Independence resident Jack Pound proposed a plan for the old Pines Cafe to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday in hopes of ensuring the building is not demolished. His goal is to prevent yet another vacant lot on Edwards Street (U.S. 395) in the county seat.
Pound said he would like to see the county team up with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which owns the building and property, to transform the long-closed, boarded-up restaurant into a new visitor center and museum.
“My idea is to turn the Pines into a LORP (Lower Owens River Project) interpretive center,” Pound said. “The LADWP can retain ownership, clean it up, put a new roof on it, give it new paint and pay the utilities, and Inyo County can lease it and provide staffing and exhibits.”
Pound suggested turning part of the building into a small theater, where videos of the history of the LORP and Los Angeles Aqueduct could be shown to visitors. He also said reading materials, CDs and DVDs could be sold.
“I think there is a lot of interest in water history, especially now with the drought,” Pound said. “I see it as a center for information, and a tourist attraction.”
He said gift shop sales, grants and donations could fund the center.
Fourth District Supervisor and Board Chair Marty Fortney, whose district includes Independence, said he has spoken with representatives from the LADWP who told him that plans are being made to repair the front of the building to improve its aesthetic value.
The LADWP is also looking into the possible historic status of the building, and is concerned that a fire in its basement has weakened the floor supports in the kitchen area.
Pound said the LADWP does have the ability to make the necessary repairs to the building to make it habitable.
“It sounds like a good idea to put that building to use,” Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes said. “However, we have lots of museums and interpretive centers. We need revenue-producing businesses.”
Cervantes suggested a guns and ammo shop, or pawn shop for the building.
First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius said there is a policy issue with Pound’s suggestion, as the county’s policy is to encourage the LADWP to release property to the public sector.
Maintaining the building as a county-operated museum, Arcularius said, would keep the structure out of private hands.
“It’s an eyesore,” Pound said. “I’m not sure anyone would want to buy it. I’m trying to get DWP to take ownership and refurbish it.”
Fortney said the county would “stay on top of DWP” to ensure that at least the facade of the building is restored, as per the LADWP’s current plans.
County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio, who applied for and was denied a $7 million state grant last year to build a new facility in Independence to serve as a LORP museum, suggested a temporary use for the building.
With the 100-year anniversary of the completion of the Los Angeles Aqueduct coming up in 2013, Carunchio said the Pines building could be fixed up to serve as a temporary exhibit about Inyo County’s water history, as long as the exhibit wouldn’t impact the sale of the property to the private sector.
The Eastern California Museum is planning an event to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the aqueduct, and could incorporate the exhibit in the Pines building.
No action was taken by the board regarding the building.