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An open house gets lots of drive-by traffic

September 25, 2007|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

In a city obsessed with tumbling home values and horrible traffic, maybe it's appropriate that the two collided on the Hollywood Freeway.

For 10 days now, a sagging house parked on the freeway's northbound shoulder in the Cahuenga Pass has had people gawking -- and talking.

The old advertising slogan, "If you lived here you'd be home now," has been uttered a thousand times. Radio reports have repeatedly blamed snarled commuter traffic on "that house on the freeway." Internet bloggers have joked about how the house has given new meaning to the term "easy freeway access."

Commuters have noted with disgust that taggers are scrawling fresh graffiti on the home every night.

On Monday, state highway officials gave the owner of the green stucco bungalow until midnight to pick it up and move it. If it wasn't gone by this morning, Caltrans was prepared to hire a mover and bill the job to the homeowner.

That was just the latest bad news for Patrick Richardson, who was trying to save money Sept. 15 by moving the house himself from Santa Monica to the Santa Clarita Valley.

Richardson, 45, of Castaic, obtained a permit from Caltrans to transport the oversize load on the freeway. Instead of taking the shortest route -- up the 405 Freeway and over the Sepulveda Pass -- he took a longer and more level route through downtown L.A. and north on the 101 Freeway.

By the time the 20-foot-wide structure reached the downtown area, wheels were reportedly coming loose from the trailer hauling the house. Richardson made emergency repairs and lumbered onward, only to come to a halt again in Hollywood.

That's where his house struck the 14-foot-10-inch Western Avenue bridge. The impact sheared off the top of the structure's roof. A SigAlert was called when it took hours to free the stuck house. Richardson eventually was able to limp another 3 1/2 miles to Barham Boulevard, where the shoulder beneath the overpass was wide enough for the house to be parked out of traffic lanes.

There the structure has sat, day after day, rush hour after rush hour.

Firefighters at Cahuenga Pass' Fire Station 76 first encountered the house down at Western Avenue. They were astounded when it suddenly came to rest directly in front of their firehouse.

"Every morning it has a new set of writing on it," said Engineer Fred Martinez, referring to taggers' vandalism. "We hear brakes locking up as people slow down to take pictures of it."

One of the shutterbugs has been Josh Williams, co-editor of a local blog, la.curbed.com. He has photographed the house on his way from Hollywood to Woodland Hills, where he works.

"By Tuesday, people started tagging it up and there was graffiti all over it," Williams said. "Then probably by Thursday or Friday, somebody put a 'For Rent' sign on it, and now they have Caltrans trucks out there and more cones. It's just taking on a life of its own."

Maybe the house should be turned into some sort of L.A. monument, Williams joked.

Joe Smith, a clerk at a Cahuenga Boulevard mini-mart, said he has seen unusual scenes on the Hollywood Freeway but nothing like the house.

"Every day I'm surprised to see it still there. It's dangerous," he said.

Tony Keymetlian joked that the new digs were tantalizingly close to his work at a boulevard pizzeria. "I want to move in there," he cracked. "It's a very weird scene out there."

The house has already generated urban myths. Keymetlian's co-worker, Apo Kimetlian, said he'd heard that homeless people had broken in and started living there. Some of the structure's interior furnishings, including a TV, apparently were stolen, he said. (Officials could not confirm those reports.)

Meanwhile, the house continued to take a toll on commuters. Caltrans coned off the far right lane next to the structure, and as of Monday evening, traffic was backed up to downtown L.A.'s four-level interchange. The cones were later removed around 8 p.m.

As spectators watched from above the freeway and from their cars, Richardson's fiancee, Kimberly Bigman, was at the house with friends who were prepared to help the owner resume transporting the house.

Judy Gish, a Caltrans spokeswoman, said Richardson had until midnight to obtain final approval from the California Highway Patrol and continue the move.

"He loses jurisdiction at midnight. It becomes abandoned property," Gish said.

If Caltrans has to hire a professional mover to complete the job, it will, she said. And the bill will be sent to Richardson.

"By hook or crook, it's going to be moved," she said.

--

bob.pool@latimes.com

Times staff writer Tami Abdollah contributed to this report.

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