The Landmarks Commission easily designated the former J.C. Penney Building at its July 14 meeting, while continuing discussion on the adaptive reuse design for the former Wilshire Theatre, and filing an application to nominate a residential complex at 301 Ocean Avenue.
The Ocean Avenue property was the concern of a large number of residents who spoke during the public comment session. The apartment complex, typical of multi-family residences on adjoining San Vicente Boulevard, features two buildings with courtyards and is designed in the Modern Vernacular style associated with post-World War II housing.
A preliminary PCR report on the complex’s character-defining features found that the style was not unique enough, that the design of the architect, Joseph Estep, had been compromised by alterations, and that the fact that former Mayor Clo Hoover built and lived on the property was not significant because her achievements as mayor were more appropriately related to City Hall than to her residence.
Many of those who spoke disagreed with this analysis of Hoover’s career. They cited the parties that Hoover had held at her apartment, where Hoover and her cronies were said to “plan strategies,” and the fact that women in politics (Hoover was Santa Monica’s first female mayor, elected in 1973) often began their careers with social functions that were held in the home.
City Council liaison Kevin McKeown noted that the position of mayor, as well as that of city council representative, is a “part-time job” and that he often conducts City business at the “dining room table in a rent-controlled apartment.”
The Commissioners pondered the issue of a politician’s residence being designation-worthy, although as Commissioner Roger Genser reminded the others, there were other criteria that they could discuss in regard to the complex. In the end, because of the many residents who advocated designation, and because some Commissioners were curious to probe further into the building’s history, 301-301A Ocean Avenue was entered for nomination and further study.
The Commission had a much easier time with the commercial building at 1202 Third Street Promenade, the former J.C. Penney Building, now used by another retail clothing outfit. The familiar late Moderne building, with its curvilinear corner tower, is situated at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and the Promenade, making it a “gateway.” The Commission agreed that the property satisfied Criteria 1 (manifests elements of the history of the City) and 6 (unique location) and granted the designation.
An application for a Certificate of Appropriateness for design approval of exterior modifications for the former Wilshire Theatre at 1314-1316 Wilshire Boulevard resulted in lengthy deliberation. The applicant, La Brea Washington Company, LLC, plans to use the building for retail businesses and proposed a series of modifications that included repair to existing concrete and cement plaster finishes, repair and rewiring of the existing marquee, refinishing the exterior walls, installing a new glass door seven feet from the building face at the exterior entrance, and covering the existing sloped terrazzo flooring in the recessed entry.
The terrazzo floor was the element that the Commissioners could not agree on. Nina Fresco, RuthAnn Lehrer, and Roger Genser all expressed concern that the floor, by being covered, would be lost to sight, and the building would lose one of its main character- defining features. John Berley took a more pragmatic view, saying that there was ”give and take” in the proposed modifications. “With some disappointment, I would accept [the design] as proposed,” he said.
Although the applicant suggested an alternative design that would retain some of the terrazzo, the Commission finally took a vote on a motion, phrased by Genser, for the applicant to return with a new proposal that would protect and preserve the terrazzo floor but would retain its visual aspects. The motion passed with Berley the one opposing vote.
In other actions, the Commission chose Barbara Kaplan as the new chair, chose John Berley as Chair Pro Tem, and thanked outgoing chair Nina Fresco for her two years of service.