Santa Monica’s City Council voted 4 to 1 last Tuesday to deny landmark status to Christie Court at 125 Pacific Street and make way for its demolition. The courtyard complex, which was constructed in 1924, had been designated as a landmark by the City’s Landmarks Commission on June 14, 2004 based on three criteria for landmarks that are spelled out in the landmark ordinance. Subsequently, 125 Pacific, LLC, which planned to build a new development on the site, appealed the designation. According to a City staff report, the primary criteria used by the Commission for the designation were that Christie Court “exemplifies the courtyard bungalow, an architectural form that defined Southern California’s development in the 1920s generally, and Ocean Park’s development specifically,” that it is “unique among the Ocean Park courts in its density, with 24 units on a 90’ x 150’ lot” and that the “landscaped interior courtyard formed by its U-shaped complex represents a physical characteristic that is unique at this property and provides an example of how bungalow courts provided social and cultural benefits through fostering a sense of community.” The staff report also recommended that the developer’s appeal be upheld, as did the City’s consultants. The developer’s spokesman, consultant David Moss, said, “There is no basis for landmark designation… [this is] not a well-executed example of a distinctive architectural style because of the significant modifications over the years that caused it to lose its individual integrity.” Mayor Pam O’Connor, herself a historic preservation consultant, agreed, noting that to qualify for a landmark designation a building “has to have architectural integrity … today. That’s the basic.” A number of people disagreed, and urged the Council to deny the appeal, including Landmarks Commission chair Roger Genser and Commissioner John Berley, an architectural historian, and several Christie Court residents. Longtime community activist Jerry Rubin told the Council that it “needed to respect the decision of the Landmarks Commission that was diligently appointed by the Council and entrusted by the Council to make these choices and has a lot of expertise. Otherwise, we’re undermining the integrity of that important Commission.” Thirteen-year Christie Court resident Michelle Katz noted that, “After 30 years of the City landmarking, many of the most notable homes designed by the famed and lived in by the rich, have already been landmarked. But now, with skyrocketing land values more and more modest dwellings are coming under fire and under scrutiny as part of the City’s pre-demolition review process. We have to ask ourselves, are they worth preserving, too? What we consider important is ultimately subjective. The question here is do you consider the lives of the working people who built this City important? Or, do you think that history and culture are only for the rich and famous… the Landmarks Commission has proven its standards to be consistent with the values of the people.” Katz was one of several Christie Court residents who collaborated on a presentation to the Council chronicling the history of the courtyard and some of its previous residents. (see story, page 1) The only dissenting vote came from Council member Bobby Shriver, who said he believed the landmark designation for Christie Court was appropriate as, in his own survey of the City’s courtyard apartments, Christie Court stood out. Council member Kevin McKeown was absent and Council member Ken Genser recused himself, as he works for David Moss. The Council’s reversal of the Commission’s decision came just two weeks after it reversed a Commission designation of a bungalow at 921 19th Street a landmark. In both instances, a Council majority ranked staff recommendations over Commission decisions. (See related editorial, page 6)In other business, the Council deadlocked 3 to 3 on increasing the fees developers must pay the City in lieu of building affordable housing units on site in either new apartment or condominium projects. Council members Robert Holbrook, Herb Katz and Shriver were opposed to raising the fees until an impact analysis study was conducted while O’Connor and Council members Richard Bloom and Genser were ready to raise the fees without a study. Another vote will be taken in September when a full Council is present.
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