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Code-breaker: Phonehenge West builder found guilty
Alan Kimble Fahey, the hirsute ex-phone service technician behind a folksy, sprawling rural California compound known as Phonehenge West, is found guilty of violating building codes and may face jail time.
A big development in what’s probably the oddest building code violation case to hit Los Angeles County in recent years:
After having been charged by the district attorney with 14 misdemeanor counts, Alan Kimble Fahey — or simply "Kim," the retired phone service technician behind the labyrinthine labor of love known as Phonehenge West — has been found guilty of violating building codes by jurors in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Lancaster on nine of those counts. According to The Los Angeles Times, after having reached a partial verdict the jury continued to deliberate today (June 8), on the remaining five counts.
As a result of the verdict, Fahey, 59, will most likely be forced to demolish the 20,000-square-foot “habitable structure” that he’s been building, piecemeal, in the sleepy Mojave Desert outpost of Acton since 1984.
Fahey also faces serious jail time given that each charge — which includes maintenance of non-permitted properties and unlawful use of land — carries a maximum six-month sentence. Fahey’s attorney tells the L.A. Times: “He faces pretty hefty fines and fees. It’s up to the judge whether she will impose any jail time.... The logical conclusion will be that she orders him to dismantle and remove the buildings that are not permitted."
I’ve seen plenty of hard-to-describe residences in my time, but I must say Phonehenge West is certainly one of the hardest. Essentially a constantly evolving private residence/folk art installation, the sprawling, stilted compound of 13 interconnected (via ramps and bridges) buildings was built largely from "recycled and eco-friendly parts" — like satellite dishes, scrap wood, French doors "donated by Danny Devito," and, of course, 108 unused utility poles — collected over the years by Fahey. Think the Winchester Mystery House and the Sagrada Família at Burning Man and you’re somewhat close. Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens in Philadelphia and Sam Rodia's Watts Towers in Los Angeles also come to mind.
The prosecution argues that Fahey remained gleefully defiant of building permits while constructing his "unusual home expansion" up until 2008, the year when code enforcement officials swooped in. In terms of code violation, he’d been getting away with murder for years. But as long as Fahey wasn't hurting anyone, so what? Aren’t there bigger proverbial fish to fry?
The whole Phonehenge West case and the hoopla around it naturally leads to the question: Should Fahey, a code defier and legitimate folk hero, be exempt from the rules? Or should he have abided by them just like everyone else including those who also reside in similarly rural areas? What makes him so special? Sure, Phonehenge West may not be safe — I imagine it could easily collapse atop itself during a major earthquake or quickly burst into flames — and it may not be conventional, but I personally think it’s a colossal waste of L.A. County’s time and of the taxpayer's money taking Fahey to court.
What are your thoughts? Have you ever been taken to court over a building code issue?
Via [L.A. Times]