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Landmarks Commission Okays Adelaide Place Demolition: after neighbors express support

The demolition of a house at 808 Adelaide Place will proceed as planned — thanks to a group of neighbors who appeared at Monday night’s Santa Monica Landmarks Commission meeting to speak in favor of a proposed new project on the site.

The  1920-era house had been reviewed for demolition at last month’s meeting, but a decision was postponed after several residents of the 700 block of Adelaide Place expressed concern that the character of the neighborhood might be affected by both the demolition of a potentially historic structure and the style of the structure that might replace it.

The Landmarks Commission then bumped the demolition question to Monday’s meeting in order to find out more about the property.

However, many of the same residents showed up at Monday’s meeting to say that they had changed their minds in regard to the proposed construction after the project architect met with them and discussed his design and his regard for the character of the street.

The architect, John Cobain, told the Commission that he had read the consultant’s report on the “historic merits” of the house and did not agree with the findings.

“Being an architect, I am very interested in preserving fine examples of architecture,” said Cobain. “I do not think that this example is worthy.” He refuted the consultant’s claims that the building exemplified the Spanish colonial style, calling it a typical example of what architects have termed “vanilla Mediterranean.”  In addition, he noted that the house had been moved from its original location and had been modified in various ways over the years.

However, Cobain said he had been sensitive to the neighbors’ concerns about how his project would harmonize with the rest of the area. “It’s a special street,” he said. “We wanted to preserve that special feeling.” To that end, Cobain held meetings with the neighbors and showed them his design sketches for a building that was a  better-looking Mediterranean-style structure.

Four speakers followed Cobain, all of them testifying to their satisfaction with his plans and their confidence that the ambience of their neighborhood would be preserved.

“The building is not of historic value,” said one woman. “The neighborhood is.”

After hearing those comments, the Commission  declined to take further action to prevent the scheduled demolition. While it was noted that the Commission’s purview did not include the merits of the new project, Commissioner  John Berley commended Cobain (who represented the property owner) for working with the community to achieve a satisfactory result. Commission chair Roger Genser added with a touch of humor: “It is unusual for a whole street to support a demolition.”

The Commission also took up the issue of whether to landmark a Brazilian pepper tree at 1050 Centinela Avenue. The idea for the landmark designation came from residents in the area who had sent a letter to the Commission about designating the tree. According to staff, the property owner had been informed of the neighborhood drive to designate the tree but he was unable to attend the Landmarks meeting. In his absence, the Commission did not take action on nominating the tree but did briefly discuss who would take responsibility for maintaining a landmarked tree.  Staff informed them that the property owner would be required to care for it but it would be under review from the community forester. Several Commissioners voiced concern that the landmarking of   this particular tree might set off a flurry of campaigns for similar designations of trees and that  any designation should only be undertaken with good cause. The Commission voted to continue the item to next month.

In other business, the Commission discussed its  ongoing project of making recommendations to the City staff on revisions to the General Plan’s land use element and Zoning Ordinance (Shape The Future 2025).

The Commission’s primary concern was for transferable development rights for historic properties. The concept of transferable development would allow for changes in zoning to accommodate changing needs in Santa Monica-for example, the need for housing might necessitate changing an all-industrial zone to a mixed-use zone. The Commission agreed that concerns about density and height would play a significant role in its eventual recommendations. A Commission subcommittee is working on the revisions.

Another topic of discussion was the possibility of broadcasting Landmarks Commission meetings on City TV as well as on the Internet. City Council liaison Kevin McKeown noted that the city station has the capability to include the meetings. However, as McKeown joked, broadcasting one commission’s meetings is not about “video envy,” the broadcasting of Landmarks meetings might prompt the Architectural Review Board to ask that its meetings be televised also, which might lead to budget concerns.  The monthly broadcasting of two ARB meetings and one Landmarks Commission meeting (plus two Planning Commission meetings) would necessitate an addition to the city’s budget. The Commission mulled the advantages of being televised (educational to the public) versus the negatives (budget and possibly too much exposure when nothing is happening). It was agreed that the issue of Landmarks Commission Meetings on TV should be postponed until next year when there might be more incentives to make broadcasting worth the money and trouble.

In other actions, the Commission approved a Certificate of Appropriateness for changes to the patio and front façade of Rusty’s Surf Ranch restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier.No action was taken on the following planned demolitions: 1253 18th Street; 1639 11th Street; 2731 Washington Avenue; 2336 30th Street; and 823 Yale Street.

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