claim that the Ahmanson project is improperly consuming funds that were approved for repair of buildings damaged in 1989 by the Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California.