It Was a Black Night at the Green Hotel, but the Red Cross and Some Friends Brighten the Future

It had all the makings of a first-class tear-jerker: 150 elderly tenants abruptly displaced last week by a fire in Pasadena's historic Green Hotel.

But things went far too smoothly to elicit many tears. The fire, blamed on a candle inadvertently left burning under a chair, was confined to only one apartment and was put out quickly; within a few hours, tenants not already taken by friends or relatives were provided lodging at the nearby Pasadena Senior Center. And by Monday, most of them had been returned safely to their apartments. Those who had not--17 sixth-floor tenants--had been settled in comfortable accommodations nearby.

All in all, the hotel residents said the experience was not the trauma it might have been, and praised the Red Cross and Pasadena Senior Center workers who put them up, fed them and made sure each one had somewhere to go.

"I hope everybody in their lifetime gets a chance to come into contact with the Red Cross," said John Motar, 69, who has lived in the Green Hotel about five years.

No one was injured in the March 11 fire in a sixth-floor apartment of the 96-year-old hotel, a Pasadena landmark that provides federally subsidized housing for senior citizens. But possible damage to part of an attic made it necessary to evacuate the hotel's entire population of elderly and handicapped people until fire investigators had analyzed the building for hidden damage to wiring and structure.

The displaced seniors stayed with family or friends or at the Senior Center until the inspection was completed.

The two days spent waiting for the results of the inspection were perhaps the most stressful for the seniors. Prescription drugs left in hotel rooms had to be rounded up by Red Cross workers, and there was much grumbling and uneasiness among the tenants.

But only one tenant, 74-year-old Jeffney Weisen, became seriously ill. Red Cross workers said he insisted on staying up all night at the senior center because the cots provided made him uncomfortable. He fell asleep in a chair, and in the morning he suffered a seizure. Weisen was hospitalized and treated, and has since been released.

After two nights of pacing, card games until dawn and refusals to go to bed, tenants who lived on the hotel's first five floors were allowed to go back to their apartments. Top-floor residents, however, were told that the hotel's roof would have to be replaced, a job that could take several months. They were given the choice of being permanently or temporarily relocated.

Most, like 66-year-old Wolodymyr J. Kowal, are attached to their Green Hotel apartments, and say they will wait patiently to return to them. Kowal has taken a room at the Pasadena Manor on East Colorado Boulevard, arranged by the Green Hotel management, until his Green Hotel apartment is repaired.

"They are very nice here," Kowal said. "But I got used to the Green Hotel. Most of my friends live in the area."

Kowal, a native of the Ukraine who has lived in the United States for 45 years and spent the last six in the Green Hotel, said the speed with which the suddenly homeless seniors were provided food and shelter is unique to this country.

"Under no circumstances would you get such service in other countries, including my country," Kowal said.

Of the 17 who lived on the sixth floor, 12 have taken rooms at the Pasadena Manor, and the rest are staying with family and friends, said Green Hotel Manager Isaac Oziel.

Betty Smith, 80, chose to stay at the Pasadena Manor because "I'm the kind of person who doesn't like to intrude on the family if I can help it." She said that although it may take three to six months to repair her apartment, she will wait as long as necessary.

"I had a beautiful single room overlooking Raymond and Green Street," Smith said. "I was very happy, and I want to go back."

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