Developer will let historic house rot, in Santa Ana

My co-blogger, Thomas Gordon, previously wrote about the fact that developer Mike Harrah is allowing the historic Twist-Basler home to fall apart in the elements, and today the O.C. Register picked up on the story.

Here are a few excerpts from the Register article:

The old house sits, broken and abandoned, on a dusty lot where a developer plans to build the tallest tower Orange County has ever seen.

It was a landmark once, a stately mansion built with an eye toward the architectural details of an earlier age. But now it waits in four huge pieces for a moving truck, its rooms and rafters protected by little more than a leaky roof and plastic tarps.

Preservationists have been pleading with the developer and with the city to do something with the old house, soon. Their concerns have only sharpened this week, as a surprise storm barrels down the coast toward Southern California.

To make way for his tower, Harrah agreed to move the old house to Cabrillo Park, where the city wants to renovate it for use as a fitness center and tennis clubhouse. Harrah even had the house cut into four sections earlier this year, in preparation for the move.

But city officials say they’re still not sure when that move will happen. The city has approved a route for the move, but there’s still no foundation at the house’s future site in Cabrillo Park. Harrah is still working to line up tenants for his tower before he can start building.

The black sheets of plastic that were stretched across the house’s cut-open sides to protect its interior have torn loose in some places. The roof is missing some of its tiles, and taggers have gotten into the site and left their mark on some of its walls.

Inside, chunks of plaster have shaken loose, and the floors are littered with debris. But a panel of honey-colored stained glass, propped against a bare wall in one of the sections, appeared to be in good condition.

A wall circles the dusty lot where the pieces of the house sit, its sides decorated with an artist’s soaring vision of the proposed One Broadway Plaza tower. A sign at one corner advertises Harrah’s Caribou Industries: “Preserving the past,” it says, “ensuring the future.”

The state recently turned down the agency’s request for a $1.25 million grant to refurbish the Twist-Basler House. That means the city may have to use park fees paid by developers or hope for future grants to offset the costs of fixing up the house — even without any storm damage.

The house’s protection against the storm “makes me concerned,” said Gerardo Mouet, the executive director of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Agency.

Yesterday a Santa Ana city hall insider called me and told me that Harrah has told city officials essentially to “go take a leap off a cliff.” He is not going to do anything about the Twist-Basler house. He intends to let it rot and then say it is not his problem. And most likely city officials will let him do it.

Last year they let him get away with demolishing a building with vast amounts of asbestos, without properly abating the asbestos. Thomas Gordon called in the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) which has oversight on asbestos abatement, and they too let Harrah slip away. Remember that Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido, a major supporter of Harrah, is on the SCAQMD Board.

And remember that Pulido is rumored to have either been given or sold at a cut rate a Harrah condo in Hawaii. Santa Ana Planning Commissioner Victoria Betancourt got one too, and so did failed City Council candidate Tino Rivera. Who knows how many city leaders got paid off this way?

And we are to believe that they will now do something about the Twist-Basler house? I think not.

This tragedy in the making won’t have a happy ending.

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"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.