Los Altos strip mall damaged in Christmas fire at risk of collapsing, officials say

ByLauren Martinez, Zach Fuentes, and Lena Howland KGO logo
Wednesday, December 27, 2023
Los Altos strip mall damaged in fire could collapse, officials say
After a Christmas Day fire hit a group of Los Altos businesses, crews have a perimeter set up and say there's concern the building could collapse.

LOS ALTOS, Calif. (KGO) -- Entire livelihoods for a group of small businesses in Los Altos have been turned upside down after an early morning Christmas fire, and crews say danger remains.

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Fire crews were called to the two-story shopping center fire on El Camino Real between North San Antonio Road and Sherwood Avenue.

Fortunately, no one was inside the building at the time.

But more than 24 hours after the fire, crews say there is still concern the building could collapse outwardly and have a large perimeter set up.

During the firefight, there was some structural collapse including the roof and the HVAC systems so firefighters were pulled to battle the flames from the outside.

It took until Monday afternoon to get the fire fully contained.

Business owners tell ABC7 there are at least 10 other businesses that were in the shopping center, including a salon, a bakery, and SAT prep center, and a judo and martial arts school.

"I was just getting up, so getting ready to enjoy Christmas with my family," Raul Tamayo, owner of Tamayo's Judo said.

Just as Tamayo was about to start opening presents Monday morning, one of his student's parents called to let him know his business was up in flames.

"I'm in shock still, I just opened up my business, it's only been a year," Tamayo said. "So it was starting to go really well, great location, nice building, and then this."

"I can't imagine what they're going through," said Larry Chu, Jr., Co-owner of Chef Chu's Restaurant. "It's been Christmas and they're all hard-working and I feel terrible for them."

Larry Chu Jr. and his family have owned Chef Chu's restaurant for 53 years.

They got the call early Christmas morning that there was a fire near where their restaurant is located.

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"(We) just jumped out just in our pajamas, ready to find out what's going on," Chu said.

Chu was relieved to see that their restaurant was fine, but heartbroken to see that the neighboring businesses, many of whom he knows personally lost everything.

"We're close, you know, since the pandemic, we've gone through a lot all these small businesses, and we've been really supportive of each other," Chu said.

One of the neighboring businesses is Lady M Cake Boutique.

Manager Juan Delgado and some staff carried out what they could from their building Tuesday.

Though somewhat separated from the main strip mall, the business does share a wall with the destroyed building.

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"They're like, charred, the buildings next door," Delgado said. "Ours somehow is still white, everything in there is still completely fine."

Though relatively unscathed by the fire, Lady M Cake Boutique's attachment to the building leaves its fate uncertain.

"They do have one wall that's shared and so our concern is we're not going to know how damaged that wall is until we do the demo," said Santa Clara County Fire Department Assistant Fire Marshal Jeremy Davis. "Our goal and the city's goal is to keep that intact but we won't know until we go through the demo process."

Despite uncertainties, Delgado says he's grateful that friends and business neighbors were not injured.

"I'm just grateful everybody's okay. I mean, it could have been a lot worse," he said, "There could have been people in the building, I do know that some of the residents in Los Altos that have businesses here, they stay there too overnight. So fortunately nobody was here."

Carey Wong, a neighbor who lives just a block away, woke up to the smell of smoke thinking it was his apartment.

"I really feel sorry for the businesses that work out of there, the store and the cafes, I hope the ones in the area aren't too badly affected," Wong said.

Jenny Monsivais is an office manager for a construction company that had an office on the second floor.

"It's devastating. Devastating. I still can't believe that it's gone," Monsivais said.

Fire officials say the full investigation into the cause of the fire can't even start until the demolition.

"We need to demo remove, basically the second story and the first story," Davis said, "Once that's removed, it will be safe for us to go in."

A beloved dance studio is also impacted.

Katie Baik described Bay Area Dance School as her second home for the past 11 years.

Baik created a GoFundMe that is receiving donations from around the country.

VIDEO: Relief for Los Altos small business owners after shopping center fire

Groups from around the country are now rallying behind Los Altos small businesses in need of support following a destructive Christmas morning fire.

New York City Dance Alliance donated $5,000.

Leyla Boissonnade opened the dance school in 2012.

"You just have something that was there and then suddenly it's not," Boissonnade said.

Boissonnade said she's now focused on finding temporary locations for her 80 students and seven staff members.

"I was in there on the 24th working with a student who has a competition coming up. I have students that have auditions this week for a professional program," Boissonnade said.

So many of her students consider the studio as a "safe space" they had during and after the pandemic.

Emma Marcellana is a student at the dance school, she said it was the only place she could dance during the pandemic. She said the lobby feels more like a living room.

"The people that this place has provided me with the support, the comfort, just the space to be able to express myself and do what I love has meant everything to me," Marcellana said.

Boissonnade got emotional when she looked back on how the studio created a space for everyone.

"They could only pick one space to go to and for many of these kids this was the space that they picked. And I think for a lot of them that's still very clear in their memory," Boissonnade said.

Boissonnade said the amount of support she's received on a local and national level is incredible.

"People all over the peninsula who are offering space, who are offering costumes who are offering time an ear even just to say hey- you might need a place to step back," Boissonnade said.

Kim Mosley, president of the The Los Altos Chamber of Commerce, expressed concern for the businesses.

"The Chamber of Commerce is here to help support the businesses impacted by the fire with relocation and connection to needed support services. Contact us at info@losaltoschamber.org or 650.948.1455. Additionally, if you would like to offer your support or make a donation to businesses in need you can make a donation to the Chamber Foundation through our website. www.losaltoschamber.org."

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Officials say demolition could take anywhere from two to three weeks.

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