Making Room for Library Turns Into a Really Moving Experience

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Gawkers shook their heads in disbelief. Dodger fans cheered as if the home team were headed for the World Series. Some danced in the street.

A mariachi band rushed out of a bar to belt out several ranchera standards.

And anyone with a video camera eagerly recorded the carnival-like atmosphere as a 1913-vintage Craftsman apartment building was moved early Thursday on the streets of Echo Park in order to preserve it.

"This is better than the Rose Parade," Dodger fan Mario Peralta exclaimed as he came upon the excitement on Sunset Boulevard after watching his team win an extra-inning game at nearby Dodger Stadium. "And this is better than any float I've ever seen."

The moving of the 4,400-square-foot structure, which began at 11 p.m. Wednesday, was a local happening for many in the largely working-class neighborhood west of downtown Los Angeles.

It also represented a victory for preservationists who wanted to save the building, which stood on a spot where a new $3-million city library branch is to be built.

Normally, buildings of this size are cut in several sections for such a move. But because Alvarado Street and Sunset are wide thoroughfares, the Craftsman was moved in one piece to its new home in the Angelino Heights section of Echo Park.

For months, members of the Echo Park Historical Society worked the city's Library Commission and Design Aid Architects, an architectural preservation firm in Hollywood, to save the two-story fourplex structure.

"It represents a bygone era," said Scott Fajack, the historical society's president. "You don't see structures like this anymore."

Another fourplex at the library site was torn down after it was determined that no lot in the area was large enough to accommodate it. City officials, however, cooperated with Echo Park preservationists in saving that building's interior doors and trimmings, windows and other items.

In the case of the Craftsman at 1218 N. Alvarado St., a few doors north of Sunset, historical society member Kevin Kuzma, 28, and his fiancee, Darienne Hetherman, 27, agreed to take over ownership of the building for free if a lot could be found for it.

Kuzma said he found one at 1121 W. Marion Ave., nearly 1 1/2 miles away, and paid $50,000 for it.

He also agreed to pay $35,000 for city utility workers, who would accompany the building on its move, to ensure that no overhead wires or traffic signals were damaged.

The city paid an estimated $90,000 for the move by American Heavy Moving and Rigging in Chino.

After several delays over permits, word spread quickly throughout Echo Park this week that the move would start late Wednesday.

Carlos Benuto, 26, and Nereida Godinez, 19, were among the several hundred onlookers who watched as a giant truck began pulling the building--mounted on a steel-reinforced trailer--from its resting spot.

The festive mood seemed straight out of a Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, but the L.A. onlookers put their spin on the happening.

"I've seen stuff moved before, but this building is big," Benuto said.

Al Nunez wouldn't budge from his prime spot across the street from the Craftsman.

"This is a party and I ain't missing it," he said.

As the structure negotiated a left turn onto Sunset, onlookers shouted at the two-dozen or so workers to call attention to overhead utility lines.

"I don't want my cable TV cut off!" Echo Park resident Humberto Luna screamed.

As the structure lumbered by the El Prado bar on Sunset after midnight, the members of Mariachi Estrella rushed out and began to play well-known tunes.

"We play for the building," member Mauricio Hernandez called out.

Several dozen onlookers, who walked up the street to watch the action, clapped their approval. "Is this L.A. or what?" Kuzma said to no one in particular.

Up the street, a crowd of twentysomethings spilled out of a bar to cheer.

"Awesome, dude," one bar patron said to the movers.

Others in the crowd walked onto Sunset to pose for photographs with the building in the background.

On the spur of the moment, one couple, Jhaemi Willem and Kaitrain Sones, began dancing provocatively with the structure as a backdrop.

Some cheered, but most in the crowd just gawked.

By 1:15 a.m., the movers had reached Marion, but their work wasn't done. They waited more than two hours as nearly a dozen cars were towed away for violating a temporary no-parking edict to accommodate the move.

By then, few celebrators were around to cheer the towing of cars. There was just the silence of the early morning calm.

Around daybreak, the Craftsman was snugly in its new home.

By 10 a.m., Kuzma, who had stayed up all night to take in the festivities, was too tired to revel in his new building, which will cost about $150,000 to rehabilitate.

"Obviously, I'm pleased, but I'm really too tired to say anything else," he said.

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