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California

Patrons Making a Stand

Real estate: Kosher Burrito fans want the new Caltrans building to make room for their beloved lunch spot.

November 15, 2001|JESUS SANCHEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The new Caltrans office building in downtown Los Angeles will feature more than 700,000 square feet of environmentally sensitive space and a cutting-edge design. But will it include a home for the Kosher Burrito?

That's what fans of the humble food stand on First Street are asking as government officials pursue plans to build the complex on the site of the fast-food joint and surrounding buildings.

The nearly 50-year-old Kosher Burrito--owned by Korean Americans, staffed by Latinos and patronized by a wide variety of classes and ethnic groups--has served as a symbol of the city's polyglot of cultures and cuisines.

"They need to relocate or put them in the new building," said Everette Dunn, a Caltrans employee, who has patronized the orange-and-white stand for about 20 years. "We love the Kosher Burrito," said co-worker Lola Johnson.

But image-conscious state and local officials love the idea of a $171-million regional headquarters building that will keep Caltrans' 1,800 employees in the Civic Center and serve as a new architectural landmark. The state recently selected Thom Mayne, a Santa Monica-based architect known for cutting-edge designs, to create the structure, which will occupy the entire city block bound by First, Second, Main and Los Angeles streets.

The project is scheduled to break ground early next year.

Much of the block currently is a Caltrans-owned parking lot. The remainder comprises a row of buildings primarily along First Street that includes the Kosher Burrito, several restaurants and the Latino Museum of History, Art and Culture.

Under a deal worked out between government agencies, the city will buy the buildings--including property on an adjacent block--to help complete the new Caltrans complex. In return, the state will give the city the existing Caltrans building and property one block to the north. State officials say the buildings need to be replaced because they are too small and need substantial improvements.

Some First Street property owners are upset by the terms of the city's buyout and have hired lawyers.

"They recognize that it's an important project for Los Angeles and would like to reach an agreement with the city," said attorney Jack H. Rubens, whose clients own property the city wants to purchase. "But right now, the parties are about $4 million apart."

Ken Han, owner of the Kosher Burrito for about 20 years, said he is waiting for a city appraisal of his property, but he is already unhappy about a proposed $20,000 relocation allowance.

"That's ridiculous," said Han, 55, who spends most of his time managing another restaurant in Huntington Park. "We really don't want to go far from City Hall ... but can't find a good place."

The developer selected to build the new Caltrans building, Dan Rosenfeld of Los Angeles-based Urban Partners, said he would like to see the Kosher Burrito included in the new project. "It's a wonderful place," he said.

Han said he would be interested but has not been contacted.

Longtime Kosher Burrito employees and customers are counting on the lunch counter to remain open. Business has declined in recent weeks because new security barricades have made it harder for workers at City Hall and other nearby buildings to stop by. Yet, on a typical day, the stand sells about 100 namesake Kosher burritos--which include pastrami, chili sauce, dill-pickle chips and chopped onion wrapped in a flour tortilla--in addition to burgers, fries and fried chicken.

"It's a rite of passage. I always bring my new employees to have lunch at the Kosher Burrito," said David Adkins, who works in the Los Angeles Police Department photo lab. "It looks like a place you wouldn't want to eat; but once you had one, you can't stay away."

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