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Al Martinez

Trouble in the Neighborhood

October 22, 2000|Al Martinez

To all outward appearances, Parnell Avenue is one of the better neighborhoods in L.A.'s Westside.

Coming off the calamity of Santa Monica Boulevard, one is struck first by the serenity of the street and then by its beauty.

Trees line the thoroughfare, flowers brighten well-tended gardens and lawns gleam like blankets of emeralds in the clean autumn sunlight.

But, as in any neighborhood, appearances often mask inner tensions. Driving south three blocks, one suddenly comes upon a house in need of paint with a dying lawn. Two doors away is an immaculately kept house with a security gate at its doorway and a for-sale sign in its front yard.

These are subtle indications that all is not well on Parnell Avenue. Not that gangs patrol the streets. Not that gunfire or sirens pierce the nights. But what we do have on this picturesque block is a neighborhood clash of deep and bitter proportions.

It's been going on for almost 20 years, and three weeks ago it escalated into a brick through a window and a threat: "Next time I will do worse to you. . . "

This is a portrait of a block in turmoil.

The story was first presented to me as a possible case of anti-Semitism toward a Jewish couple who had survived Nazi death camps during the Second World War. Their names are Gerhard and Ursula Maschkowski. They occupy the immaculately kept house.

As I looked into it, the situation became more complicated. It also involves a Hungarian immigrant family two doors away, Leslie, Georgette and Diane Earle. They've been warned, arrested and fined for collecting trash and piling it up in their frontyard, their backyard and their garage. Four years ago, the city hauled several tons of bottles, cans, newspapers and other material from their home.

Georgette says that the material was gathered by her husband, Leslie, to earn money through recycling, but he became critically ill and could no longer do it.

According to Maschkowski, the clash began when he was attacked by the Earles after he complained about grocery carts blocking the sidewalk. The carts were apparently used to bring home recycling material. Georgette denies it and says she was attacked by Frank Maschkowski, the 48-year-old who had moved into his parents' home to help them in the burgeoning neighborhood firestorm.

Armed with a video camera, Frank began recording the confrontations. In one, vulgar shouts are heard, but who is shouting is unclear. Water is dumped on Ursula. Pushing and shoving follow. The street is filled with screams and accusations. The clashes are repeated again and again.

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The dispute has gone far beyond any objection to trash piled up in and around the Earle home. Gerhard Maschkowski, whose left wrist still bears a fading death camp tattoo, is certain beyond any doubt that the situation involves anti-Semitism.

Georgette is equally firm in her response that it doesn't. "I have no hatred toward anyone," she says, adding that there are Jews in their family and that, during the war, her father and mother helped Jews escape the Nazis.

A supervising detective from the LAPD's Pacific Division says it's one of the worst neighborhood disputes he's ever seen, "and it won't end until one of them moves." Gerhard hasn't decided whether to move, despite the for-sale sign in his yard. Georgette says they have lived there for 39 years and it would be painful to leave. "I am the victim here," she declares. Both families are afraid of each other.

Supervising Detective Paul Bishop says officers have been called in on the dispute more times than anyone can remember. He, as well as several neighbors, place at least some of the responsibility for the situation on Frank who "goes out there with the video and baits the Earles."

A tense and determined man, Frank insists it's his right to protect his parents from hatred and violence. Gerhard admits that his son reflects a "second generation intensity" often seen in the children of Holocaust survivors.

A brick through the Maschkowski window in the middle of the night has taken the fight to a new stage. Once more, police have been called to Parnell Avenue. Once more, police are investigating.

"This isn't a hate crime," Bishop says wearily. "It's a neighborhood dispute, and the neighbors are tired of both of them."

But hatred comes in many shapes, fueled by emotional aberrations that can rise abruptly to dangerous new heights. What's happening on Parnell Avenue is a lesson for everyone. There is no logic to it, only deep animosity. One can only ponder the motives involved and wonder how it will end.

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Al Martinez's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached online at al.martinez@latimes.com.

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