Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Automobile Club to Rebuild Damaged Building

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A multimillion dollar office building open for less than two years has been resigned to the scrap pile thanks to the Northridge earthquake and shaken confidence in the ability of steel-framed structures to withstand such quakes.

Directors of The Automobile Club of Southern California have voted to demolish and rebuild its two-story building along Valencia Boulevard.

The structure, open for only 21 months before the quake struck, has had a yellow warning tape encircling it since late January.

"Our main concern is safety," said Layna Browdy, corporate communications manager for the Automobile Club. "The building you see there is heavily damaged."

Concerns about steel-frame buildings and the belief that a new structure is stronger than a repaired one also prompted the decision, club officials said.

"We felt, given another earthquake, we could be in danger," said Kelly B. Clark, district manager.

Steel was once considered excellent protection against temblors, bending but not breaking under seismic shaking. But weld connections cracked in the beams and columns of at least 90 such buildings during the Jan. 17 quake.

Most of these structures were in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside of Los Angeles, but Santa Clarita had steel-frame casualties of its own. In addition to the Automobile Club, the nearby City Hall was badly damaged as was an office building for U.S. Borax.

"The vertical beams bent and didn't come back how they were supposed to," Clark said of the damage to the Valencia building. "They didn't come back erect."

Automobile Club officials would not say how much it cost to build their local, 16,000-square-feet structure in 1992 or how much they plan to spend to rebuild.

Immediately following the earthquake, employees of the organization worked out of a motor home on a dirt lot. More recently, they have operated out of 3,000-square-feet of space in a Newhall office building.

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