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Daughter of former Black Hole store owner in court fight over property

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By Tris DeRoma

Barbara Grothus, the daughter of anti-nuclear activist and store owner “Atomic” Ed Grothus, pleaded not guilty in Los Alamos Court Monday to failing to removing two large office trailers from the former Black Hole store on Arkansas Avenue.

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The military surplus store that also sold surplus laboratory equipment was closed in 2012, but remains abandoned.

In court before Los Alamos Municipal Court Judge Alan Kirk, Grothus said few words, telling the judge she preferred to speak later if and when her case goes to trial.

After learning in court that Grothus and the county code enforcement officers were working toward a solution, Kirk encouraged them to keep working toward an equitable agreement while he worked to find a date for trial.

Penalties for the violation include a maximum $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

She said her trouble began when a person she was talking to about unloading the trailers suddenly cut off all contact with her. Even though she told the county what happened, she received the citation at the end of June. Since then, she told county code enforcement she’s found two organizations that want to take them, and the trailers will be off the property by July 26.

Since 2012, Grothus has been preparing the property for sale, razing buildings and removing items that were once up for sale in the The Black Hole.

She said the Los Alamos County establishment had never been welcoming of her father’s activities at The Black Hole, which he ran as a surplus store that sold castoff equipment from the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

“They couldn’t even except an exhibit about Hiroshima to be put here. They need to tell their own story over and over,” Grothus said. “They are so insecure about their lives and their history that they can’t tolerate anybody coming in with a different viewpoint.”

The Black Hole was also a museum for Ed Grothus’ paintings and sculptures, most of which were about the evils of nuclear weapons and war in general. Through the years, Ed Grothus became known as a staunch anti-war activist. Next door, he converted an abandoned church into The “First Church of High Technology.”

Barbara said she recently spent $100,000 to have the church razed on orders from the county’s code enforcement. She said this latest court appearance is just another in a long line of legal entanglements she’s had with the county over the Arkansas property.

“They don’t seem to have any sense on how long it takes to organize these things.

You can’t just call someone up and say ‘oh by the way you have to do asbestos remediation.’ You have to have testing.

You have to arrange to have it taken out, and that takes some time,” Grothus said.
County Building  Safety Manager Michael Arellano said they’ve been working with Grothus, and wished they didn’t have to give her a citation.

“We’ve been working with her to keep things going.  Sometimes, she doesn’t quite meet her schedule so we have to prompt her a little bit,” Arellano said of the process to remediate the property. “We wished she would’ve gotten it to us earlier rather than having to go to court or wait for it. We want to work with her. Our end goal is compliance, not going to court because that takes up too much time and resources.”

Arellano said they will continue to work with her take down the last building on the property, the headquarters of The Black Hole.

The property has two containers that contain two 40-ton white granite obelisks Ed called the “Doomsday Stones.”

They are both inscribed with a warning about nuclear war in 15 languages.

Arellano said he’s seen them, and hopes Barbara Grothus will find someone to take them.

“They’d be a nice addition somewhere,” Arellano said. “As long as we keep seeing forward progress, we will continue to work with her.”

The Black Hole was a surplus shop Ed Grothus opened shortly after he quit the Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1969 in protest of the Vietnam War. He had a store called the “Los Alamos Sales Co.” while he was still working at the lab in 1950s. Sometime in the 1970s, he opened The Black Hole in what used to be a grocery store on Arkansas Avenue. The store sold mostly cast off equipment from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, as well as military surplus. The store also became a home base of sorts for Grothus’ anti-war activities, which included lectures and meetings.

Outside court, Grothus gave the media a written statement about her father.

“Ed Grothus loved this community. He had some mottoes. Do Good. Build. Never Destroy and one bomb is too many. It is my intention to continue to try my very best to do good, but Los Alamos seems committed to destruction of good will and honorable intent as well as the extermination of any legacy that opposes the story Los Alamos likes to tell and falsely believe about itself,” Grothus said.