Gentrification Refugees

Jumpolin demo had been underway since November

Gentrification Refugees

Plans to demolish the Eastside building housing Jumpolin began more than two months before the property owners claim to have alerted the business owners to their intentions, city records indicate. The Feb. 12 demolition of the family-owned piñata business has become a touchstone of community debate about the gentrification of the Eastside – what was once a Latino working-class hub is giving way to increased real estate development that caters to a higher-income demographic.

According to city spokeswoman Alicia Dean, F&F Real Estate Ventures first requested a demolition permit on Nov. 26. The initial request for demolition is known as a "site plan exemption request." While not a formal request, the filing is a de facto demolition permit, Dean agreed, categorizing it as the first step toward securing city approval. By Jan. 13, the city had granted conditional approval for the demolition, contingent on verifying ownership and ensuring the structure had no historical value. F&F made a formal demolition request nine days later, and final city approval was granted Jan. 23.

Less than three weeks later, Jumpolin was reduced to rubble, along with the inventory of piñatas and other party supplies that had been inside. Sergio and Monica Lejarazu had operated the business for eight years. The property's previous owner valued their tenancy enough to grant them a five-year lease. But, based on their filings with the city, F&F, who bought the property in October, seemed to have a different idea for the site from the very beginning. While seeking permission to demolish the building housing Jumpolin at 1401 E. Cesar Chavez, F&F was concurrently filing a temporary use permit for the other building they bought as part of the purchase, a vacant site located adjacent to Jumpolin at 95 Navasota St.

An application for a temporary use permit for the Navasota property was made on Dec. 8, Dean said. According to the filing, property owners planned to allow a company to rent the space for a public party event timed to occur during SXSW. (A representative from Splash Inc., the business hosting the party, emailed the Chronicle Wednesday evening confirming that they would be looking for a different venue for the event.) In a rendering of the site filed with the Austin Center for Events, the former Jumpolin site appears as an open, outdoor area outfitted with tents as protection from the elements. F&F co-owner Jordan French claimed in an email to the Chronicle that he gave the Lejarazus prior notice of demolition on Jan. 23 – the same day on which he received final demolition approval for the building (see "Sign of the Times?" Feb. 20). The Lejarazus continue to dispute that. Sergio Lejarazu said, in Spanish, "I swear to God, we never saw that notice."

Since an initial response to questions a few days after demolition, French has declined to respond to subsequent queries. However, he had acknowledged ownership of the Navasota site. "The adjacent building is part of the same property, and we plan to turn it into commercial space," he wrote. There is evidence to suggest Jumpolin's demolition was planned after F&F was stymied by city parking requirements. Upon buying the property, they appealed to city officials for a variance: permission to reduce the scale of on-site parking for the Navasota building from six spaces to a lone disabled-parking space. Neighbors balked at the envisioned street parking spillover.

City guidelines appear to favor property owners' interests over tenants like the Lejarazus. At no point in the back-and-forth on permits between the city and F&F did the city verify F&F's claims that the building was unoccupied. City officials interviewed acknowledged that checking to see if a building is still occupied is not part of the city's process. "Making sure if someone is living in a building or has property stored in the building seems to me much more between the owner of the building and the tenant," said Steve Sadowsky, a historic preservation officer with the city. "And that's not the city's concern." Sadowsky said the city sees some 3,000 applications for demolitions each year, and the city's main concerns center on verifying ownership, receiving an asbestos report, and ensuring the property about to be demolished has no historic significance.

While the city bureaucracy may favor property owners, the community itself has stepped up to help the Lejarazus rebuild their business. Online, a GoFundMe page set up for the family has raised more than $3,100 of a $5,000 goal. Cody Symington, co-owner of nearby coffee shop Cenote, has offered his space for a future fundraiser at which miniature, hand-crafted piñatas will be sold to the public; he also plans to donate a share of proceeds from future restaurant sales. Another neighborhood eatery, Veracruz All Natural, will also hold a fundraiser this Saturday. "That was an idea that came from my brilliant wife," Sergio Lejarazu said of the tiny piñatas, noting that some of the diminutive creations will feature a Phoenix rising from the ashes.

Jumpolin has found a new site for the time being: temporary housing at 4926 E. Cesar Chavez offered by Rosa Santis, a well-known community leader and businesswoman who owns Pedro SS Services, Inc. and serves on the board of the Mexic-Arte Museum.

Along the way, the Lejarazus have emerged as working-class folk heroes in the gentrification skirmish, a distinction worn now like a badge of honor. At their new location, a sign hangs that bears the distinctive company name – a linguistic hybrid merging "jump" with "trampoline" used by excited children to describe the bounce houses the Lejarazus once offered along with piñatas and other party supplies. Below the name is a self-styled new identity followed by an entreaty to would-be customers: "Gentrification refugees," the sign reads. "Buy piñatas."

Veracruz All Natural will host a fundraiser this Saturday at 1704 E. Cesar Chavez from 10am to close. Piñatas, cascarones, and other assorted party favors will be for sale.

This story has been updated to reflect that Splash Inc. confirmed to the Chronicle that they would be looking for a different venue.

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Jumpolin, Sergio Lejarazu, Monica Lejarazu, Jordan French, F&F Real Estate Ventures, Eastside, gentrification

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