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SM Conservancy Honors Preservation Activists:

The Santa Monica Conservancy’s annual meeting January 27 at the Santa Monica Main Library was highlighted by the presentation of two awards recognizing the efforts of individuals who work to preserve historic buildings.

Jean Sedillos, Margaret Bach, Wally Berriman, Michael Hill, and Catherine Baxter received Outstanding Service Awards for their work to restore Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall.

With the help of Berriman, Director of Facilities Management for Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, who wrote the landmark nomination, the group was able to obtain landmark designation for Barnum Hall, which in turn led to grant funding to aid in the $8 million cost of the restoration.

“When [Barnum Hall] was constructed, it was built to be more than just a high school auditorium,” said Conservancy president Marcelo Vavala. “It was meant to be a civic auditorium.”

The auditorium served as Santa Monica’s original Civic Auditorium after it was constructed in 1938 by the Federal Works Progress Administration. One of its architects was Henry Alfred Buxton, who had also worked on the design of the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. Its murals, lobby floor mosaic, and stage curtain were designed by Stanton MacDonald, director of California’s WPA program.

But the building later fell into neglect and was closed in the late 1990s.

Sedillos and Bach organized “Restore Barnum Hall,” a group comprised of parents, teachers, school staff, school alumni, and community members. They were joined by Hill, who was president of the Samohi Alumni Association during the restoration process and who helped with fundraising, and by Baxter, Dean of Administrative Services at the school, who monitored the construction process.

The Conservancy also presented the David G. Cameron Award to architect Mario Fonda-Bernardi for his work on the relocation and adaptive reuse process for the Shotgun House. The small frame building, an early Ocean Park structure typical of the pre-fabricated buildings that were used as beach cottages in the early 1900s, was saved from demolition but was without a site for several years. Bernardi found an appropriate site for the house, on 2nd Street and Norman Place, close to its original site. The house is to be rehabilitated and will serve as a preservation resource center for the Conservancy.

In addition to the Cameron Award, Bernardi accepted a “special surprise” package, that when opened, turned out to be a tiny replica of the Shotgun House. After a few chuckles from the audience, Bernardi spoke seriously about why saving the house was important to him.

“When we’re preservationists, we kind of get put in the back corner,” said Bernardi. “But when you look at this tiny little house, you ask, ‘What can we do with this?’ Well, this has everything! Talk about sustainability! What could be more sustainable than a house that cost 25 bucks? These houses were used everywhere – they came in kits. Don’t think of this as the past. Think of it as the future.”

In addition to the awards, the Conservancy heard a presentation from Conservancy member and past president Ken Breisch on the history of library design.

The Conservancy also honored Board members Carol Lemlein and Ruthann Lehrer for their volunteerism. Lemlein and Lehrer were the creators of the Conservancy’s Downtown Walking Tour, which began last March and has been very successful.

Lehrer, an architectural historian who serves on Santa Monica’s Landmarks Commission, spoke up about sustainability during a member’s forum section of the program. She said that “preserving historic buildings is one way to preserve the environment,” pointing out that demolition of buildings often releases harmful pollutants.

Members also cast ballots for the Conservancy’s board, electing all seven candidates on the ballot.

For more information on the Santa Monica Conservancy, go to smconservancy.org.

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