LOS ANGELES -- It wasn't an earthquake, but the swift departure of the Morse family last week from the California Mart has shaken up the West Coast fashion industry.
Inside and outside the trade center, built by the Morse family 30 years ago, people are wondering what went wrong and what lies ahead.
The Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States, as reported, assumed complete ownership of the property last week, more than a year after the Morse partnership failed to make mortgage payments on $265 million in real estate loans.
The most common explanation is that the lingering California recession and plummeting real estate values, which put pressure on rents, combined to cause the Morse downfall.
Sidney Morse, who was managing partner for the family; his cousin Susan Morse-Lebow, a general partner, and his aunt Adele Morse-Platt, also a general partner, vacated their offices Aug. 30. David Morse, Morse-Platt's son and a third general partner, continues to maintain space for his firm, which manages a trade mart in Singapore.
The Morses took with them busts and paintings of the late brothers Barney Morse -- Sidney's father -- and Harvey Morse, onetime lingerie manufacturers who built the mart in 1964.
Sidney Morse has moved back to his home in Arizona and declined to discuss the situation.
The Mart's 180 employees have been asked to reapply for their positions with the new owner, but their jobs do not appear to be immediately in jeopardy. Tino Argimon, senior vice president of Equitable Real Estate Investment Management Inc., asserted, "There is no restructuring or downsizing that automatically follows this process."
Tenants at the 1.9 million-square-foot complex who were concerned that their rents might be raised have had their fears allayed for the time being, too.
"We are in the process of reviewing all leases and we'll be working with our tenants in the next week to reaffirm those leases," a Mart spokesman said.
Equitable's Argimon said, "We have not contemplated the possibility of raising rents."
Maurice "Corky" Newman, California Mart president and chief executive officer, declined to talk to reporters, but in a letter to tenants, he wrote, "Equitable wishes every tenant to know that it is its desire to continue your occupancy at California Mart."
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