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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Landmark Market Must Go, Demonstrators Say : Demolition: Abandoned building is to be burned down. Some in Canyon Country blame city officials for delays.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Demonstrators gathered Wednesday at a market that had long been a local landmark but was now scheduled for demolition.

The Fire Department had planned to ignite the abandoned building, formerly known as Dillenbeck’s Market, and use the occasion as a training exercise for firefighters.

But in a twist on conservancy movements that have swept the nation, the 25 demonstrators at this site were not there to try to save the building. They wanted the Fire Department to get on with the business of destroying it.

“It’s a big eyesore and it’s a piece of property that should be developed into something useful,” said Armie Trujillo, 58, a sign shop owner who carried one of several hand-lettered demonstration signs.

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Trujillo and other locals said the building--once a gathering place for hillside residents near Soledad Canyon Road and Sierra Highway in the area now known as Canyon Country--was lowering property values and hurting nearby businesses.

They said they hoped the demonstration would catch the eye of city officials who they said had ignored their complaints for years. Some said city officials didn’t pay much attention to Canyon Country because it’s downscale and run down compared to other parts of Santa Clarita.

“I wouldn’t say we’re treated as stepchildren, but close . . . real close,” said Ray Enter, a member of the Canyon Country Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors.

City officials said the delay in destroying the building is not their fault. They had made plans for the Los Angeles County Fire Department to burn the store down last fall as a fire training exercise, said Ruben Barrera, a city building official. The property’s owners agreed to pay for the exercise, Barrera said, which would have cost about $2,000 instead of the estimated $5,000 to $10,000 needed to demolish the structure.

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But before the destruction date, asbestos was found inside the building. The South Coast Air Quality Management District ordered it be removed before the building was burned down.

“It turns out it’s like a $40,000 job to remove it,” Barrera said.

The owners, who live in Los Angeles and have been negotiating with the city through an agent, backed out of their agreement as a result, Barrera said.

“We’ve been trying to get ahold of them and they don’t return calls,” he said.

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The city will try to collect the needed money by selling the property and taking some of the proceeds from the owners if further negotiations are unsuccessful, Barrera added. He said a notice could be sent to the owners within a few weeks, but an order allowing the sale might take a couple of months.

Only a few such tax liens have been attempted since the city incorporated in 1987, according to officials. Finance Director Steve Stark said he didn’t know how many collections had been successful, but getting funds out of this property could take a long time.

“If and when property (is) sold--that could be 30 years from now, who knows--then we collect the revenue,” he said.

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The large yellow and brown market was opened shortly after World War II by Charlie Dillenbeck, one of the few then living in the area. He and his family sold everything from groceries to horse tack.

Suburbanization of the area began in the 1960s, but faithful customers kept the store going until about a decade ago, when poor health forced Dillenbeck to close the store.

“I used to go in there and shop,” said Jesse Hogan, 43, a demonstrator who has lived in the Santa Clarita Valley for 20 years. “It was the place in Canyon Country.”

But Hogan, who owns a graphic design store in a strip mall adjacent to Dillenbeck’s, said nostalgic memories aren’t enough to overcome his frustration with the transients and gang members who he said regularly use the abandoned building.

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“Kids go in there, sleep and take drugs, and keep having to be chased out,” he said.


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