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Big Role for Small Town : ‘Leave It to Beaver’ Gives Santa Paula a Make-Over and an Economic Boost

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

June Cleaver would be shocked.

Universal Pictures is pumping at least $250,000 into sleepy Santa Paula’s sluggish economy during the eight days it spends filming a big-screen version of the television classic “Leave It to Beaver.”

About 400 residents of the modest farm town east of Ventura are getting their chance for movie stardom with roles as extras. The drab downtown has received a make-over--a coat of paint for eight Main Street buildings and the city’s landmark 1905 clock tower--to impart that freshly scrubbed 1950s small-town-America look.

They’ve even turned a hardware store into an ersatz coffee shop, complete with a giant, steaming coffee cup for the Beaver to fall into.

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The local Chamber of Commerce is glowing over the civic improvements, the publicity and the influx of money. Especially the money.

But all is not well in this ‘90s version of Mayfield, the fictional town that was home to the wholesome Beaver and his family.

Although the $10-million movie is providing an economic boost for some--the city has received $28,000 in permit fees and overtime for its police force--some store owners are less than enchanted by the Hollywood glitz.

“They’ve got the whole downtown closed off completely,” said crusty Jess Victoria, 72, on Thursday, his face as weathered as the shoes he has been repairing in his East Main Street store for more than a quarter century. “How are my customers going to get to my shop?”

Not easily. Main Street is closed for two days, leaving store owners with little to do but peer through their doors at a business district turned movie set. Universal has attempted a little dollar diplomacy, giving Victoria and others at least $200 a day for their inconvenience.

Still, it’s the perceived arrogance of the big-city outsiders that has annoys some business people.

Carlos Guzman, 39, came to work at the downtown restaurant he manages Thursday to find the exterior sign changed. “Instead of La Playita Seafood it says Jack’s Salty Seafood or something like that,” he said. “They didn’t even consult me.”

Universal has set up a $5,000 conflict-resolution fund that will be paid out by a panel after it verifies legitimate complaints. A drawing will be held for free Universal merchandise on display in a storefront in a bid to attract shoppers. Location manager Bruce Lawhead even bought a belt from Victoria as he tried to assuage him Thursday.

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To be sure, most residents and business people are pleased at the positive publicity an American icon like the Beaver will bring to the burg.

Said resident and extra Helen Andrews: “It’s nice to have people see what a nice little town this is that’s stuck in the 1950s. . . . This is Anyplace USA.”


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