When Michael Wright looks outside through the windows of City Deli, the Hillcrest restaurant he co-owns, what he's seen every day for the past 25 years inspires his best Ronald Reagan imitation:
“Bring down the wall. Bring down the wall and open yourself up to Hillcrest.”
He's addressing AT&T, which owns the mammoth building that spans the entire block on the east side of Sixth Avenue between University and Robinson avenues. It's a blocky, colossal, 236,000-square-foot eyesore that's perhaps second only to the Pernicano's restaurant building on the west side of Sixth Avenue when it comes to bugging community leaders.
The 1920s-era building, one of AT&T's largest Southern California switching facilities, has long been a topic of conversation at Hillcrest Business Association meetings, where board members have griped about AT&T's underused parking lots and a fence—the “wall” to which Wright refers—that encloses an outdoor, sunken amphitheater-like extension of an employee dining area.
“It's a big piece of cement, and we look at it every day,” said Wright, current president and 15-year board member of the Hillcrest Business Association.
Nancy Moors, publisher of the neighborhood guidebook HillQuest, who's lived within a block of the building since 2002, noted that the parcel, formerly owned by Pacific Bell, has been used for telecommunications since 1915 and adds that the large microwave antennae and whatnot atop the building represent a gradually dying technology, what with the increased use of underground fiber optics.
“With few employees now using the facility, I hope that [City] Councilmember Todd Gloria is successful in his efforts to have AT&T open up the Sixth and University corner amphitheatre for community use,” Moors said in an e-mail.
Indeed, Gloria has been talking to AT&T officials about a new paint job, a possible mural for the side of the building and the fence.
“When this was first discussed,” said Katie Keach, Gloria's deputy chief of staff, via e-mail, “the Councilmember believed the [fence] removal would yield a small community plaza.” But, she later added that the sunken amphitheater, which was never meant for performances of any kind, makes “the previously imagined at-grade community plaza less of a possibility.”
AT&T spokesperson Gordon Diamond said the company and Gloria have agreed on a new paint color for portions of the exterior, and AT&T will put the paint job out to bid in the next week or so. He added that talks about a mural are ongoing. But tearing down the fence sounds like a nonstarter; Diamond said the company determined that the below-grade portion of the enclosed area poses too big a safety risk. He couldn't say whether the solid fence could be replaced with something passersby can see through.
For his part, Wright hopes AT&T will keep the door ajar on the fence issue. “If they make a gesture,” Wright said, “there are many organizations that are willing to work with them to make it whatever they want.”
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