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City Begins the Restoration of 415 PCH:

Residents met with City staff last Thursday to determine what will be covered in an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the historic Marion Davies estate at 415 Pacific Coast Highway. The five-acre beachfront estate was built in the late 1920s by newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst for his longtime mistress, actress Marion Davies.  Designed by architect Julia Morgan, who also designed San Simeon for Hearst, the estate had more than 100 rooms, a large and lavish main house, guest houses, a swimming pool, tennis courts and a dog kennel. Some of the original buildings, including the main house, were demolished in the 1940s, when the property was converted into a hotel. A locker building and cabanas were added. In 1959, the State of California assumed ownership of the property and assigned its management to the City of Santa Monica. From 1960 to 1990, it was leased by the Sand and Sea Club, and from 1991-1993 it was operated by the City of Santa Monica. Damaged in  the 1994 Northridge earthquake, it was shut down,  and has remained shuttered for ten years. Back on the Beach, a café, is located on the southern  edge of the site. Four years after the earthquake, a City working group developed a plan for the site, which was approved by  the City Council in 1999, but shelved. Over the years intermittent efforts to raise the requisite funds from various sources failed. Last year, the City ordered some “selective demolition” on the property, recalculated the cost of restoration at upwards of $19 million and proposed bringing in a private operator. Late last year, the City received a $21 million grant  from the Annenberg Foundation for the preservation, restoration and reuse of the historic site. According to Karen Ginsberg, the City’s Assistant Director of Community and Cultural Services, the criteria established in the reuse plan “preserves the integrity of the site by creating a light touch on the site.”  When complete, it will include a “renewed open space with outdoor recreational areas including a pool, a refurbished 9,000 square foot guest house that would provide meeting rooms,” the conversion of the three-story locker building to a banquet facility, public restrooms, concession stands and a beach café.  The reuse plan also calls for 300 parking spaces, some of which will be located at 445 Pacific Coast Highway (currently Back on the Beach). At the meeting, immediate neighbors of 415 worried that they would suffer increased noise from the project’s construction and, later, from truck deliveries and entertainment on the site. In addition,  they suggested that the project would generate crime and graffiti in their area and exacerbate their problems with the homeless, and wondered how the City would prevent homeless people from camping at the site and whether City vagrancy laws would be vigorously enforced. Other people were concerned that lighting on the site and odors from the food service would be bothersome and others asked about how storm run-off would be removed from the site, and worried about the stability of the site.   Among the more general concerns expressed at the meeting was an increase in traffic generated by the project that would have negative impacts on neighbors and PCH. To avoid such problems, some suggested the use of mass transit, including shuttles and carpooling for visitors to the site, as well as accessibility for the disabled. Everyone who took part in the session agreed that the historic character of the site should be preserved. Ronald P. Schafer, the State of California’s Department of Parks and Recreation’s District Superintendent for the Angeles District, said the  State’s view is that the site “maintain its ambience to history” and its “link to Hearst Castle and Sylmar in Pacific Grove” which are other State park icons that  were also designed by Morgan, adding that the State views this site as “an important historic resource …{and] wants to make sure that the history and appropriate architecture are kept.” The impacts the EIR must study are aesthetics, air quality, cultural historic resources, geology and soils, hydrology and water quality, noise, transportation and traffic, construction effects and neighborhood effects.Stephen Svete, the President of Rincon Consultants, the firm that will prepare the EIR, estimated that the Draft EIR will be available for public review late in the spring and the final EIR will ready in late summer for final public review.

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