The Santa Monica Landmarks Commission moved to amplify the city’s cultural history Monday by nominating for landmark designation a modest-looking church that is believed to be one of the oldest continually used public buildings in Santa Monica.
The Commission voted to file an application for designation of Phillips Chapel at 2001 4th Street after hearing excerpts from a report prepared by USC graduate student Alison Jefferson. The report, which Jefferson had prepared for an architecture class, traced the history of the chapel in connection with the history of African-Americans in Santa Monica. Jefferson said that while researching the report she became convinced that Phillips Chapel deserved a landmark designation because of its cultural significance to the African-American community and to Santa Monica as a whole.
Jefferson’s report, accompanied by a photographic presentation, explained that the main chapel, a one-story white building with a small turret, had originally been the Washington School at Fourth Street and Ashland Avenue. Probably one of the oldest school buildings in Santa Monica, it was moved to the new site in 1909 after being purchased by Bishop Phillips of the West Texas Conference as a home for the recently established Colored/Christian Methodist Church (later the Christian Methodist Episcopal [CME] Church). It was the first African-American church in Santa Monica and served a congregation of black residents who mostly performed domestic and service work, the only jobs available to them at the time.
The church building underwent remodeling during the World War II years. A two-story addition was built in the rear of the structure and eleven stained glass windows were installed.
Despite the modifications that the Commissioners said “compromised” the physical integrity of the structure, the chapel’s cultural contribution to Santa Monica was too significant to ignore. The building received a unanimous nomination and Jefferson was thanked by the Commission for her extensive research.
The Commission also voted to designate 710 Wilshire, the Santa Monica Professional Building, under several landmarks criteria. The Spanish revival building is to be converted into a hotel. Speaking for the developer, attorney Michael Klein said the developer was eager to receive feedback from the Commission and to work with the Commission on trade-offs that might be necessary. The Commission briefly debated whether to include Criterion #5 (designed by a notable architect) among the criteria for the building’s designation, as the architect, Arthur E. Hardy, was not found to be a “notable” architect by City staff. However, Commissioner RuthAnn Lehrer cited several buildings around Los Angeles designed by Hardy, including the Embassy Hotel, a black and gold Art Deco building at Third and Wilshire in Los Angeles, and the Wilshire Professional Building, as examples of Hardy’s work. The Commission concluded that “notable” was a subjective judgment and, in its view, Hardy was, in fact, notable.
In other business, the Commission heard an update on the status of the Shotgun House, a landmark that must be moved from its temporary site at the airport by September. The Shotgun House Committee’s effort to move it to the Community Gardens on Main Street for use as a tool shed/restroom has been opposed by a majority of the gardeners.
A number of them have sent e-mails to the city and several of them spoke to the Commission expressing their opposition. The bases for their opposition included the possibility of homeless people camping in the house, increased parking problems in the area if the house became a tourist attraction, and the blocking of visibility at one end of the garden.
Commission chair Roger Genser suggested, as a stopgap solution: that the Shotgun House be moved from the airport to the Fisher Lumber site, which would give everyone “a cooling off period” during which the Shotgun Committee and the gardeners might be able to work out their differences or another site might be found. Genser volunteered to write the proposal letter to the City Council.
The Commission also heard a presentation on a project at 954 5th Street, which involves the incorporation of a historic house with three new condo units. Architect Howard Lacks presented a model and floor plan of the project and received praise from the Commission for his imaginative design concept.
The proposed demolition of an older building was stalled. Alan Lazarus, co-owner of an apartment building at 1143 11th Street claimed he did not know and was never notified that his building was in the Historic Inventory and that he made changes to the building before he had knowledge of the inventory listing. He also claimed that the repairs necessary to fixing the building were beyond his financial ability and that demolition was his only option. The Commission decided to continue the issue in order to obtain more information about the building.
A house at 2402 Carlyle Avenue had also been slated for demolition and had received a stay of demolition last month as the Commission wanted more time to receive information about the building. But although a staff report found the house possibly worthy of landmarking, a representative for the owner said the demo permit had been withdrawn, as the owner is out of the country at this time and needs time to think about the question. Therefore, the Commission took no further action on the property.
In other actions, the Commission approved statements of official action for landmark designation of 331 Palisades Avenue and for a certificate of appropriateness for the community bulletin board for the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant being built on the Santa Monica Pier. The Commission also approved a modified certificate of appropriateness for the remodeling of the garden behind City Hall.
City Manager Susan McCarthy, who is soon to retire, spoke briefly to the Commission in an effort to heal the breach between the Commission and City staff that was caused by the staff’s support of reversals of two recent Landmarks Commission decisions to designate buildings at 921 19th Street and 125 Pacific Avenue on the grounds that the Commission had overstepped its auithority.
“We should recognize and acknowledge differences,” said McCarthy, explaining that differences of opinion on buildings were just that — opinions — and were not necessarily related to political issues.No action was taken on the following demolition permits: 626 Broadway (stayed from the last meeting but passed on this time due to a staff report’s finding that the building lacked merit); 3111 Olympic Blvd; 3131 Olympic Blvd; 1028 23rd Street; 2510 7th Street; 3021 Santa Monica Blvd.