By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
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Old World used to have a mountain. A 70-foot-long, gray styrofoam mound sat on the corner of Center Avenue and Huntington Village Drive, a landmark for the Bischofs’ restaurant’s beer garden. But it was originally meant to house a petting zoo. The zoo never happened, and in 2006, the Bischofs made plans to have it torn down and replaced with a wall featuring festive images and the Village’s trademark red roofing.
The mountain is gone now and the new wall has been built. But the renovation of the Bischofs’ restaurant triggered a lawsuit from the Village’s board of directors, alleging that the Bischofs had deviated from the plans that they originally submitted. The association’s lawyer asked for a drastic remedy in court: to halt construction of the wall and move it back—even though the foundation has been in the same place for 30 years.
A judge turned down that request, but a request to have the Bischofs pay all legal fees is pending. Also pending is a countersuit from the Bischofs against the three members of the board of directors, alleging “oppressive, malicious” actions taken out of “spite, ill-will” and a desire to “retaliate for a long-standing grudge.”
Neither Larschan nor board president Marie Tran, both of whom are named in the countersuit, would comment on the matter. Paul Krueger, the third member of the board of directors named, did not return calls from the Weekly. Kasko says the lawsuit against her family is a sign of the attitudes held by the current board majority: hostile to the Bischofs and anyone in the Village who wants to get retail business going again.
“We’re doing things nicely, we’re making things better, and now they want us to tear down the building,” Kasko says. “I’m thinking, ‘My God, these people must have such a hatred toward my family.’”
It isn’t the first time that Village residents have sued one another. The Bischofs and Weisses were served with papers from the board in 2007 during a dispute over fumigation, in which Larschan told the court in a declaration that the Weisses were “not to be trusted.” May of 2006 saw the conclusion of a drawn-out lawsuit between the Old World Owners Association and Alfred Skistimas, owner of the Edelweiss Inn in the Village. The appeals judgment in that case—ultimately, against Skistimas, who claimed unfair treatment in the process of foreclosure on his property—reads like a history of the problems in Old World: accusations of selectively enforced bylaws, descriptions of hopelessly vague CC&Rs, and reports of death threats against board members and intimidation by board members.
Larschan says his actions on the board of directors, on which he has served on and off since 1997, have always been for the good of the Village. “I am very dedicated to what I do,” he says. “And I have a thing called integrity. I just don’t bitch and moan.” But he doesn’t have many kind things to say about the Village’s founding family. He calls Kasko’s complaints about the board’s actions, including the decision to stop paying the Bischofs to maintain bathrooms for public use, “sour grapes.” And he blames Josef Bischof for creating a community that was destined to fail. “He screwed it all up,” Larschan says. “Totally screwed it up. Sorry.”
Larschan is referring to a combination of factors that he calls the Village’s “death knell.” Foremost is the fact that each of the 53 units in the Village is individually owned and has few restrictions placed upon it. In a traditional mall, Larschan points out, policies regulate store hours and the kinds of goods and services each business can provide. The Village’s CC&Rs contain no such policies.
That’s what allows so many dim-window, locked-door establishments in the Village to exist—including Larschan’s own. The CC&Rs specify that each business unit be used for “‘crafts-shop’ type commercial purposes,” a provision that has, in recent years, been loosely interpreted to allow everything from real-estate agencies to notaries to optometrists into the Village.
Larschan and the Bischofs agree on the core diagnosis for what allowed business to spiral down over the past two decades. Both Josef and Dolores Bischof have said that one of their greatest regrets was the decision to sell off all 53 units to individual buyers back when the Village was built. Dolores says that the need to pay off construction loans left them with no choice. Still, she and her husband didn’t anticipate what it would mean to relinquish control of the Village they built. “We didn’t realize that people are people,” she says. “They have minds of their own. We were stupid.”
That realization first started to creep in when some store owners, even in the early days of the Village, began opening and closing at strange times. “The husbands would work elsewhere and leave their wives here, stuck in the store,” Dolores says. “The wives didn’t like that; they wanted to go out to their tea parties and such, so they wanted to hold their own hours.”