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The Case of the Evicted Bookstore

Times Staff Writer

The scene of the crime, according to some in Sherman Oaks on Wednesday, is the Scene of the Crime.

To the dismay of residents and shoppers, the landmark bookstore that sells only mysteries is being evicted so that a block of quaint storefronts can be replaced, perhaps by another glitzy Ventura Boulevard shopping center.

The bookstore is one of 14 small shops on the south side of the boulevard between Woodman and Ventura Canyon avenues that have been ordered to close next month to make way for the new development.

World-famous for its 20,000 mystery books, its red-walled Victorian decor and an adjoining tearoom where authors lectured on spies and murderers and tea was served each afternoon, the bookstore had earned a place on the Los Angeles tourist bus circuit during its 14 years.

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But the biggest mystery inside the Scene of the Crime on Wednesday was what type of development will replace the 46-year-old row of brick-fronted shops.

“No one knows what they’re going to put here,” said Al Davis, an assistant manager of the bookstore. “People tell us they feel what is happening to this block is a crime.”

Diane Chambers, another assistant manager, said merchants “tried to warn homeowners around here a long time ago” that the block was in jeopardy.

Nearby homeowners and Los Angeles city officials say they were shocked when they learned of the pending evictions six months ago. Since then, they say they’ve been trying to find out what is in store for the block, purchased by a partnership two years ago.

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Mirrored Glass

Elsewhere along 17-mile-long Ventura Boulevard, redevelopment has often meant expanses of mirrored glass and chrome and a plethora of look-alike yogurt stores and tanning salons.

“We’re concerned they’ll build it to the max, with three-story buildings and underground parking and driveways,” said Fred Kramer, vice president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Assn. “We’ve never been able to find out. When they’re that secretive, it probably means they’re planning a project nobody will be very proud of.”

Homeowners had envisioned the block becoming a centerpiece of an emerging pedestrian-oriented shopping zone between Beverly Glen Boulevard and Fulton Avenue, Kramer said. “The neighborhood is completely devastated by the loss of these stores.”

Diana Brueggemann, an aide to City Councilman Mike Woo, who represents the area, said the block was a landmark for Sherman Oaks, with “many stores that added to the flavor of the neighborhood.”

“We’ve written a red-flag letter so we’ll be notified when there’s a permit requested to demolish the block. That’s all we can do,” Brueggemann said.

Block Owners

Officials and shopkeepers identified the owners of the block as the Ventura-Woodman Partnership. Its principals could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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A spokeswoman for a Beverly Hills firm that manages the block for the partnership was noncommittal Wednesday about the area’s future. She said plans are incomplete, although it might end up as a combination office building and shopping center.

The eviction orders have sent owners of the 14 shops scurrying for alternative locations. Several have already found new storefronts to rent in the Sherman Oaks area; others have moved from the community.

“It’s a problem finding something suitable and affordable,” said Alan Crump, co-owner with wife Joan of Crump’s, a British-themed gift shop. “It’s too bad. This was probably one of the most interesting blocks on the boulevard.”

Joan Crump said merchants at first figured that the city would not allow destruction of the row of tiny shops. “They felt nobody will let them tear down the buildings. So we carried on,” she said.

Terri Ann Greenberg, co-owner of Mary’s Lamb restaurant, will move 3 1/2 miles away to Studio City.

‘Totally Charming’

“We’re disappointed. This whole block was totally charming. It was a great block--all the merchants got along and all of the businesses seemed to complement one another.”

Ruth Windfeldt, owner of the Scene of the Crime, has rented space in the historic Wiltern Theater building at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue in Los Angeles. She said her new shop will have a Raymond Chandler-era atmosphere that will fit in with the 1930s-like Art Deco style of the restored theater, instead of its Sherlock Holmes look in Sherman Oaks.

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“I’ll miss the Valley,” Windfeldt said.

And they’ll miss her store, said San Fernando Valley mystery novel lovers who were browsing amid thrillers stacked next to a bookstore fireplace that dates to the late 1800s.

“It’s sad that we’re losing so much,” said Laurie Wicken of Granada Hills.

“It’s a shame. We’re losing all our small shops, little by little,” agreed Deanna McClay of Van Nuys.

“Everything is going to look the same. We’re going to have nothing but big high-rises from one end of Ventura Boulevard to the other.”


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