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The End of the Trails

July 11, 2002|ANTHONY McCARTNEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's been a year since the Trails served its last rib-eye steak, but some people still can't let it go. Others can't wait until the bulldozers arrive and the new neighbors move in.

The popular restaurant, once a stop for Route 66 travelers that became a local watering hole, sits on 2 1/2 acres that is caught between parallel drives by conservationists and developers.

A public forum Tuesday night shifted among the interests of the project's Monrovia developer, a Los Angeles conservancy group and dozens of local residents who have backyard views of the Trails' empty parking lot.

Afterward, the Duarte City Council voted unanimously to rezone the property from commercial to residential, allowing Bowden Development Inc. to replace the eatery with a 29-home subdivision.

Residents living in the vicinity attended the meeting en masse to tell the council they wanted the Trails--frequently described by them as an "eyesore"--demolished and new homes built in its place.

Conservationists and a handful of Duarte residents contended that the site is the last remnant of Route 66 culture left in Duarte, which hosts an annual Route 66 parade.

Those advocates wanted the council to vote for an environmental impact review of the property where the 55-year-old building stands.

Alan Leib, chairman of the Los Angeles Conservancy's Modern Committee, said after the meeting that preservationists are prepared to sue Duarte to make sure the study is done.

Leib and others said the city's staff reports misrepresented the site, classifying it as a roadside diner instead of as an example of a "ranch house" restaurant. Leib said the Trails is one of the last buildings to exhibit that style, and one of the last true remnants of Route 66 culture in Duarte.

The subdivision's architect, Stefanos Polyzoides, viewed it differently: "It's a building that has no style, no author, no [hint] of quality."

Duarte resident Bob Vander Valk agreed. "The Trails restaurant was the queen of Huntington Drive restaurants," he said. "But now it's an eyesore. Now it's a dump."

No one argued the aesthetic beauty of the Trails, which opened in 1953 on the site of an old roadside hamburger joint. Instead, they argued that the Trails deserved to be saved because of its connection to Route 66, the famous roadway known for linking Los Angeles and Chicago.

"There aren't many buildings left that [connote] Route 66 and Duarte," said resident Pat Wood.

Duarte Mayor Phillip Reyes said Tuesday's decision to redevelop the Trails' site was made because no one stepped forward with any alternatives other than to delay the vote and order a study. He said he was listening for other options but didn't hear any during the public forum.

Reyes said the council acted on legal advice that an environmental impact review wasn't needed. He said such a study, which could cost from $10,000 to $25,000, would take more than six months to complete.

Leib pointed to a letter prepared by the conservancy's lawyer that said a "fair argument in the record supporting the view that the site is historic" was all that is necessary to commission the review.

Reyes said demolishing the Trails would not mean the end of Duarte's ties to Route 66. "We've got Route 66 running right through" town, he said.

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