Developer Weighs Risks of Taking Over ‘Casa del Mexicano’

Attorney General’s office recommends East Los Angeles Community Corporation take over the historic building.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

A local developer, with the help of California’s top law enforcement official, as early as today could inspect the site of a storied Boyle Heights non-profit institution prior to determining if they would be willing to take it over.

La Casa del Mexicano, located on the site of a mosque built in 1904, at one time served as a center where English was taught to new immigrants, as well as other civic, social and Mexican cultural activities in Boyle Heights; more recently, however, it’s been used as a venue for concerts and other events, and  flea markets.

Lea esta nota EN ESPAÑOL: Desarrollador Pesa Riesgos de Hacerse Cargo de ‘La Casa del Mexicano’

Representatives from the East Los Angeles Community Corporation, ELACC, have been working with the Los Angeles office of Attorney General Kamala Harris to get authorization to inspect the facility, which in 1931 with the help of the Mexican Consul General of Los Angeles, became home to the non-profit institution.

ELACC is on a list of non-profits being considered by the Attorney General to take over the building, and “based on the vetting process, they thought we were probably the best organization to be the steward of La Casa del Mexicano,” said ELACC President and Co-Founder Maria Cabildo.

If the ELACC Board of Directors accepts the role of stewards for the building, they would have to take over the $400,000 loan on the property, which currently has a 17 percent interest rate , she said. “Whoever takes it on, will have to pay off the loan or assume it,” Cabildo told EGP.

La Casa del Mexicano, located at 2900 Pedro Infante St. in Boyle Heights. (Facebook)

ELACC was not previously involved with La Casa del Mexicano and the phone call from the Attorney General’s local office came as a surprise, Cabildo said; but the board will not make a decision until they inspect the building. ELACC needs to know the current condition of the building, Cabildo said.

State officials are working to get a court order to give ELACC permission to inspect the site, because, according to court documents filed on July 18, the current “owner” of the building, Mexican Benefit Corp. (MBC), run by husband and wife Ruben and Martha Soriano, has refused to cooperate during ELACC’s several attempts to access the property.

In 2006, the Sorianos, who first directed La Casa del Mexicano under thenon-profit  Comité de Beneficencia Mexicana and later under the Mexican Benefit Corp., took out a $175,000 loan against the property, reportedly to finance repairs, but later failed to make payments on the loan and also failed to pay property taxes, according to court documents. Another director of the organization, Martha Velasquez, is also named in the court documents.

A judge will have the final say on which charity will receive the building and other assets of the now defunct non-profit, but the Attorney General’s office has recommended ELACC take possession of the building, the Attorney General’s spokesperson Becca MacLaren told EGP in an email on Monday.

The Attorney General’s office filed a civil complaint on March 27 against the Sorianos and Velasquez in which they seek to resolve the property title of La Casa del Mexicano, dissolve both Comité de Beneficencia Mexicana and MB Corp, obtain accountability records from the non-profit directors, damages, punitive damages, and penalties against the three defendants.

The lawsuit also alleges that the Sorianos and Velasquez operated MB Corp illegally, transferring La Casa del Mexicano to MB Corp and then operating MB Corp for their own personal benefit.

The Franchise Tax Board has already suspended the Comité de Beneficencia Mexicana’s non-profit status, said MacLaren.

Activists who sought to save La Casa del Mexicano when it went into foreclosure and was listed for auction in 2011, say the Attorney General’s efforts to dissolve the entities and to award the property to a reputable non-profit do not go far enough. Javier Rodriguez of the Committee to Save La Casa del Mexicano says the Attorney General “needs to formally indict and arrest the Sorianos and Velasquez.”

He says the Sorianos “illegally disbanded” the Comité’s 17 member committee, obtained the $175,000 loan illegally, and, perhaps not coincidentally, two months later received a “four-bedroom home in upscale  of El Sereno as a gift from the treasurer [Velasquez],” Rodriguez claims.

The Attorney General’s office could not confirm or deny the existence of any criminal investigations against the Sorianos or Velasquez, MacLaren told EGP.

Martha and Ruben Soriano could not be reached for comment; Velasquez declined to comment. In February 2011, Ruben Soriano told the LA Times they were victims of the bad economy, and they hoped bankruptcy would help them reorganize and save the building.

La Casa del Mexicano is considered an “important historical asset that should be preserved for the community,” according to MacLaren. Cabildo echoed the sentiment, saying their “vision would be to restore it and bring it back to what it once was… it is a very special place for a lot of people, and we want it to continue to have a use for the community,” Cabildo told EGP.

Cabildo said ELACC would probably manage the building differently from how it is currently being used. For example, they would probably no longer hold flea markets. “We are an economic and social justice organization, we have different strategies to preserve Boyle Heights,” Cabildo said.

While ELACC currently offers workshops and other services at their headquarters, La Casa del Mexicano could be the first time the agency runs a services-only building, she said.

Founded in 1995, ELACC purchases, rehabilitates and builds affordable housing complexes. They currently own and manage 15 different buildings in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. They are currently restoring the 1889 Boyle Hotel, located across the street from Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights.

Last year, the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, MAOF, was considering becoming the possible new operator of La Casa del Mexicano. “We thought MAOF was the first choice of the State Attorney General to receive the property. However, in a letter from the Attorney General I received last week, their recommended choice is the East Los Angeles Community Corporation and we are the second choice in the event East Los Angeles Community Corporation declines the property. The Bankruptcy Court is still in the process of making its decision,” MAOF President & CEO Martin Castro told EGP in an email on Monday.

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July 26, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

9 Responses to “Developer Weighs Risks of Taking Over ‘Casa del Mexicano’”

  1. ECHO PARK LADY on July 26th, 2012 4:31 pm

    HAVING TAKEN THE TOUR OF THE BUILDING LAST SUMMER:

    1. NOTICED THE HUSBAND / WIFE VERY SECRETIVE ABOUT INQUIRYIES.

    2. THE PLACE IS HAUNTED, YES LIKE LINDA VISTA HOSPITAL.

    DOES THE COPORATION WANT THE PLACE TO TEAR IT DOWN AND BUILD APTS. WHATS THE REAL STORY HERE???? WE HAVE A RIGHT TO KNOW. THE TRUTH WILL SET SOMEONE FREE.

  2. Antonio on July 26th, 2012 4:33 pm

    This looks like a wonderful place with a lot of history . I hope the choosing of the next owner / investor is something that gets done by the community. Or possibly the new householders have a community mind-set.

  3. Jesse Torrs on July 26th, 2012 9:27 pm

    Whether its Maria and ELACC or Martin and MAOF, La Casa del Mexicano is in great hands! I LOVE them both! They are both incredible human beings with the highest regard for the people of East L.A. and Boyle Heights. Great to see a win/win!

    Maria and Martin: When it is time to take out the debt please consider East L.A.’s only bank and the oldest Latino-owned bank in California to help with the financing! I would love to see this project finish with a total East L.A./Boyle Heights effort.

    I wish you could both have your own La Casa del Mexicano. But I know that regardless of the outcome, this property will be in very good hands.

    Abrazos,

    Jesse Torres
    President and CEO
    Pan American Bank
    “California’s Oldest Latino-Owned Bank”

  4. Frank Beruecos on July 28th, 2012 1:39 pm

    I have known the Sorianos for many years and I support them 100%. They are both good people with the best intentions to use the building for the community. Yes, they have flea markets, events and such but since they DO NOT receive grants from the state they need to have events to raise money for the building. Has anyone paid attention to the restoration efforts already made on the building? The mural artwork that embraces the inside of the building?? The money was used for that purpose. The consistently help the community with food drives, clothes etc. as well as provide all sorts of other services. They should be commended for their efforts.

    Frank Beruecos
    Beyond Paranormal Investigations

  5. Frank Beruecos on July 28th, 2012 1:46 pm

    @ECHO PARK LADY

    Yes, that IS their intentions. They want to tear down this beautiful historical and cultural building to build an apartment complex on the site!!! The Sorianos are in a fight to stop this and this is why they did not let the ELACC lady with inspectors in. Their is a petition to prevent this!! We support the Sorianos!!

    Frank Beruecos
    Beyond Paranormal Investigations

  6. Teresa on July 29th, 2012 1:16 am

    La Casa is a historical building, in the late 1930 it help many Mexican American return to Mexico, it was a real community services, it continue to help immigrants from Mexico to learn the English language, get jobs, and learn the workings of local government, and the laws. In the last 20 yrs the casa has not done any significant events, only money making events, and where is the money. Maria Gabildi from East Los Angeles Community Corporation is all about making money, she does not care of Boyle Heights or its community. Her thing is to built so call afforable housing, and she has overwhelm the little suburb with the ugliest buildings, no character, the only nice one is the one on Lorena Apartments, and hopefully the The cummings Hotel will be acceptable. The only people that like Maria Gabaldi is the bank, and politicians. Rumors is that ELA community corporation want to turn the Casa into a manufacture of food for taco trucks and street food venders. Boyle Heights already looks like a third world country, with so many illegal food venter that come out after dark, and Maria supports this. She does not live in Boyle Heights, so why should she care what she does, as long as money is filling her pockets and the politicians.

  7. Hypocrisy? on July 29th, 2012 3:12 pm

    What is the difference between having a flea market and all the street vendors that ELACC supports? Oh, that’s right. The flea markets at Casa del Mexicano are legal. How many low income apartments can go on this site?

  8. Teresa Marquez on July 30th, 2012 2:26 pm

    NO MORE AFFORABLE HOUSING FOR BOYLE HEIGHTS, OR SOBER LIVING ARRANGEMENT IN RESIDENTIAL COMMUNITIES. The real community of Boyle Heights want mix income apartmetns, and home ownership. We have four developments going up within less than quarter mile from Casa Del Mexicano, and four new apartments that have been open for rent. Boyle Heights can not afford more density, we do not have sufficient schools, and the school we have are not the best, our water rates have gone up, and will continue going up because of the demand. Boyle Heights has been ignored and our representation has not looked out for the health of our community or its people. three libraries are over 100 years old, no new construction is plan. Over 100,000 people living in Boyle Heights, a 3 X 5 miles area, in addition to all the people that work for 200 non profits, and do the employees live in BH?, no. We do not need afforable housing, but commercial industry, and every day businesses like grocery stores, pharmacies, a CVS, more Walgreens, but with not more liquor. Offices for doctors, dentist, quality cleaners, upscale restaurants, we have four government housing in Boyle Heights, and Wynverwood apartments. And if we need afforable housing, why is it that our nice apartments building are being turn into half-way houses for homeless, drug addics, and sober living housing. Be real, we do not need ELACC to continue making money and destroying our community, can they move someplace else. We need pocket parks and a better land planning team that would be transparent to the community and not hide behind doors, and continue to surprise us with rediculous plans that do not go beyond that.
    We need Adult Care, and adult day care for Alzheimers patients, adult care for disable, housing for disable adutls. Huizar should have a community forum and ask the community what they think they need. More policemen, better teachers, improve schools API, the new Mendez school, a little school is…

  9. Frank Beruecos on July 30th, 2012 6:40 pm

    THANK YOU TERESA MARQUEZ !!!!

    I could not agree more!!! I had an in depth conversation with Martha last week about ELACC and Maria we definitely do not want this to happen. Boyle Heights needs Casa del Mexicano and their efforts in the community. They have a lot of support. We run events for the Casa del Mexicano and donate all money to them. We will do all we can!

    Frank Beruecos
    BEYOND PARANORMAL INVESTIGATIONS

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