Downtown Santa Ana's Santora building sans the controversial signs owner Mike Harrah had put up at the end of last year. (Photo by: David Washburn)

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After complaints from tenants and citations and fines from the city of Santa Ana, Santora building owner Michael Harrah took down a pair of box signs that advertised his Original Mike’s restaurant located around the block.

Historic preservationists and tenants of the building, located on Broadway in the city’s Artists Village, have complained bitterly about the signs ever since they were put up in December. The signs, they said, were not only an affront to the historical integrity of the 1920s-era building but also drew people away from the Santora’s restaurants and shops.

“I’m content that Mr. Harrah complied with regulations like every other citizen in Santa Ana would have to,” said artist Alicia Rojas.

However, others say the removal of the signs did not come without a cost. Late last week representatives for Harrah showed up at the Santora demanding back rent from artists and threatened at least one with eviction, according to artists in the building.

Artists who spoke about the demands say they believe it was an act of retribution by Harrah, a charge that Harrah denies.

“This is my life,” said one artist who would only speak on condition of anonymity. The artist broke down in tears when talking about a recent interaction with a Harrah representative who came by the studio with eviction papers in hand. “There are a lot of twists and turns in life — this particular one hit me in the soul.”

But rather than pinning the blame on Harrah for the eviction threat, the artist blamed other artists in the downtown area for, the artist says, being too aggressive with Harrah.

“You have to take responsibility for what you say and do because people get hurt,” the artist said.

Harrah, meanwhile, denied that asking for the rent was anything out of the ordinary, or that there were any rent demands, or any threats of eviction as a means of retribution for the complaints about the signs.

“Do you know anybody who rents for free? Would you do that? Would you let somebody stay in there for three years without paying you?” Harrah said. “They’re all asked to pay — it’s not a charity group.”

Harrah also said he wouldn’t get rid of the artists, “because then I’ll never get the money.”

— ADAM ELMAHREK

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