Whittier Conservancy Fights for 100-Year-Old Bricks

Times Staff Writer

Some of the bricks are chipped, many are stained with yellow-white stucco. Some are weather beaten, others are broken in half.

But many of the bricks look like they did when they were hand formed and baked in the back yard of a Whittier home a century ago. They are swirled with colors of red, orange, rust and brown, made with mud from the bed of the San Gabriel River.

For members of the Whittier Conservancy, the bricks, used to build the historic Harvey Apartments, symbolize the heritage of the city. And they believe that like all historic things in Whittier, the building and the bricks that came tumbling down during and after the Oct. 1, 1987, earthquake, are worth saving, even if it means a fight.


Conservancy Lacks Money

The conservancy wants to reuse all of the old bricks in town, but it does not have the money to cover expenses such as architects’ fees and labor. As a result, conservancy members are battling city officials over the fate of the bricks.

Preservationists are determined to include the bricks in the reconstruction of the historic apartment building on the corner of Greenleaf Avenue and Hadley Street. The conservancy spent $15,000 to prevent the bricks from being carted off after the building was demolished in February.

Now the city has given the conservancy until Tuesday to find ways to raise about $20,000, a portion of the cost of refacing the building with the bricks that have been cleaned and stored at the Whittier City Yard. The group already has obtained about $4,000 in the form of a federal earthquake recovery grant, but they say they are at a standstill.

If the conservancy can come up with the funds, the city probably will donate the rest of the money--about $30,000--to reface the building, City Manager Thomas G. Mauk said.

Mayor Victor Lopez said that after nearly two years of listening to conservancy members ask the City Council to save all the historic buildings, he wants the preservationists to “put their money where their efforts are.”

At the conservancy’s urging, the city is spending between $70,000 and $100,000 to reface the historical Lindley Building, located across the street from the Harvey Apartments, with original bricks. The Lindley Building also was destroyed in the earthquake.


“They want to save everything and yet they don’t have any means of doing it,” Lopez said. “It’s great to want to duplicate everything the way it was, but it’s getting to the point where it’s impractical. I just wish they would come up here with some solutions. When it comes to money, everyone backs off.”

In addition, Lopez said, for 77 years the old bricks on the Harvey Apartments have been covered with yellow-white stucco. No one remembers the apartment structure as a brick building, he said.

Nevertheless, Michael Sullens, president of the conservancy, said the bricks were there originally and should be again.

Sullens said the group is searching for ways to raise money.

“Things are looking really iffy right now,” Sullens said. “Sometimes it seems like it’s ready to happen if a couple of people will just come through with money. We’ve donated our share and would be more than willing to accept donations.

“Those bricks are the oldest piece of history in the area. It is important to preserve that history. It sets a precedent, a standard of the kind of development we want to see.”

Sullens said the conservancy, an activist group formed after the quake, has turned to the Whittier Historical Society for help, but so far the society has made no promises.


Varlie J. Gordon, president of the historical society, said its board of directors is meeting tonight to discuss whether to donate money to the conservancy. He said the society has been operating on a “tight budget.”

“We have different goals than the conservancy,” Gordon said. “All of our money goes into the museum. We really get no local help.”

Gordon said the society also questions whether it should donate money when a “private individual” will benefit.

The Harvey building is owned by Jack Ashley, who says he is spending $420,000, about $120,000 over budget, to rebuild the apartments. He said he cannot afford to reface the building with the used bricks, although he said the bricks would look nice.

Plans to Use Stucco

Ashley told City Council members that instead he would reface the building with yellow-white stucco, such as was on the bricks before the earthquake.

Several weeks ago, City Council members agreed that Ashley, whose family has owned the apartment building since 1910, did not have to pay to reface the building with the historic bricks because the bricks had been covered with stucco for 77 years.


Mauk said the city has reached a point where it has to limit the projects it agrees to finance, because the earthquake recovery money is dwindling.

“The problem is, no one is stepping up (with the money),” Mauk said. “Everyone wants the city to step up. I just think the answer is priorities. It’s quite a load--like a ton of bricks.”