Neighbors Not Amused by Weekend Festivities
It appears to be one of those unyielding little neighborhood disputes, with testy people on all sides complaining that the sanctity of their suburban homes has somehow been violated.
For the past year and a half, Michael Jones, 39, a billboard artist active in conservative Republican circles, has given occasional weekend parties on his two-acre property on North Lake Avenue on the hilly north side of Altadena.
They are dignified events, often with live entertainment, says Jones, and they frequently promote charitable causes. “There’s a handful of individuals around here who see a lot of black people on the street, and they run and call the cops,” said Jones, whose neighborhood has black and white residents.
But some of his neighbors say the parties are loud, disruptive affairs that go on until the early morning hours and bring a host of strange cars to their streets. On July 13 they complained to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, which sent radio cars and a helicopter to break up the party.
“It was a quiet neighborhood until he moved in,” sniffed a woman who lives behind Jones on Santa Rosa Avenue and declined to give her name.
The Sheriff’s action brought another faction into the dispute: people who were awakened by the helicopter. “Talk about overkill,” groused Jim Johnson, a Ford Motor Co. marketing specialist who lives half a block away on Alta Vista Drive. “They could have sent a few cars in. The helicopter was circling up there for half an hour.”
Sheriff’s Deputy Ron Spelic, who has been trying to mediate, has scheduled a closed meeting at the Altadena Sheriff’s station between Jones and the neighbors this evening. “Both sides say they’re willing to sit down and talk,” Spelic said.
Jones, who is black, says he is doing nothing more than what established wealthy white families in Altadena and Pasadena have always done: host lavish parties with celebrities and live music. “But it’s like culture shock for this neighborhood,” he said.
The 70-year-old home, with a dramatically peaked roof in the fashion of an English cottage, attracts a lot of attention from admirers of historic buildings. The property, including wrought-iron gate, curved driveway, carriage house and a gardener’s cottage, was built by mining engineer Edwin Kennard in 1921. It reputedly once belonged to the Marx brothers.
It’s “the crown jewel of Altadena,” said Jones, who added he has put more than $100,000 into renovations. County records list the property’s owner as John P. Clay. “He’s a person who likes his privacy, and he happens to be a good friend of mine,” said Jones, who said he has business connections to the king of Saudi Arabia and a major BMW dealer.
On July 13, a friend put on a fund-raiser for a children’s home, Jones said. He declined to be more specific.
“It was like going to a concert,” said another Santa Rosa Avenue neighbor, conceding that it was “great music. . . . You could hear it a few blocks away.”
At about 1 a.m. on July 14, sheriff’s deputies and a helicopter arrived, demanding that about 200 party-goers disperse, which they did.
Johnson, though, said the neighborhood was quiet until the helicopter arrived. “You could hear them announcing over and over, ‘Please leave in an orderly fashion,’ ” he said. “Once I’m awake, I can’t go back to sleep.”
Then, that Sunday afternoon, Jones threw another party, an art show that included amplified entertainment. “They had live comedians,” said one of the neighbors. “The profanity you heard from them was unbelievable.”
Sheriff’s deputies were summoned once again. Also entering the party was area resident Kristina Balian, 32, who said she wanted to talk to a deputy. Jones demanded that Balian, a member of the family that owns the Balian Ice Cream Co., be arrested for trespassing.
“I did absolutely nothing wrong,” Balian said. “There was an art show going on. There were people all over the place. I didn’t think I was trespassing.”
Deputies booked her, though charges were later dropped. “A wonderful experience,” said Balian sarcastically. “I’ve been really involved in the community, and I’ve been told by so many people that I was the last person they ever thought this would happen to.”
Jones contends that his parties are no different from parties given by the Balian family, who have lived since 1953 on Mendocino Lane in an elegant Spanish-style mansion, widely known in Altadena as “the ice cream house.”
The only party the Balians throw is an annual Christmas lighting at the mansion, said Kristina Balian. “It never goes past 10 at night, disturbing everybody’s sleep,” she said. “It brings a lot of joy to the community.”
Neighbors contend Jones has been charging admission to parties, and that they are held at least twice a month. Jones denies this, and says he has only had three parties this year. “There’s a lot of hyperbole here,” Jones said.
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