Last Tuesday, Santa Monica’s City Council voted 6 to 1 to move the Shotgun House from Santa Monica Airport to the former Fisher Lumber yard at 14th Street and Colorado, which was recently purchased by the City.
The 400 square-foot 1898 Shotgun House was landmarked by the City in 1999 and moved to the Santa Monica Airport three years ago from Ocean Park.
12 feet wide and 33 feet long, with a six-foot porch, the house has to be moved off airport land, as the City is beginning construction of the new airport park.
Council members first discussed the fate of the historic house at their October 25 meeting, but there were not sufficient votes that night to make a decision, as two Council members were not present. At that time, Council member Kevin McKeown moved that the City continue to provide temporary storage for the house and that house be removed from the airport to another City location by professionals “at no cost to the City provided the owner of record supplies a written request” to do so. His motion also stated that there be no guarantee that the City would provide a new permanent site for the house.
When the motion failed to garner the requisite four votes, the Council opted to continue the matter to the November 1 meeting.
Virtually the same motion garnered six votes at the November 1, with one additional condition – that the temporary storage of house be limited to two years.
The Council vote echoed the recommendations for temporary storage of the house made by both the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission and Recreation and Parks Commission.
It followed a presentation by attorney and Santa Monica Conservancy Sherrill Kushner that a new non-profit group, Friends of the Shotgun House, was being formed to “raise funds to relocate the house and rehabilitate it.” According to Kushner, this new group “wants to work with the City in a public private partnership.” Noting that such partnerships were “not an uncommon thing in the City,” she cited some examples, including the “California Heritage Museum which sits on City property,” the $21 million Annenberg Foundation grant for the restoration of the old Marion Davies estate and the inclusion of the Santa Monica Historical Society in the new Main Library, which will cost the City $1 million.
Kushner went on to say that the group had already raised the $3,700 needed to move the house and that the new group would be “happy to shepherd through this project with the City.”
After fielding some questions from the Council, Kushner said that her group felt it was best that the house be placed on City land as if it were placed on private land, there could be a “problem with public access.” She also suggested that it might be a candidate for “adaptive reuse,” if an organization, such as the Santa Monica Conservancy, chose to use it for its headquarters.
Ocean Park resident, architect Mario Fonda-Bonardi, who will also be part of the new non-profit, told the Council that it anticipated a 15-month timeline to rehabilitate the property – nine months to obtain the necessary approvals, three months to obtain bids and three months to complete the rehabilitation. He also said that he had a contract in hand to move the house on November 12.
Council member Ken Genser expressed support for the move, saying, “The structure may enhance a City site..[and placing it on a temporary site] will give Friends of the Shotgun House time to come up with solutions to save it…I think this is a very proper role for this government.”
Genser’s sentiments were echoed by Council member Richard Bloom who noted, “This effort to preserve this small house has galvanized people in this community in a way that we rarely see. It’s important for the government to respond to that and honor that effort.”
Mayor Pam O’Connor, herself a historic preservation consultant, cast the only dissenting vote, saying that in approving the move the Council “is setting up an expectation that may become an ongoing City function…historic buildings that are not going to remain on their [original site] would be brought to the City. What precedent are we setting today? Frankly, the expectation is that it’s going to be on city property. We are dancing around it by saying this isn’t the issue tonight. I agree it’s an important structure but we’re always balancing to what extent do you go to preserve that. We need to have a discussion about what our mission is as a city.”
Responding to O’Connor, Mayor Pro Tem Herb Katz said, “This is a special case. This is a precedent and I don’t like it, but based upon the urgency and two-year limit I will support it.”
O’Connor then replied, “A policy decision shouldn’t be made on a case by case basis because it’s a commitment of City resources. We need to have a policy discussion.”
Prior to the vote, City Manger Susan McCarthy told the Council that City staff estimated the cost would be between $250,000 to $260,000 to rehabilitate the house and move it to a permanent site. If the house’s interior is brought up to code so it can be used by an organization, the cost would increase to $440,000 to $450,00. The estimate includes interpretative signage on the history of the house and inflation of construction costs. She also stated that the analysis of permanent sites so far by the City and members of the community has included consideration that most houses of this type historically had an east west orientation, that it “be visible from the street and that it be in an active area to minimize vandalism and break-ins.”