By Keldine Hull
As Santa Monica continues to develop and evolve, rare pieces of its history become even more relevant in maintaining a connection between the past and the future. The 11th Street Bungalows, built in the early 1900’s, were the building blocks of Santa Monica. On Monday, November 12th at 7 p.m., the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission will decide on designating the 11th Street Bungalows to become the City’s fourth historic district. In attendance will be members of the community, including Co-Chairs of Friends of 11th Street Susan Suntree and Diane Miller, who passionately stand behind the preservation of Santa Monica’s rich history.
When city founders Arcadia Bandini de Stearns Baker and Senator John P. Jones essentially created Santa Monica, their original plans included what became the 11th Street Bungalows. Suntree recalls the early days of the bungalows and the people it attracted. “This was the leading edge of the development of Santa Monica. This neighborhood represents the housing, lifestyle, and type of people who moved here. These are the people who came here to create a hometown. They owned the brick factory. They were ranchers. They were carpenters. They were builders. They were school teachers and police officers. All those middle class and working class people came here to make Santa Monica a hometown, raise their kids and send their kids to school. This was a real neighborhood and these were the people that literally made Santa Monica what it is today.”
For Suntree, a resident of the bungalows for thirty years, the houses are more than just a vital part of Santa Monica history; they’re home. “When people walk in this house, they always look around and say how beautiful it is. It’s beautiful in a simple way,” Suntree continues. “My house has twenty-three windows. If you come to my house, you’ll notice in the living room there’s almost no room to hang any art because it’s all windows. That’s what this space is like. It’s filled with light. It’s spacious. It’s elegant. There’s a sense of harmony, comfort and beauty when you live here, and I really appreciate it. It’s made a wonderful home for me and my family.”
In 2015, Commissioner Diane Miller co-chaired the Historic San Vicente Coalition, designating its courtyard buildings into a historic district. She fell in love with preservation, and after walking the grounds of the bungalows, fell in love with them as well. “The homes themselves tell the story of how families lived when families all still had dinner together,” Miller explains. “When you take the walk, you could almost hear the radio and maybe the president talking on the radio and everyone gathered around. It evokes this time that is long gone; the white picket fence, the sun porch. As you walk it, you get to hear the houses speak to you. I simply fell in love with the homes, the history and the journey. I had to be part of it.”
With the hearing drawing close, Miller, Suntree and the other dedicated people involved will soon learn the outcome of their efforts towards retaining Santa Monica’s story and the lives of the people who transformed it into a hometown. “I think it behooves all of us to remember where we came from and to honor the heritage history gives us,” Miller continues. “It anchors enough precious moments and memories of who we are as citizens of this country, where we’ve come from and how we’ve grown. This is a visual history, and it’s truly an experience. It’s like walking the street and taking a peek into a precious bygone era.”
From Ocean Avenue to Centinela, with fewer than fifteen centenarian middle-class bungalows left, Suntree expresses the importance of maintaining these irreplaceable pieces of Santa Monica’s history. “This is the last chance in the City where there is a cluster of these bungalows in pristine condition,” Suntree explains. “When we look at the design, the position on the lot, the orientation to the street and to one another, we get a sense of another way of life and the root of Santa Monica history. If you don’t have your story, if you don’t have your ancestors, you don’t have community. And we’re trying to save the story and honor the ancestors of our city.”
All are welcome and encouraged to attend the hearing. Visit https://www.facebook.com/friendsof11thstreet/ to learn more about how you can be a part of preserving the 11th Street Bungalows.