Burger Hangout Has Neighbors Steamed

Times Staff Writer

As 19-year-old Peter Wilson put it, Tommy's Original World Famous Hamburgers in Eagle Rock is "a total hangout place."

That is especially true on weekend nights, when 300 to 500 teen-agers and young adults congregate around the hamburger stand on Colorado Boulevard, throng nearby parking lots and, with car stereos blaring, park bumper to bumper along residential streets, according to the police and Tommy's management.

"It's mainly the under-21, can't-get-into-bars crowd," said Wilson, who eats at Tommy's about four times a week but said he doesn't loiter there late at night. "People throw their half-eaten burgers on people's lawns. It's disgusting."

That behavior makes a lot of homeowners awfully angry.

"People drive across my front lawn, litter . . . urinate on my property," said Philip Barbaro, who lives nearby. Tommy's, on the corner of Colorado and La Roda Avenue, is flanked on three sides by a residential neighborhood.

Curtailed Hours

For almost a year, residents tried unsuccessfully to resolve the problem of weekend crowds by meeting with Tommy's management and enlisting the help of Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alatorre and other city officials. Late last month, under pressure from the city attorney's office, Tommy's agreed to close from 1 to 4 a.m. on weekends. It formerly was open 24 hours and still is on weekdays.

Some residents and city officials say the measure may be too little too late.

"I don't feel that the hours they are closing will be sufficient to solve the problem and may in fact be causing other problems," said Deputy City Atty. Pamela A. Albers, who is investigating the case.

Albers said that, with Tommy's closed, some of the teen-agers simply move up the street to another late-night hamburger stand called Pete's Blue Chip. But others continue to loiter near Tommy's, even after it is closed.

She said she plans to monitor residents' complaints and will file a nuisance suit against Tommy's unless the crowds abate. The suit would ask that Tommy's close for a longer period, perhaps from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m., Albers said.

The city attorney's office has no plans to go after Pete's, Albers said, because there is not a problem there.

All parties involved said that Tommy's has been cooperative in trying to disperse the crowds.

Employees Pick Up Trash

On weekend nights, two armed security guards patrol the Tommy's lot. Three times a day, Tommy's employees walk through the neighborhood and pick up trash. Prominently posted signs ask patrons to not loiter, litter or play car stereos loudly, especially late at night.

"Everything they've asked us to do short of closing, we've jumped up and done immediately," said Mike Rhodes, general manager for the chain that operates Tommy's. "Unfortunately, we have no control over what goes on in the neighborhood."

Rhodes said it is unfair for the city to force Tommy's to close when its competitor is allowed to remain open.

"We're losing between 300 and 500 customers a night," said Rhodes, who added that the average Tommy's customer spends $3.

Nick Filippis, owner of Pete's, said he doesn't need or want Tommy's business.

"We're a neighborhood business and have our own customers. They are polite. The problem is that the customers from down there come up here and try to raise hell," Filippis said.

Rhodes blamed the unruly crowds on insufficient police patrols. Although police concede that the crowds are "an ongoing nuisance," Los Angeles Police Capt. Myron Wasson said police lack the manpower to patrol the burger stand regularly on weekend nights.

Wasson said few who congregate around Tommy's in Eagle Rock are criminals or gang members.

"We're not talking about people who do drugs, rape, ravish and pillage in the community," Wasson said. "We're talking about people out for a good time."

But residents say they are fed up with calling the police each weekend night and sweeping up broken beer bottles from their driveways each weekend morning.

"The type of clientele who hang out at those hours are not a very good clientele," Barbaro said.

Wasson said two people were killed last year in late-night car crashes near the restaurant. He blamed the deaths on hot rodders speeding through the residential streets and said police make occasional arrests in the area for speeding, drunk driving and assaults.

Tommy's, a hamburger chain with 16 outlets in Los Angeles and Orange counties, has previously had problems with weekend crowds of young, boisterous adults at other locations. The original stand, founded in 1946 at Beverly and Rampart boulevards, was forced to curtail its hours for a month in 1985 because of pressure from residents and police. Today the stand is open 24 hours.

And, last year, the Pico Rivera City Council adopted an anti-cruising ordinance to discourage youths from congregating at a Tommy's on Whittier Boulevard.

As for Eagle Rock, "I just want the problem to go away," Barbaro said.

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