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LA HABRA : Nixon Law Office Still on the Books

Former President Richard M. Nixon’s first law office has been spared from the wrecking ball for at least another 30 days while preservationists find a way to pay for restoration.

After deliberations lasting 2 1/2 hours, the City Council on Tuesday decided once again to delay its decision to destroy all nine city-owned structures that include the condemned law office and the old Wester Hotel until demolition bids are turned in.

More than 50 residents--many representing the first families to settle in La Habra--turned out to support restoration of the two pre-1933 buildings.

Among the speakers were local historians who presented county books and guides that have chronicled the law office and hotel as historic sites.

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Also supporting preservation was Fullerton contractor Tony Bushala, who has developed a reputation for successful restoration work in the city.

Local historian Lois Lundberg, one of the residents spearheading the campaign, said the law office and hotel must be restored for “a city that has very little else to its claim to fame.”

A report submitted by county architectural historian Diann Marsh noted the significance of the law office and hotel and their eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

The law office, located in the Citizen’s Commercial and Savings Bank building, was built in 1917 or 1918, Marsh said, and satisfies national register criteria:

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* The bank played a major role in the commercial development of the city.

* Nixon is “considered a person significant to our past.”

* Once restored, the brick construction “will be one of the few surviving examples in the city.”

The Wester Hotel, constructed in 1916, deserves saving, said the report, because it was the first two-story brick building in the city and the site of the general store and post office. Marsh says the hotel “gained national attention during World War I” when an occupant killed the local blacksmith for refusing to buy war bonds.

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The dilapidated buildings, long considered an eyesore, are along the 100 block of West La Habra Boulevard and have been determined unsafe because they do not meet earthquake standards. The city plans to replace the buildings with a community center.

Restoration advocates suggest integrating the buildings into the community center and possibly turning them into a city museum or archival vault.

Although two-thirds of the council agreed to defer the decision a month, members believe that the community center should not have to be built around the vintage structures.

“I feel the historical value is not significant enough to restore the buildings,” Councilman William D. Mahoney said. He said research indicates that Nixon used the small law office only part time. He added that although the former president is one of his favorite people, ". . . that doesn’t mean everything Richard Nixon touched is historical or needs to be restored.”

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