Carolina Sarmiento
Carolina Sarmiento
OC Weekly file photo

Cutting to the Chase of the Centro Cultural de México's Ouster

It's been a hectic week since the Weekly first broke the news that SanTana's El Centro Cultural de Mexico will soon find itself without a space to host its classes and community programs. In that time, the Voice of OC and The Santa Ana Register blog have chimed in on the issue. The two media outlets raised the relationship between Irv Chase, the controversial property owner of many of the buildings Fourth Street businesses rent out, and the Broadway Improvement Co. that owns the Knights of Pythias building in question. (His father-in-law Allan Fainbarg is a substantial stakeholder)

Chase's son, Ryan, says in the Voice of OC's take that he and his father did not know of the situation at El Centro until reading about it in Register's OC Latino Link blog, but the two are virtually in agreement as to why the tenants need to go. Though Irv Chase claims not to have a formal role in the company nor played any role in the decision to issue the thirty-day notice, he and his son have nevertheless felt free to opine on its behalf, describing the Centro's space as in "bad shape" and even "a disaster" citing graffiti in the hallways, bathrooms, and elevator.

The only problem with Irv's comments--besides being greatly exaggerated--is that the staircase leading to the second floor, as well as restrooms and the elevator are communal parts of the building between the second floor east and west wing tenants. Nonprofit groups and their volunteers attest to the collective effort to keep the space's commons in the best shape that they can be.

Sara Guerrero, Artistic Director of Breath of Fire Latina Ensemble wanted to clarify the position of her organization as fellow tenants of the building after she came under fire for comments she made to Register reporter Andrew Galvin that seemed to imply she thought the Centro attracted a bad crowd. "On behalf of all of Breath of Fire, we support El Centro Cultural de Mexico and plan to be there in their time of need. We do not want to see El Centro close their doors," before adding "Our building is often open providing services, programming, events to our community. At times this has allowed unwanted ill intent to our space and facilities by some people. I in no way inferred that these people were connected to any of us on the second floor."

Galvin rebuffed Chase's characterization of the Centro, anyhow. As for graffiti, the same can be found in numerous other establishments in the city, including the Orange County Contemporary Center for the Arts and the Crosby, and there celebrated as "hip." As for bathrooms, speaking from personal experience, I have relieved myself in the second floor Knights of Pythias men's room on many occasions over the years and at no point did it ever remotely approach the unintentional abstract expressionism of tagging found on the restroom door (see photo below) of my favorite late night grub spot in Buena Park!

The Knights of Pythias Upstairs Bathrooms Look Nothing Like This!
The Knights of Pythias Upstairs Bathrooms Look Nothing Like This!
Gabriel San Roman

In light of all that has been offered as reasons for the thirty-day notice, Centro board member Carolina Sarmiento says that Chase's comments are unfair. "The focus is placed on the pretext of 'orderliness,' 'criminality,' and other unfounded accusations made that is ultimately leading to the unjust displacement of an entire community center," she adds. "Furthermore, El Centro has invested a lot of its money upgrading the space from the rolls of toilet paper to every time we've given the walls of the hallway a fresh coat of paint."

Chase, speaking on behalf of Broadway Improvement Co., has pilfered out a rationale that is easily deconstructed and laughable if it wasn't so sad. His son told reporter Adam Elmahrek  of the Voice of OC that the Centro could possibly move to what the Chases have recently rechristened the "East End" in place of its former moniker "Fiesta Marketplace"--truly delusional, considering they once offered their Yost Theater to the Centro before unceremoniously pulling it away from them. With such statements, it would have been better to have heard from the building owners or the property manager herself. Diane E. Dixon was reached via phone last Friday by the Weekly but declined to go on record opting instead for another date to do so. Follow-up calls in accordance have not been returned.

El Centro did, however, manage to have a conversation with Dixon following their notice being served.

"The board asked her for an extension of another thirty days time," Sarmiento says. "She communicated back to us that our request was denied."


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