Evelyn Burkhalter, owner of the Barbie Museum and Hall of Fame, was in her attorney's office Dec. 19 when an unexpected fax arrived from Rowena Wu, owner of the building that houses the world's largest Barbie collection. The fax said that Wu had dropped the eviction suit against Burkhalter.
"It was a surprise. We had been planning our next move," Burkhalter said. The Barbies had been moved to the 433 Waverley St. location a little over a year ago, and Burkhalter signed a five-year lease on the space. Wu bought the building in July and felt that the Barbie Hall of Fame was incompatible with her plans to use the building for another Lulu restaurant like the one in San Francisco, Burkhalter said.
Wu filed an eviction suit claiming that Burkhalter was breaching the lease by not properly insuring the Barbies.
"She claimed that we breached our lease. She wanted complete insurance replacement values on the dolls. That's impossible. These dolls are irreplaceable," Burkhalter said. Her lawyer, Mike Mitchell, found that the lease required insurance, but not for the entire replacement value. The Barbies had been insured for $110,000, which fulfilled the lease requirement.
Although the Barbies will continue to entertain locals and tourists, Burkhalter had to sell three of the most valuable dolls to help cover the $25,000 in legal fees. The three dolls were among the first Barbies on the market in 1959, and they sold for up to $5,000 each.
Although the eviction battle is over for now, Burkhalter is filing a claim against Wu to recover the court fees and also for harassment. The harassment case involves violations such as the deactivation of the building's fire alarm system from September to Thanksgiving, and poor heating in Arcon Hearing Service, which occupies a space in the same building and is run by Burkhalter's husband, Robert.
Wu's lawyer, Tom Lewis, did not return phone calls for comment.
The hall of fame's lease runs out in April 1999, and Burkhalter is unsure where the Barbies will live next. She received calls from Canada, London and South Africa when people discovered that she was being pressured to leave the Waverley Street location.
"There was an outcry in the media and that really helped us out," Burkhalter said. The collection has more than 20,000 pieces, and the dolls represent the trends from each era of history. The guest book contains the signatures of recent visitors from France, Denmark and New York.
The newest Flying Hero Barbies feature brightly colored capes modeled after the power rangers. Many consider Burkhalter a true Barbie hero for her effort to preserve the Palo Alto museum of dolls.
"She did a very good job of presenting her case," said Ray Wilbur of Wilbur Properties in Palo Alto, which represented the previous owner and handled the sale of the property to Wu.
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