Owner Blames MTA Tunneling for Sinking Club


A nightclub owner Tuesday blamed subway tunneling by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for sinking her longtime business.

Isabel Lopez, who has owned El Sombrero nightclub on Lankershim Boulevard for 20 years, said nearby underground drilling has sunk the floor of her club as much as five inches over the past few days, causing cracks in the ceilings and walls and prompting the city to close the business.

MTA officials say they are unsure what caused the damage.

But Lopez said there is evidence throughout the club--including a sunken floor and a bar counter that has curved. "It's the only logical thing I can think of. . . . There was no earthquake or anything," she said.

City building and safety officials Monday ordered the business closed until repairs are made. Lopez said Tuesday she did not know when she could reopen the club, which features Latino dance music and can accommodate more than 200 patrons.

MTA officials, eager to avoid any spectacle like the embarrassing Hollywood Boulevard sinkhole, immediately ordered workers as a precautionary measure to shore up the portion of Lankershim outside the club with a cement-like substance.

Both city and MTA officials said Tuesday it was too soon to determine what caused the damages to El Sombrero.

"We're not convinced totally that it was caused by the tunneling," said Stanley G. Phernambucq, executive officer of construction for the MTA. Phernambu said he expects to have preliminary information on the cause of the damage as soon as today.

"We want to make sure before we stand up and take responsibility," he said. "If a person has been harmed by our project, we'll take care of it."

Lopez said she noticed the damages last weekend and immediately sought the help of Hollywood Damage Control & Recovery Inc., an organization representing numerous other property owners in a $1-billion lawsuit against the MTA.

Lopez said the forced closure will cost her between $7,000 and $8,000 in business each weekend. "This is my livelihood," she said. "I have to reopen my club."

David R. Keim, principal building inspector for the city of Los Angeles, said Lopez--as all property owners--are responsible for hiring an engineer to assess the damages and obtain city approval for repairs.

About three miles of subway are in operation in the downtown area between Union Station and MacArthur Park. Tunneling is underway to extend the system from Hollywood to the San Fernando Valley. The extension is expected to be ready for passengers by 2010.

Times staff writer Jon D. Markman contributed to this story.

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