Published July 22, 2011
LANCASTER, Calif. – The eccentric builder of a village of odd-shaped structures called Phonehenge West avoided a trip to jail Friday when a judge who was to sentence him on a dozen building code violations learned he has begun to dismantle the colorful Mojave Desert enclave.
Superior Court Judge Daviann L. Mitchell said she was prepared revoke Kim Fahey's bail and send him to jail until prosecutors told her Fahey had begun to follow her orders, shutting off power to most of Phonehenge's buildings and hiring a company to tear down a 70-foot tower that overshadows everything else in his quiet, rural neighborhood 50 miles north of Los Angeles.
Fahey himself wasn't in court. His lawyer said he went to a hospital with a painful kidney stone Thursday and was under powerful painkillers and unable to attend. Fahey's wife, Pat, brought a note from her husband's doctor.
"Please let Mr. Fahey know the court does appreciate his movement on this case," Mitchell said as she rescheduled his sentencing hearing for Aug. 5. She said she would be willing to delay it again if Fahey, 59, is not well by then.
He could face a maximum of a year in jail on each conviction but could also receive probation.
Fahey, a retired phone company technician, built Phonehenge West over a period of almost 30 years, mainly out of foraged and bartered materials. He fought with Los Angeles County building inspectors almost from the start over his refusal to submit plans for his buildings and obtain county permits.
In the meantime, he built a replica of a 16th century Viking house and an antique railroad car, a sprawling barn, a small stone structure and numerous other buildings. He linked them together with a series of colorful bridges and catwalks resembling something out of the Tom's Sawyer's Island attraction at Disneyland.
Fahey crafted his buildings out of everything from steel beams he salvaged from an ocean pier and a car wash, to discarded power company utility poles, to a spiral staircase he said actor Danny DeVito, one of his phone company clients, was throwing away.
After a jury convicted Fahey last month, Mitchell ordered him to tear down every building on the property except the house that was there when he bought the place.
When he initially ignored her, she threw him in jail. His family bailed him out last week.
Since then, Deputy District Attorney Patrick David Campbell told the judge, Fahey has begun to comply with her order, evicting several tenants who lived in the buildings, shutting off most of the electricity and moving out himself.
The prosecutor added that Fahey has also contracted with a company to begin tearing down the tower Aug. 1. Fahey's lawyer, Jerry Lennon, said his client would take the other buildings down one at a time after that, and the judge and prosecutor seemed satisfied.
"He seemingly has complied with the most urgent orders," Campbell said.
Fahey's supporters, several of whom came to court Friday, have hailed his creation as a stunning example of American folk art and complained that he has a right to do what he wants with his property.
"We've sat through the whole trial kind of bewildered that they're doing it to him," said Kevin Barber, a longtime friend. "They have no problem displacing someone from their property because they had something wrong that they were not willing to help them fix."
Although he's tearing the place down, Fahey said earlier this week he still plans to appeal his conviction.
"They got my place and they ran me out, but the fight's not over," he said.