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Landmarks Board Looks at 415 PCH:

The design team for the 415 Pacific Coast Highway project at the former Marion Davies estate met with the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission Monday night to make a presentation on the design plan for the project and obtain comments from the Commission.

Frederick Fisher, of Frederick Fisher and Partners, gave a brief summary of the site’s history. The estate was built in the late 1920s by William Randolph Hearst for his mistress, actress Marion Davies. In the 1940s, Davies sold the property, which was converted into a hotel. In 1960, it was purchased by the State of California and managed by the City of Santa Monica, which leased it to the Sand and Sea Club, a popular beach club. In the late 1980s, the City canceled the lease and opened the site to the public, but, after it was damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, it was shut down and has remained closed for a decade.

Fisher and other members of the design/build team assembled by Pankow Special Projects Limited of Pasadena, are now restoring and developing the site according to guidelines set by the City, which include stipulations that the site’s history be preserved, that a “light touch” be used in the design scheme, that the site be geared toward community use, and that it provide recreation.

Fisher displayed a rendering of the emerging design scheme which is divided more or less into five areas: an events area including the North House, a guest house that was part of the original estate designed by Julia Morgan (who also designed Hearst’s San Simeon castle), a pool area incorporating the original swimming pool, a recreation area, a beach area, and an outdoor dining area.

The North House will be restored within federal guidelines, which includes the addition of handicapped access. Its interior will be reconfigured to include community rooms, a catering kitchen, a cultural events space, and possibly an artist-in-residence suite. Because the rooms in the North House are not large, a building separated from the North House by a garden will be built to be used for banquets. It will accommodate up to 200 guests.

The pool will be restored, although Fisher warned that it would need a lot of work due to damage to the tiles and railings. An old bathhouse building at one side will probably be removed as it blocks the view of the ocean. A new pool house and a kiddie pool will be added in the pool area.

While some members of the Landmarks Commission attended the public workshops on 415 PCH that were held the weekend of October 1-2, they had additional concerns that they voiced at the Landmarks meeting.

Foremost among these concerns was the size of the banquet hall. The Landmarks 415 PCH sub-committee felt the banquet hall might be “too bulky” and suggested that it be scaled back.

Fisher replied that the 200-person capacity for the banquet hall was actually considered small for such a facility, and said that about two-thirds of the banquet hall building will consist of the warming kitchen, bathrooms, and storage, and that these rooms would be at the rear of the building, which need not be as high as the front. Larger crowds might be accommodated by holding events outdoors or under cover of a tent. But he added, “We will not be able to meet [the City’s Master Plan program] if we make the building any smaller.”

Commissioners also expressed concern about the various levels of the site, fearing that historic connections might be violated. Fisher noted that the main pool and the kiddie pool need to be on the same level for reasons of safety, and also that the design team is trying to meet the City’s goals in terms of accessibility, creating a site that allows ease of circulation.

A question was also posed in regard to the Arts Program promised in the design plan. Fisher explained that an artist is employed by the team and that his ideas would be incorporated. He also said that efforts were being made to use compatible materials in the design of the new structures and features of the project.

Fisher went on to say that at the public workshop, the concerns most often cited by participants were not architectural but involved noise control and security.

Overall, the Commissioners were pleased with the progress of the design plan and requested that they be given a tour of the site. The redevelopment of 415 PCH is scheduled to be operational by late 2008.

In other actions, the Commission approved designation of the Phillips Chapel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church at 2001 4th Street as a City Landmark. The unanimous vote for designation was met by applause and cries of “Amen” from members of the congregation who were in attendance.

Speaking to the Commission on behalf of the chapel, Reverend James C. Raymond emphasized that although Phillips Chapel’s parent church had been founded as an African-American church, the chapel welcomes all kinds of people and humorously countered one Commissioner’s apology that she had wanted to visit the church with her family but did not feel they were “properly dressed” by commenting, “As long as you have clothes on, come on by.”

Several members of the Commission admitted that they had not known much about Phillips Chapel or the African-American community in Santa Monica until, as a result of the chapel’s application, they read the background material submitted by USC graduate student Alison Jefferson. They thanked Jefferson and Reverend Raymond for compiling the material.

The Commission also approved eight applications for Mills Act contracts (under the Mills Act, landmark buildings can receive a property tax reduction to compensate for repairs made for the upkeep of landmarks). The Commission agreed to pass their approval to the City Council of the following contracts: 331 Palisades Avenue, 710 Adelaide Place, 1911 La Mesa Drive, 1333 and 1337 Ocean Avenue, 2619 3rd Street, 404 Georgina Avenue, and 142 Adelaide Drive.

The Commission also heard the latest update on the fate of the Shotgun House, still being stored at the Santa Monica Airport. Because construction is scheduled to begin soon on new facilities for Santa Monica College, the Shotgun House must be moved to another temporary site.

At this time, Fisher Lumber has agreed to accommodate the structure, while the Shotgun House Committee, according to a report by one of its members, is making progress in securing the approval of gardeners of Santa Monica for locating the house at the community gardens.

The Commission approved Statements of Official Action for designated landmarks at 710 Wilshire (the Spanish Colonial Revival Style office building which will be remodeled as a hotel), 1012 2nd Street (the turn-of-the-century beach cottage and Brand residence), and 404 Georgina Avenue (John Byers Adobe).

No action was taken on a demolition permit for 2612 Washington Avenue.At the beginning of the meeting, the Commission swore in a new Commissioner. Ruth Shari is the new Commission Real Estate Licensee.

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