Opinion: Choose History over the Wrecking Ball

Posted October 7, 2015 by The Argonaut in Columns

This 1911 bungalow is a window into Santa Monica’s past that is worth saving

By Susan Suntree

Now threatened with demolition, the bungalow at 1223 11th St.  was once home to the artist who created the sparking electricity  effects for the 1931 version of “Frankenstein” that featured Boris Karloff  as the monster Photo by Olga Gomez

Now threatened with demolition, the bungalow at 1223 11th St.
was once home to the artist who created the sparking electricity
effects for the 1931 version of “Frankenstein” that featured Boris Karloff
as the monster
Photo by Olga Gomez

In 1875, the amazing Arcadia Bandini de Baker and her new husband teamed up with wealthy silver magnate Senator John P. Jones to found Santa Monica.

One of seven original bungalows built on a lot owned by Senator Jones is where I’ve lived and written for 31 years. Lacking the protections that come with an historic landmark district, it might soon be torn down and replaced with a high-density apartment building.

The whole cluster of early 20th-century bungalows on 11th Street between Arizona Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard is a rare piece of the city’s early history like nothing else within Santa Monica’s original boundaries, and this history deserves to be celebrated and protected.

Still standing on the original subdivision in almost their original shape, these seven bungalows built between 1904 and 1913 (and one back house built in 1924) were homes to the middle-income people — carpenters, brick kiln owners and artists — whose dreams and schemes created our city and contributed to developing the film culture of Greater Los Angeles. Made of old-growth redwood and Douglas fir, they stand as a kind of architectural documentary about the life and growth of Santa Monica and a testimony to the ordinary people who actually did the work it took to create this city.

Designating the bungalow I rent at 1223 11th St. as an historic landmark would preserve the integrity of the bungalow cluster for historic landmark district designation, thereby preserving it for generations to come.

Saving this cluster is supported by the writings of such luminary architectural historians as Robert Winters and Thomas Hines, who have described it as a treasured record of the way Santa Monicans once lived and of an urban philosophy about ordinary people’s housing that involved artistic care down to the smallest of details — even the window pulls.

Winters has written that “only rarely in all of history has architecture been found outside the realm of the “rich and few and well-born.” He points out that the bungalow, which could be built by an owner from plans purchased from a catalogue, grew up in an era of expanding democracy so that it “filled more than the need for shelter, it provided psychic fulfillment of the American dream.”

This particular cluster of bungalows is a living record of that dream as it was realized in Santa Monica.

No, Roosevelt did not sleep here. But a fascinating collection of characters has. Louis B. Mayer, founder of MGM Studios, owned property on this block in 1928. Another intriguing note is that a high percentage of women, mostly married, are listed as owners in the old hand-written records.

My home was once the home of Kenneth Strickfaden, who arrived here from Ashland, Ore., around 1914 with his father, Frank. Kenneth Strickfaden grew up to become a Hollywood special effects genius, with his wildly arcing and sparking electricity effects on James Whale’s 1931 masterpiece “Frankenstein” catapulting him to a career that spanned dozens of films, including the “Wizard of Oz.” He and Les Storrs, the city’s former director of planning and zoning, were good friends. Storrs recalled some of their adventures in his book, “Santa Monica: Portrait of a City.”

In 1915, Frank Strickfaden enclosed the home’s porch and added a side room with multiple windows. The house’s broad-shouldered façade, graceful and stable in its proportions, glows at night like a lantern through its original multi-paned windows. The many windows demonstrate the bungalow philosophy of welcoming the inside and outside to blend together intimately. In this salutary climate, nature and household are literally opened to one another. The world is what people wanted to look at in 1911.

Even the changes made to such old houses reveal much about the way of life of our city’s founding families. They make sense. To this day, a cool sea breeze blows off the ocean and across the coast-facing front windows. Enclosing the porch, a common practice at that time, makes it possible to sit outside/inside into the evening all year long. The trick for us today is to see through neglect to the architectural features and to recognize the story behind them.

This house, like the other bungalows, was built with passive solar cooling by utilizing the low-tech solution of double hung windows. These can be opened on the bottom and on the top to allow cool air to circulate into the house and hot air to circulate out. The original pantry cooler is still in the kitchen.  High ceilings and the orientation of the windows also enhance air circulation. This is a house that breathes.

A city needs to know itself. A photo or a notation in a book on a shelf is soon lost to the community imagination and outlook. Though my time living here is soon coming to a close, this house needs to stay.

Protecting 1223 11th St. as a city-designated landmark would preserve an important piece of living history that bridges the eras and grounds our understanding of where we are. The house and its neighboring bungalows should be joined together to form an 11th Street Bungalow Cluster, with the property owners enjoying a generous package of new historic building benefits.

We need living references to our history and an urban fabric that offers alternative ideas. We need to take care of our story.

Please contact the following groups to support this cause:

•    The Santa Monica Conservancy – (310) 496-3146, info@smconservancy.org.

•    Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors – midcityneighbors.org

•    Santa Monica Landmarks Commission – (310) 458-8341, planning@smgov.net

Susan Suntree is an emeritus professor of English at East Los Angeles College and the author of several books, including “Sacred Sites: The Secret History of Southern California.”


    Mir Faugno

    If we don’t respect our history, we have no future.
    Please save our true landmarks and support Conservancy.

    M Faugno

    James Kenny

    Please save this unique and beautiful home!

    Marian Faux

    As a New Yorker visiting SM who happened to read this, I cannot believe you are not preserving this precious heritage. New York has been wiped out over and over again architecturally speaking,and we’ve always regretted the changes. Dare I suggest that this is as important as saving Grand Central? But then, without Jackie Onassis, that would have been torn down.

    Carolyn Allport

    What a clear and necessary plea for the preservation of not just a bungalow, but for keeping a ‘window on the past’ which is valuable to us all, whether we are Santa Monica’s residents or its visitors. Here is a wonderful opportunity, to be seized upon immediately by the City of Santa Monica!

    Laurence Goldstein

    Growing up in Culver City, my sense of film heritage, recreation and leisure activity, and beach landscape was shaped by such houses and venerable neighborhoods as Susan Suntree describes. The history of Santa Monica and points east lives within these architectural marvels and their preservation should be the highest priority of a sophisticated society. These sites have all the virtues that Ms. Suntree describes, and the powers-that-be should take notice of and act upon her recommendations. Thanks to the Argonaut for bringing these endangered neighborhoods to our attention.


    No argument could be better said that what Ms. Suntree has written here regarding these seven bungalows (and would be interesting to know how and where that moniker comes from!). Look at the new development going on all over Santa Monica. Cannot we save such precious history for posterity, for future generations to understand and appreciate what came before, and it’s story? Thank you Susan!

    Peggy Watson

    NOOOOOOoooooooooo!!! Don’t let this happen! Architectural history is priceless and worth preserving and cannot be replaced. Each bungalow is one of a kind and tells its own timeless story about the history of Santa Monica. If ever a home deserved to be on a Historical Registry and saved from being demolished, these bungalows absolutely fit the description of historical treasures. Gwyneth Paltrow, Meryl Streep, Jaime Lee Curtis, and other celebrities in Santa Monica and surrounding areas, please come to the aid of this cause and lend your special voice. Save the Bungalows!!

    David Fulps

    Having visited this bungalow myself, I can attest to its unique architecture and historical importance. It would be shameful not to preserve such a site as a historical landmark.


    I regret reading about these threatened landmarks but also glad that this subject has been brought forth for public consumption. Perhaps if the public raises some heat this destruction derby can be avoided. Thank you for the article, Ms. Suntree.

    Janet McIntosh

    One of the details Susan brought up is not a minor one: the Redwood in the home must never be trivialized! The tree grew and stood for eons before it was cut; it served as shelter for many more years and should not be discarded for monetary gain that is only a blip on the Redwood Timeline. we must think in larger terms!

    Linda Ilsley

    Susan Suntree, in so few words, encapsulates so succinctly just why it is important for every city to preserve its history. As she said…”A city needs to know itself.” Without that, it becomes unmemorable and Santa Monica and its denizens deserve better than that.


    Susan Suntree writes eloquently about the need to honor the architectural heritage of Santa Monica and its vital links to the entertainment industry. The bungalow where Susan has lived for several decades, and which I’ve often visited, is a beauty and deserves to be considered for heritage status.

    Joni Hargan

    It’s a sad state if affairs when money takes precedent, once again, over the rich history and culture of our city. These beautiful and historic homes should be protected and loved, not destroyed to make room for yet another apartment building!!

    Nancy Nieman, Ph.D.

    I discovered this street and bungalow when I first came to California. It made me understand what Santa Monica was at a time that the name Santa Monica became famous even in my Minnesota. Very little of that Santa Monica remains. When I was renting a room in my home to foreign tourists, I always sent them to llth Street to see the “real Santa Monica” that they also had heard about in their countries. Preserving history is important for all: santa monicans, newcomers and tourists. If not, SM will just become like every other beach city and I will not send tourists to more than the mall.


    I question the value in allowing such a historic landmark remain as a private residence. If this bungalow has such immense historical significance, shouldn’t it be shared with the public? I find it difficult to justify such protections so that Ms. Suntree can continue to enjoy the absurdly low rent she pays today.

    This is not a selfless plea for historic preservation, it’s a self serving attempt by Ms. Suntree to continue to profit at the expense of the property owner.

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