A last-minute effort at Monday’s Santa Monica Landmarks Commission meeting to save the RAND “Z” building at 1700 Main Street resulted in the possibility that the Commission will communicate its feelings about the building’s historic value in a letter to the Santa Monica City Council.
A letter from Ted Winterer argued that the building was historically significant, and several speakers, including resident Jerry Rubin and members of the Los Angeles Conservancy, agreed. Joel Brand of the Santa Monica Conservancy pointed out that there had been “minimal public input” about the City’s plans to demolish the building next month.
However, as it turns out, saving the building is not within the Commission’s purview. In 2000, according to a city staff report, the City Council ceded demolition rights of both RAND buildings to RAND in concert with its plans to construct its new headquarters, exempted the project from ARB review, and stipulated that RAND remove any hazardous materials found in the structure.
Subsequent evaluations have found hazardous levels of asbestos at the site, which would add to the cost of rehabbing the Z building.
But, because feeling ran high that RAND is inextricably tied to the history of Santa Monica and the nation, given its significant and sometimes controversial role in U.S. government policy, the Commission decided to agendize the question at a future meeting to discuss drafting a letter to the City Council expressing respect for the building’s history and ensuring that archiving in the form of photographs or other media has been or will be done.
The discussion of the Z building’s fate came at the climax of a busy evening during which the Commission heard a number of speakers on a variety of local issues.
It voted to designate the sign at the former site of Zucky’s Deli at Fifth Street and Wilshire Boulevard as a landmark. The sign, a pylon supporting plexiglass letters that spell Zucky’s (with the “Z” measuring 12 feet) has long been a recognizable feature on Wilshire. Speakers who supported the designation had the support of the Commission, but some Commissioners wondered how landmarking the sign alone would affect the future possible designation of the building which is slated for “adaptive re-use” as a home to retail businesses.
Representing the property owner, John Watkins said the owner was willing to cooperate with the Commission’s actions, if the sign was designated, but he pointed out that the sign would conflict with the identity of future tenants. “How will we convince new tenants that Zucky’s is relevant?” he asked. The Commission noted that other historic buildings adapted for re-use, such as the Helms Bakery in Culver City and the former Penguin Coffee shop in Santa Monica (now a dentist’s office) have overcome the identity problem. “I’m sure that the right tenant will find a way to use the Zucky’s sign,” said Commissioner RuthAnn Lehrer.
Another vintage building slated for adaptive re-use is the Wilshire Professional Building at 710 Wilshire. The 1928 structure, an example of Spanish Revival style, has been the home of many businesses over the years. The current owner seeks to turn the building into a hotel and wanted the Commission’s approval of the project, as well as more time for development. The Commission explained to the applicant’s representative that landmarking the building and approving future proposed developments were separate issues and that in order to expedite the redevelopment, landmarking of the building should precede it. The Commission therefore voted to move the process forward by filing an application for designation of 710 Wilshire as a landmark.
The Commission also heard a report and the opinions of speakers on the issue of the Shotgun House, formerly located at 2712 Second Street and now being stored at the Santa Monica Airport. The Shotgun House Committee has explored possible permanent sites for the house, and one proposed site — the Community Gardens on Main Street — is opposed by a majority of the gardeners who say the house is not needed as a restroom or storage room and will use up space needed for gardening. Other proposed relocation sites are the former Fisher Lumber yard, which is now owned by the City, and Heritage Square on Main Street. There are problems with continued funding for the relocation project and the house may have to be removed from its site at the airport in September, if a permanent location is not found by then. The Commission plans to review the Shotgun Committee’s plans and take up the matter at next month’s meeting, after which it will make a recommendation to the City Council.
In other actions, the Commission continued two items regarding structures slated for demolition. Preserving an 1895 house at 1012 Second Street, despite a report that claimed the house was falling apart due to termites, received much support from both neighborhood speakers and Commission members. When it was announced that the house’s fate would be the topic of further review, some audience members applauded.
A house at 125 Ocean Park Boulevard was also deemed worthy of further review. Possible reprieves for three residential units at 1418 7th Street in the downtown commercial district were discussed, but were finally declared to be not salvageable.
No action was taken on the remaining demolition permits: 603 25th Street; 619 12th Street; 522 25th Street; 714 Marine Street; 1237 24th Street; 3218 Colorado Avenue; 428 22nd Street; 544 14th Street; 738 Marine Street; 422 21st Place; 333 14th Street; 804 Adelaide Place.Finally, the Commission approved a certificate of appropriateness for making modifications to the front patio enclosure of Rusty’s Surf Ranch Restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier, and voted to continue discussion on proposed temporary elements for landscaping the courtyard area behind City Hall after the demolition of the old police station.