San Fernando's JCPenney Drama Comes to a Head: Guerilla Preservationists Block Midnight Sign Removal (VIDEO)
The drama is once again on blast in the city of San Fernando, where an affair-gone-south between councilmembers recently turned City Hall into the set of a live soap opera.
This time, the estranged lovers are more unlikely: On the one end, we have JCPenney, who wants to cut ties with its historic old location on San Fernando Road. And on the other, we have community preservationists (backed up by the owner of the building, Sev Aszkenazy, and celebs like George Lopez), who argue that...
... the company can't just close what they call "San Fernando's favorite store" without "hearing out the community or providing explanations." From their online petition, which has garnered almost 1,500 signatures:
"JCP has been in San Fernando for more than 80 years . Built in this tight knit Latino community decades ago, the store still embraces it's retro logo with a sign that has proudly lit up the charming downtown mainstreet shopping center. Heartbroken San Fernando residents want to know why their beloved historic JCPenney store is closing down especially since JCP has enjoyed and reaped the benefits of being in this hardworking community. For years this location had been a top performing store. As JCP has moved to change its business structure and image, its sales revenues have declined but not any more than the rest of the chain. Further this is the only store that is being closed in California! This legacy store is more than just another store for those living in San Fernando. People feel an attachment to the store because for generations families have shopped there for everything from underwear to household goods. These families are part of America and want America's store to stay in San Fernando."
Speaking with LA Weekly today, building owner Aszkenazy, audibly wounded, compares the shutdown to "when your mate starts working out and then leaves you for somebody else."
Like we said: Drama! And the saga came to an emotional climax last night when, while driving by the JCPenney storefront around midnight, an unnamed San Fernando resident noticed a stranger on a ladder with a flashlight.
Turns out this cloaked stranger had been paid to -- the scandal -- tear down the store's iconic, mid-20th-century neon sign.
So the driver apparently mass-texted half the city of San Fernando -- including Aszkenazy, Mayor Pro Tem Antonio Lopez and the cops -- who sprinted to the scene and demanded the demolition be halted immediately.
According to Aszkenazy, the man taking down the sign told first responders that JCPenney had instructed him to remove the neon letters at all costs, "even if there were protesters." Aszkenazy says the man also relayed intel that within 15 minutes of taking the sign down, "it would have been on eBay for $40,000."
The company is apparently spitting in the face of the City Council, who had placed an item on the meeting agenda for mid-August that would have considered designating the JCPenney building a historic landmark.
Although the clothing store went dark last Saturday, Aszkenazy says he's willing to give it a second chance.
"They can still change their decision," he pleads. "They should look at it as a good thing."
Here's a video (by film student Ricardo Ochoa) of the mayor mouthing off this morning, as sign-removal carnage looms in the background:
George Lopez, a native San Fernandan, says in his own pro-Penney video that he's a "little bit saddened" by the store's decision to ditch his hometown. "I'm asking you to reconsider," he says, although he's "not sure how that works."
We've contacted the store's Texas headquarters for comment.
Update: Real quick, we just wanted to make sure you're grasping the extent of the incestuous municipal scandal currently rocking San Fernando (one activist described the city to the Times as "a Bell with sex").
Aszkenazy, the owner of the JCPenney building, also runs the local newspaper. And ex-Mayor Mario Hernandez -- "ex" because of the sex scandal with a female councilmember -- claims the San Fernando Sun has overblown said scandal because City Hall hasn't taken him Aszkenazy a bedfellow on certain development deals. The clincher? Aszkenazy's wife and the mayor's estranged wife, the one he cheated on with a councilmember, are sisters. So yeah -- put that in your pipa and fumar it.
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