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Archdiocese Buys a Hole in the Ground

Los Angeles

Property: Church officials don't yet have a plan for the 192-acre Irwindale pit, formerly a quarry.

January 16, 2002|CARA MIA DiMASSA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's a pit, really, a vacuous space nearly a mile across and almost 200 feet deep, 192 acres of almost sheer nothing.

Once a mining quarry, from which tons of rock and gravel were dug out and hauled away, it has sat inactive for more than 20 years, a hole in the ground.

The people of Irwindale nicknamed it the Olive Pit--for Olive Street, which forms its northern border--and, alternately, the Baldwin Park Pit, after the city that borders it on three sides.

Consolidated Rock Products stopped mining there in the mid-1970s and has spent the last five years trying to sell the property. Late last year, Vulcan Materials Co., which now owns Consolidated Rock, found a most unlikely buyer: the Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese.

Although neither Vulcan nor the archdiocese would disclose the purchase price for the lot, property records indicate that it was assessed last year for $1.7 million. The site was listed in September 2000 for $4.5 million.

"The company is in a program to dispose of properties that are no longer used for mining," said Brian Ferris, Vulcan's lawyer. The archdiocese, he said, paid cash.

Irwindale, population 1,446, is so pock-marked with craters that any land not occupied by houses, businesses and the Santa Fe Dam resembles the surface of the moon. Fifty percent of the city is occupied by quarry land, and 17 large rock-and-gravel craters, such as the Olive Pit, inhabit two of the city's 9 square miles.

But in the last two decades, most of that land has become inactive; only five gravel quarries are still operating, said City Manager Steve Blancarte, and officials in the city 18 miles east of downtown Los Angeles have been pushing for the reclamation of the other pits.

One quarry was recently filled in to create a 107-acre business and industrial park; another became the Irwindale Speedway, which opened in early 1999. The city famously spent $20 million in 1987 in a failed attempt to persuade Al Davis to bring his Raiders to the city to play in a converted pit they had nicknamed "Raider Crater."

Whether the Catholic Church will now participate in the renovation of Irwindale with its Olive Pit property is a point of speculation. Blancarte said city officials had spoken with the archdiocese about using the property for a cemetery or a golf course. Or both.

"They've talked about a combination of the two," Blancarte said.

But Tod M. Tamberg, spokesman for the archdiocese, said no specific plans for the property were in the works. Any conversations held with Irwindale city officials, he said, were simply exploratory. "You want to see what they think of the property," he said.

"It's very common for the archdiocese to buy property without a short-term or long-term purpose in mind," Tamberg said. "The real estate department thought it was something we should do, and we did it."

So for now, he said, the site will just sit, as it has for decades. "We may never use the land," Tamberg said. "It may look strange to you, but that's the way the archdiocese works."

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