By November next year, the former Marion Davies Estate at 415 Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Santa Monica should be rehabilitated into a public beach club.

The Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved a construction contract with Pankow Special Projects for the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the property known as 415 PCH at its January 16th meeting.

The 5.5-acre property will become a public beach club centered around two historic structures from the original estate built in the late 1920s by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst for actress and mistress Marion Davies.

The approved contract with Pankow Special Projects is just over $28 million, and $27.5 million of that will come from a grant from the Annenberg Foundation.

The Annenberg Foundation had originally donated $21 million, but desired to provide an additional $6,488,000 in funding to the project, which was approved by the City Council at the meeting.

The beach club will be called “The Annenberg Community Beach Club at 415 PCH,” as a way of acknowledging the Annenberg Foundation’s contribution to the project.

“We’re overwhelmed with the generosity of the foundation and never envisioned that an infusion of funds like this would happen,” said Barbara Stinchfield, director of Community and Cultural Services for the City of Santa Monica.

Stinchfield said she is pleased that the former Marion Davies Estate will be kept in the public realm for the community to enjoy, and that historic structures will be preserved.

“It’s certainly cause for community celebration,” she said of the council approval of the contract. “Everyone, community members, city agencies, staff people, have all been working at break-neck speed to make it happen and this action tonight really moves us into construction, which is extremely exciting.”

Joel Brand, chair of Friends of 415 PCH and board member of the Santa Monica Conservancy, said he’s ecstatic.

“It was only last summer that some of us were concerned that this project would ever happen, because of obstacles, and now that those obstacles have been removed and that grant money has been allocated, it’s an amazing day,” Brand said. “And we’ve only gotten here thanks to the vision of the Annenberg Foundation and the professionalism of the city and the enthusiasm of so many residents who came out and supported this project.”

Construction of the public beach club will start in early June and take about 18 months.

“The contractor expects it to be complete in November 2008 and open to the public in early 2009,” said Stinchfield of the club. “We’re on schedule.”

The 5.5-acre property is owned by California State Parks, but the City of Santa Monica has entered into a 100-year operation agreement with California State Parks to operate the property as a public beach club.

The city will be responsible for all site improvements, maintenance and operations.

The beach club design will completely restore two remaining structures — the Marion Davies guest house (the North House) and the original swimming pool.

“The whole beach club centers around these historic components,” said Stinchfield. “We’re building around them to create this easy day at the beach.”

Preserving these historical structures and making them available to the public is very important, Stinchfield said.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of project,” Brand said. “It’s a world-class public facility. The project uniquely marries historic preservation, beach recreation and open access to the public.”

The beach club will also include volleyball courts, a beach playground, a children’s water play area, a snack bar, an events room, meeting rooms, locker rooms, a lounge deck and parking.

The original estate was built in the late 1920s by Hearst for Davies, when this stretch of the beach was still known as the “Gold Coast.”

In the 1940s, the property was sold to a private party and converted into a beach club and hotel.

Then in 1960, the state purchased the property. Under an agreement with the state, the City of Santa Monica first leased the property to a private beach club, the Sand & Sea Club, and later operated it as a seasonal public beach facility, according to city officials.

In 1994, the Northridge earthquake damaged the beach club facility, and all structures except the beach cafe were “red-tagged” — designated unsafe to occupy.

After a community planning process in 1999, the Santa Monica City Council approved a Reuse Plan that illustrated the site’s potential as an important public resource.

In February last year, the City Council reviewed and approved refined schematic design plans, a community use program and financial projections for the project.

In May, the City Council unanimously approved the project.

But in June last year, the Palisades Beach Property Owners Association and resident Jonathan Ornstein filed a lawsuit, alleging that the defendants violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The association, composed of residents living along the Pacific Coast Highway and Ornstein, alleged that the city also violated a municipal code section that prohibits food service facilities that occupy more than 2,000 square feet along the beach.

The plaintiffs also said a traffic signal needed to be installed at the site, because they believed the site turn-off is a potentially dangerous area of the highway.

In September last year, a settlement was reached, enabling the city to proceed with its efforts to convert the property into a beach facility. The city had to agree to operate the facility under certain conditions approved by the association and provide 24-seven security for at least seven years.

Also as part of the settlement, the city agreed to put forth its “best effort” to obtain approval from the California Department of Transportation to have a traffic signal installed at the site.

With the approval of this contract by the City Council, there is only one more stop for the project — the City Landmarks Commission, which will have to approve the detailed landscaping and signage plan. This is standard for large projects, according to Stinchfield.

“I’m certain this is going to be the gem of Santa Monica when it’s completed,” said Mayor Richard Bloom at the City Council meeting, thanking staff for their work and the Annenberg Foundation for its “extraordinary generosity.”

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