Brick by brick and window by window, communities of the western San Gabriel Valley have been rebuilding since the June 28 Sierra Madre earthquake, which disaster officials now estimate caused at least $44 million in damage, and possibly many times that much.
Whether repairing swimming pools or chimneys, constructing new garden walls or moving houses off cracked foundations, contractors by the truckload are busy restoring what the earthquake tore apart in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
The overall damage estimates in the five hardest hit communities--Altadena, Arcadia, Monrovia, Pasadena and Sierra Madre--have risen just slightly since mid-July, growing by $2 million.
Yet officials say the $44-million estimate is considered only a partial amount and that the total dollar damage may never be precisely known or compiled.
Already, the U.S. Small Business Administration has granted loans totaling $35 million to 1,376 applicants. The average amounts were $23,000 to homeowners and $45,000 to businesses.
Based on the "moderate" amount of these averages, Small Business Administration officials said many homeowners had earthquake insurance and are relying on the agency to help pay their deductibles.
"Because of the history of earthquakes in Southern California, more people seemed to have earthquake insurance. Whereas in the Bay Area with the Loma Prieta quake, people there were really caught off guard," said Susan Stubbe, spokeswoman of the Small Business Administration's Sacramento office.
In addition, a state program, the California Natural Disaster Assistance Program, expects to lend $5 million.
Considering that those two programs total $40 million in loans, and factoring in whatever amount insurance companies are paying in earthquake claims and loans made by banks, state and local officials said the total amount of damage will be far more than $44 million.
But "to try and speculate . . . would just be inaccurate," said Paul Kranhold, assistant director of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, which oversees the state disaster loans. "At some point it might be helpful to know what the total cost of the damage was. But we're not at a point where we can do that now."
Still, local officials say they are gaining a clearer picture as homeowners take out loans, as building permits are sought and as contractors begin to work.
In Pasadena, where the damage is now estimated at $15 million--up by $2 to $5 million from July estimates--about 400 earthquake-related building permits have been issued. The city received more than 1,000 requests for building inspections after the earthquake.
"We continued to get phone calls about damage, far after the emergency ended," said Tom Wilkins, a senior administrative analyst in the Department of Planning, Building and Neighborhood Services.
Pasadena, unlike some other cities, set up a special permit for earthquake repairs to try and track the extent of damage, he said.
Although there was a great deal of damage to commercial and public buildings, he said the only Pasadena building being demolished is the Crown Hotel, a Colorado Boulevard residential hotel vacant at the time of the quake.
Although much smaller than Pasadena, Sierra Madre suffered nearly as much damage. The damage, estimated at $12.5 million, was due to the community's proximity to the quake epicenter deep below the surface of the San Gabriel Mountains.
Since June 28, Sierra Madre building officials have conducted 403 earthquake-related inspections and issued 143 earthquake-related building permits, according to Kev Tcharkhoutian, director of the city's Department of Public Works. Twenty-two residences were condemned, he said.
"There was an awful lot of superficial damage," said Sierra Madre Police Chief I. E. (Bill) Betts. "It was one of those marginal earthquakes that gives you warning as to what could happen. . . . Of course, to people that had damage, it was a major problem."
In neighboring Arcadia, officials estimated damage at $7 million in July, and that amount has grown slightly, to $7.5 million.
"What was surprising was we had a pretty good assessment of the damage right after the earthquake," said Donna Butler, Arcadia's assistant planning director. "The major damage was really assessed very quickly."
Of the 659 residential structures with damage, more than 300 had collapsed chimneys, she said. So far, 122 chimneys have been removed or replaced.
Eighty-one commercial structures and eight public buildings and churches incurred damage.
As in Arcadia, the most common problem in Monrovia was damaged chimneys. Paul Sheedy, the city's building official, said building permits have been issued for 111 structures, most of them needing chimney repairs. This figure, he said, represents about one-third of the total number of permits he expects will eventually be issued.
"There is lot more on our list that we know are going to do something, but they haven't yet, probably because they haven't gotten the money," Sheedy said. It may take another 12 to 18 months before many residents and business owners make repairs, he said.
Still unresolved, he said, is a Monrovia controversy over what to do about the former house of the late author Upton Sinclair.
State preservation officials, Sheedy said, have yet to determine whether the city should grant the owners' request to essentially demolish the residence and rebuild, in the same architectural style, on the site on Myrtle Avenue where Sinclair lived from 1941 to 1962.
The issue, Sheedy said, "is kind of in Never-Never Land right now."
Monrovia hasn't altered its damage estimate from mid-July, when the figure was put at $6.7 million.
In one case, the damage estimate has dropped. The unincorporated areas of Altadena and neighborhoods around the city of San Gabriel incurred $2.2 million in damage, considerably less than the $5 million estimated in July, according to Steve Valenzuela, a Los Angeles County fire captain who is working with the county's Office of Emergency Management.
In Altadena and the San Gabriel area, Valenzuela said, the county assisted in demolition work and debris removal at 66 residences.