Part Five: Water Garden This is the fifth installment in the Mirror’s “take a hike” series that answers the questions City Hall asks in its “5 Steps to Discover Santa Monica” survey. Day, time and place of walk. Mid-morning on a sunny Tuesday, through the Water Garden office complex, a multi-block area bordered by Colorado Avenue on the north, Olympic Boulevard on the south, 26th Street on the east, and Cloverfield Boulevard on the west. Tell us what you liked/disliked about walking in this area. Walking around the perimeter of the Water Garden is nothing to get excited about. There’s lots of traffic and the air smells like exhaust fumes. Inside the courtyard, it’s a whole different experience — sort of Santa Monica’s version of a modern-day Versailles, complete with fountains, a lake (okay, it’s concrete and only a foot deep, but the ducks seem to like it), and trees as welcoming as old friends. It’s just a shame that the public isn’t invited. The illusion is one of more open space than office space, although the compound’s four buildings house 72 commercial tenants with as many as 3,000 employees in total. Law firms dominate the tenant directories, though there are also a number of media and publishing companies in residence. What has been your impression of driving and parking in this area? I knew better than to show up during peak commuting hours, but by 10:15, negotiating the roadways was manageable. There’s no street parking anywhere, and rates in the underground garage are exorbitant – $2.20 for every 20 minutes or fraction thereof (meaning if you stay for 21 minutes, your bill will be $4.40). What were people doing in this area and did it impact your experience? Most of them, I suppose, were working. When I first arrived, the only person in sight was dusting the decorative lampposts. Thirty minutes later, three people had found their way into the courtyard — two were smoking and one was talking on a cell phone. As the morning went on, the area became livelier, and by noon several of the wrought iron tables were occupied by people enjoying lunch in the sunshine. The most conspicuous presence is that of security personnel. I was approached at least six times by uniformed guards asking if they could help me. Most were, if not brusque, at least reserved. Only two were outright pleasant, one of them William Day, who told me, “I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.” Do you like the activities available in the neighborhood? The development is self-contained and provides a modest variety of activities and services. There are three “sundry shops” that offer dry cleaning, photo processing and postal services, as well as merchandise found in typical convenience markets. The Water Garden’s several dining options include the 150-seat Café Bizou, El Forno for Italian takeout, and Mrs. Winston’s Green Grocery, with a superb 100-item salad bar. There’s also an on-site fitness club. Some of the businesses validate parking. One of the most practical features is an accredited childcare facility with priority enrollment for parents who work in the buildings. At the moment, the center serves 54 children between six weeks and 5 years of age. My favorite activity was simply relaxing and enjoying the scenery, especially the four fuzzy ducklings toddling along the walkway. Are there any other activities or services that you would like to see in the neighborhood? Light rail service to and from the neighborhood would be the most beneficial addition. What is your impression of the buildings in the area? There are four buildings on the 17-acre campus, as it’s called, built in the neoclassic style. Though I visited all four, there was really no need, as the interior of each is an exact replica of the others, down to the club chairs in the atrium lobbies. And the vaulted iron archways above the entrances are a bit Westside Pavilion-ish. But the overall impression is one of light and space, and the common courtyard — with its lake and greenery — is something that’s becoming more and more rare in Santa Monica: a quiet refuge. What was unique about the area? The lake and other water features are supplied by recycled (and treated) runoff water, as is the water used to maintain the landscaping. The Water Garden has twice been named “Building of the Year” by the Building Owners and Managers Association in the mid-rise suburban office park category, in 2002 and 2004. What did you like or dislike about this area? I approached the Water Garden expecting to deplore it. Since I’d never been on the grounds before, my view of the complex (and other developments on Santa Monica’s east side) was shaped by the highly visible traffic and congestion problems. Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the parklike setting. As noted, parking rates are high. And I certainly didn’t like coming back to my car and having to wedge myself through a door that would only open a few inches because a humongous Cadillac Escalante was jammed into the adjacent space, even though it was labeled — in very large, white letters — “compact.” This is not the fault of the Water Garden, of course, and it’s something I wouldn’t like no matter where I parked. (Perhaps the driver believes his “Viva Bush” bumper sticker gives him the social capital to ignore the rules.) And I’m puzzled by management’s “strict policy” forbidding photography. Were this my property, I would welcome visitors (yes, even press) who want to photograph the landscaping, water features and architecture. How much security can you breach taking snapshots of a duck? Tell us how you imagine this area to be in 20 years. In 2025, with the popularity of the light rail system, there is no longer a need for acres of underground parking, so much of the garage has been put to better use (with aesthetic and ventilation improvements, of course). Visitors are welcome, whether they have business there or not. The courtyard space is a popular venue for art exhibits and afternoon concerts, open to the public.
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