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Home Builder May End Faire’s Stay in Agoura

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Times Staff Writer

For a quarter of a century the annual Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Agoura attracted thousands of Southern Californians to its Elizabethan-style grog houses and craft shows, its bawdy pageants and Shakespeare plays.

Located in a tree-shaded glade near West San Fernando Valley hills where bandit Joaquin Murrieta died and actor Gary Cooper performed his “High Noon” gun battles, the faire told Olde English themes in the free-wheeling style of the 1960s. This was where you went to have your fortune told and listen to Celtic bagpipes, to dine on cockles and mussels and watch Tybalt and Mercutio duel it out one more time.

There was increased pressure to develop the area in the 1970s and ‘80s as housing tracts spread throughout the region and land values soared. But property owner Art Whizin’s building plans were repeatedly stalled, and the faire went on, for six consecutive weekends each spring.

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But now it appears that the faire, which has drawn an average of 200,000 people in recent years, may have struck its tents for the last time. Whizin and business partner Brian Heller have obtained tentative county approval to build 160 single-family homes on their 320 acres. They await a final approval from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

In response, employees of the faire and enthusiasts have joined forces with conservation groups and two government agencies. They are lobbying the supervisors not to grant a zoning change needed for the homes. On Thursday, members of the Living History Centre, which sponsors the faire, and other organizations delivered 14,000 handwritten letters to the board.

The groups are also asking government agencies to spend millions of dollars to buy the land. And, cheered by a recent congressional action to appropriate $11 million for the purchase of open space abutting the Santa Monica National Recreation Area, they said they may be within reach of that goal.

“We have a good shot at making a decent offer on the land,” said Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state agency established to acquire land for park and recreation use in the area.

But recent actions by Whizin and Heller indicate they may not be eager to sell. Two weeks ago bulldozers hired by the developers demolished about 50 permanent faire structures. The action prompted protests by faire supporters, who called it vindictive and premature, because development permits have not been issued.

James M. Phillippi, attorney for the Living History Centre, said the group plans to sue the developers for their losses which he estimated to be “a couple of hundred thousand dollars.”

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According to conservation groups and faire officials, Whizin and Heller in the past said they would sell the land, given the right price. Project lawyer Stanley R. Romain is noncommittal, however.

“At this point, we are not willing to discuss whether we will (sell),” Romain said. “We have spent a lot of money and an incredible amount of effort on this development.”

The Conservancy is the beneficiary of $30 million in state money authorized by Proposition 70, a $776-million parklands allocation voters approved in June. Edmiston said his agency has not decided how much would be set aside to buy the Whizin land.

Established Last Year

“All we want to do is save the land,” said Billy Scudder, president of the Historic Oaks Foundation, established in 1987 to raise money for the purchase. Scudder, who has performed at the faire as the Green Man, a druidic symbol of spring rites, called the land “sacred . . . I believe it to be a very important part of the historical background of Southern California.”

The foundation has raised $45,000, far short of its goal to raise a third of the estimated $14-million purchase price, Scudder said.

Daniel R. Kuehn, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said acquiring the Whizin property is “a very high priority” for his agency, which bought the adjacent Paramount Ranch in 1981.

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Kuehn, who administers the recreation area for the National Parks Service, said up to about $8 million of the $11 million approved by a House-Senate conference committee, and now pending approval by both houses of Congress, could be used toward the purchase. The appropriation would require President Reagan’s signature.

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