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End of the line for 73-year-old Fairfax-area nursery

These days when a business withers on the vine it’s usually because of the sagging economy.

But a 73-year-old Fairfax District landscape center is shutting down so that a blossoming neighbor can sprout a new commercial venture.

The venerable Mordigan Nurseries near the northwest corner of 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue will close Aug. 15 so the even older A. F. Gilmore Co. can redevelop a key parcel at the intersection.

The 95-year-old Gilmore Co. also owns the popular Farmers Market on the northeast corner of the intersection as well as the property occupied by the Grove, the huge shopping and entertainment center.

It’s the fourth time since 1937 that the nursery has been uprooted to make way for new development. But this time is the last, its owners promise.

“If there was a place to relocate to, we would,” said Mark Giebel, whose family has run the nursery since its beginning. “The reality is that property values have gone so high we can’t. There’s no other place around here we can afford.”

Giebel’s father, George, ran the nursery when it opened as part of a chain of landscape centers. The others were run at different locations around town by the four Mordigan brothers.

“My dad was the outsider,” Giebel said.

When the other Mordigan outlets closed, his father decided to keep the Mordigan name, Giebel said.

The nursery’s initial home was across the street from what is now the Beverly Center. Between 1946 and 1979, it was located on the site of the Beverly Center; from there, it moved next to the Farmers Market. When construction of the Grove began, the nursery moved down 3rd Street, where it has remained for 11 years.

Longtime Mordigan customers say they’ll miss the place.

Patricia Fine, a special education teacher from West Hollywood, has shopped at the landscape center for three decades.

“I wish there was a happier ending for them. I’ve been following them around for 30 years. They are nice people, always accommodating,” she said. “We close libraries and open strip malls. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

Mid-Wilshire resident Lauren Haze, a customer for 15 years, said that Mordigan’s plants and colorful flowers offered a calming influence to the busy neighborhood. “It’s not a park, but it’s green. It’s helping our emotions when we drive by and see it.”

Executives of the A.F. Gilmore Co. said the firm plans to spend about $10 million on a mid-century-styled, 24,000-square-foot retail project at the corner. Small retailers and a restaurant or pub with outdoor seating are envisioned. The area now used by Mordigan will be utilized for above-ground parking for 113 cars.

“The company has owned this site for a long time. We’ve always planned to develop it, but we’ve been distracted by the expansion of Farmers Market and development of the Grove,” said Mark Panatier, Gilmore’s vice president.

Giebel, who is 64 and lives in Agoura with his wife, Patty, said he will continue as a landscape architect after the nursery closes.

Ten employees, some nursery veterans of 30 years or more, will lose their jobs, said Giebel’s sister Mary Bombino, who has worked at Mordigan for 40 years.

Bombino, of Canyon Country, remembers the day in 1985 when an underground methane leak beneath the Ross Dress for Less shop across from the nursery blew up, injuring 23 people.

“The Ross explosion blew mannequins from the store out. Our employees thought they were people who had been blown up and they all ran over to help,” she recalled. “It blew out our greenhouse windows. It was something else.”

The subterranean gas issue forced Giebel to design breathable gabion walls built of 111 cubic yards of granite stone in wire cages when the nursery moved to its present site. He said he plans to disassemble the walls and sell the rocks. The nursery’s distinctive Brett Goldstone-designed “Mordigan’s” gate will also be sold.

His suppliers have agreed to take back any unsold plants, but sales have been brisk since Giebel announced his going-out-of-business sale earlier this month.

“People have been coming in here crying,” said Patty Giebel.

Come Aug. 15, she’ll be crying too.

bob.pool@latimes.com


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