Creator of quirky Calif. village to be sentenced

AP News
Posted: Jul 22, 2011 4:05 AM
Creator of quirky Calif. village to be sentenced

Stonehenge still stands in Great Britain after thousands of years. But its quirky counterpart in California's Mojave Desert appears destined for a much shorter existence.

Kim Fahey, who assembled a dozen colorful structures out of used, discarded, junked and just-plain-unwanted materials over nearly 30 years, acknowledged this week that whether his future home is in a jail cell or on a ranch just down the road, he's leaving the property the public has come to know as Phonehenge West.

The self-taught builder who constructed a 70-foot art deco tower, a barn, replicas of a 16th century Viking house and an antique railroad car among other structures, has been ordered to tear them all down because he put up each one without building permits.

He was to be sentenced Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court on a dozen misdemeanor building code violations. He faces a maximum of a year in jail on each count, as well as substantial fines, although he could also be sentenced to probation.

"I'm losing more interest in the place every day," Fahey said by phone this week as he packed up his library of several thousand books, everything from World War II histories to anthologies on circus freaks. He kept most of them in the loft area of a barn he built partly out of discarded utility poles, and which he connected to Phonehenge West's other buildings with wooden bridges resembling something out of Disneyland's Tom Sawyer's Island attraction, only more colorful.

Supporters have hailed the work as a stunning example of American folk art that should be preserved. County building officials say it is a threat to public safety and must be torn down.

Fahey, meanwhile, says he's moving to Tehachapi, a small town at the foot of California's Sierra Nevada mountain range. But the colorful, burly builder, who constructed his little village on a 1.7-acre piece of property he bought in the old California Gold Rush town of Acton, says he isn't giving up entirely.

"They got my place and they ran me out, but the fight's not over," said Fahey, who promised to appeal.

In the meantime, the fate of Phonehenge West is uncertain.

Authorities say only one building, which was on the property when Fahey moved in 30 years ago, is a legal residence and the others must go. Los Angeles County Public Works spokesman Bob Spencer said it's unlikely the county would do the demolition work, however, but might hire an independent contractor.

Fahey said that in compliance with a court order he evicted six people who were living in Phonehenge West's unpermitted buildings and is shutting off power to them this week. One of his sons remains in the legal building.

Fahey was originally scheduled to be sentenced two weeks ago, but when the judge learned he had initially ignored the court order she threw him in jail and rescheduled sentencing to Friday. His family bailed him out last week.

The retired telephone company technician had minor run-ins with county officials for decades before they arrived five years ago and ordered him to stop constructing his tower. That triggered a five-year legal battle that culminated with his sentencing.

"I was a young guy who had visions of making a little ranch, that's all," Fahey, 59, said recently. "I didn't have visions of having the greatest place in the world or changing the impact on society, I just wanted to be happy."