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POINT OF VIEW: Historic District Challenged:

“It is quite lively on the Southside.”

Outlook, May 6, 1893

South Santa Monica, re-named Ocean Park in 1893 by Abbott Kinney who owned and developed property there, is where Santa Monica earned its early reputation as a lively beach community. Ocean Park was the home of our City’s late 1800s – early 1900s pleasure piers, bath houses, salt water plunges, dance halls, movie houses, bingo parlors, carnation and ostrich farms, and the terminus of three transportation systems which brought folks from all over Los Angeles to our beaches. It is the character, memories, and history of this early time that the Historic District was created to preserve.

Phone directories from the time gave people’s occupations, and they show that Ocean Park was a community primarily of working, artisan, and middle classes. Several prominent city elders did live in Ocean Park, but wealth and status were clearly concentrated on the “North Side.”

At the turn of the 20th Century, Ocean Park’s farms were being developed into housing for local workers and beach homes for tourists. The bungalow architectural movement was in full swing throughout the country, sheltering America’s working and middle classes. Modest bungalows and bungalow courts in Craftsman, Spanish Revival, and other styles took over in Ocean Park, overshadowing the earlier, larger Victorians built in the area.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Santa Monica changed its earlier zoning standards to encourage apartment housing. Old bungalows all over the City were torn down to make way for the stucco apartment boxes found throughout Santa Monica and on many streets in Ocean Park.

In the 1980s, rampant development again threatened traditional Santa Monica neighborhoods as developers chased after building sites for condominiums, and development stripped more historic bungalows from our streets.

Ocean Park residents rallied to control design issues in their community. Residents wanted projects compatible with the historic fabric of their neighborhoods. In response, in 1989 the City approved a re-zoning plan for Ocean Park, the Ocean Park Neighborhood Development Guide. The Development Guide observed:

“In recent years, there has been a rapid rate of residential development in Ocean Park. Much of this is attributable to the area’s attractive features: proximity to the oceanfront; intimate, narrow streets; hills and ocean views; historic buildings; and a diverse population. However, much of the new development has altered the character and scale of buildings and streets in Ocean Park, destroying some of the very qualities that attracted new residents in the first place…It is primarily these problems that the new development standards and design guidelines are intended to address.” [This could be written today.]

The Ocean Park Design Guidelines were a landmark step in acknowledging residents’ desires and rights to determine the character of their neighborhoods, but they would not protect concentrations of historic single family bungalows and other historic houses from the wrecking ball in areas zoned for multiple-unit housing, such as the Historic District.

Absentee landlords held for development five intact adjacent bungalows on the east side of Third Street, a bungalow with three rear cottages on Hill, and the bungalow at 2616 Third Street which had served as the Southern California draft resistance center in the 1960s. In the fall of 1989, the owner/developers of 2616 Third Street applied to demolish the bungalow and build a massive, contemporary concrete and metal condo.

Fearing irreparable damage to their community, residents organized. If the 2616 condo project was approved, the five bungalows across the street were doomed, as were all the old homes, given the neighborhood’s attractions for building and development sites noted by the Ocean Park Guidelines. The community with its unique concentration of almost 80 percent original historic buildings, some dating back to the 1880s, would soon be lost forever.

Residents sought the City’s help to prepare and submit an application for a Historic District. As this had never been done before, no one knew quite how to do one.

The residents researched and wrote a three-volume application, including a detailed history of Ocean Park, a description of the architectural features and history of ownership of each building in the proposed district, and a summary volume. A vast majority of homeowners and tenants, 9-year-old kids and 85-year-old seniors, long-term and recent residents, all participated in the effort. Some researched old phone books; some researched old county property records; some researched old histories of the neighborhood. Almost 100 residents attended City meetings and wrote letters.

Supporting residents in the proposed District had lived there an average of 17 years. People with roots in the community clearly wanted this District and the protections they expected it to provide for the neighborhood.

In 1990, the proposed condo at 2616 Third was rejected by the Planning Commission and City Council on appeal as detrimental to the character of the proposed District. Thereafter the Historic District was created by a unanimous Council on recommendation by a unanimous Landmarks Commission. A Citizen Participation Committee (CPC) was formally created by ordinance to convene and report neighborhood comments on future projects proposed for the District. The City Council established District Design Guidelines specific to the Historic District. Their intent was to protect the turn-of-the-century character of the new District.

Since the District’s creation, historic buildings once held only for development have been purchased by fans of the District. They have carefully restored the original character of the homes in which they now raise young families. These more recent homeowners and the original residents who formed the District and still live there continue to work to protect the unique, turn-of-the-century character of this small Ocean Park neighborhood which continues to remind us of our City’s lively past.

Unfortunately, the appeal of history has not been enough to protect the District from development damaging to its character. In the last year, two new and one recent property owner have sought to build modern shoeboxes at 2646 and 2642 Second Street and 2617 Third Street in the very heart of the District. The Landmarks Commission has approved both projects on Second Street; 2642 is currently on appeal to the City Council.

On January 14, 2008, the Landmarks Commission will meet for the fourth time to consider the project proposed for 2617 Third Street. The project is unanimously opposed by all District residents and other community members familiar with the plans. In an ironic twist of history, the 2617 project architect is the same architect hired to build the 2616 Third Street condo in 1990, the project which fired up the neighborhood residents to successfully create the Historic District.

 

Editor’s Note: The Mirror would like to thank Karen Blechman, Devon Chatham, Bea Nemlaha, Ho Wen and the Santa Monica Historical Society Museum, and our own Margaret Molloy, for their contributions to this piece.

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