Apartment Building's Residents Blessed With Ideal Motorcade Seats

Times Staff Writer

Francisco Nino Macias' trip from Quatzing, Mexico, for his nephew's wedding here could not have been more opportunely timed.

Not only did he get to see the Pope he worships, but without making any effort, he landed one of the best seats in town.

"It was special," he said, looking pleased as he carried his folding beach chair in one arm and his 1-year-old grandson in the other after Pope John Paul II passed by.

It was more than special for more than 500 people living in the one downtown apartment building along the papal motorcade route. It was easy.

Hours after crowds had begun their vigil, awaiting on city sidewalks for the Pope, residents of the Belmont building at the corner of Olympic Boulevard and Figueroa Street had only to open their windows or step onto the fire escape.

Macias, 52, began the day in his son-in-law's apartment. Holding his chair and his grandson, he walked leisurely toward the fire escape, his improvised balcony on the second floor, only a few yards above where the Popemobile would pass.

Preparations began early, in spite of the tenants' vantage point. The Hernandez family was up by 7 a.m., and while Elena, 25, worked on a red, white and green Mexican crepe paper flag with the word bienvenido (welcome) inscribed in the white band, her sister, Leobarda, 37, readied the confetti, the trailing serpentines of papal yellow and the red and white carnations that they had bought to throw at the Pope.

By 6 a.m., Olivia Taitt, 41, from Apartment 510 had her folding chair on the sidewalk in front of the building. She carried an automatic camera, a covered cooking pot full of coffee and containers with sugar and cream. A barrel set up by police to cordon off spectators served as her coffee table.

"I came down to take pictures. I'm hoping I can touch him really, but I know it's impossible," she said with a smile, while looking down, almost ashamed of her fantasy.

Ninety-nine-year-old Lucille Stran was awakened in Apartment 212 at 9:30 by her nurse, Dolores Antalon. Despite crippling arthritis that keeps her in bed most days, on Tuesday Stran moved to a chair, which was waiting next to the window in the building where she has lived for half a century.

"I think the Pope is wonderful person, he must be . . . of course I haven't met him personally," she said and then laughed.

By 10 a.m. Leobarda Hernandez's three children, Elena Hernandez's two daughters, five cousins and four guests--all under 13--were jockeying for position in the apartment's three windows.

The first motorcycles preceding the Popemobile caused the expected explosion. Balloons were released, flowers were tossed, the children screamed, "I see the Pope" and everyone cheered and applauded.

Stran smiled as she looked out from her window. Taitt set loose half a dozen yellow and white helium balloons by burning the string with the end of her cigarette. Paola Tenorio called Mexico City from Apartment 312 and told her relatives to look for her on TV.

As the motorcade went by, John Paul tilted his head upward toward the building, smiled and gently waved the Belmont goodby.

"It was only a second," said Leticia Garza, "but it was worth a lifetime."

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