Santa Monica Conservancy leads Third Street Historic District tour
By Rebecca Kuzins
The history and architecture of one of Santa Monica’s oldest neighborhoods goes on display this Sunday, when the Santa Monica Conservancy presents a tour of the Third Street Historic District.
“The district represents the layers of history from the 1880s, when the area was settled, up to the 1930s,” SMC President Carol Lemlein said of the older buildings on Second and Third streets between Ocean Park Boulevard and Hill Street.
Tour participants will be able to view the interiors of the 1923 Church in Ocean Park and the former First Methodist Episcopal Church, now converted to a home. The Methodist church was built at Fourth Street and Arizona Avenue in 1875 and repeatedly moved before arriving at its current location. Tour-goers can also look inside a 1912 Craftsman-style home and a 1906 late-Victorian house and take a walking tour of the district.
Ocean Park was founded in 1875 and was originally called South Santa Monica. Abbot Kinney began developing a beach resort there in the 1880s, building a casino, tennis courts, pier, golf course, horse-racing track, boardwalk and other tourist attractions before creating the Venice of America. Kinney later renamed the area Ocean Park.
Tourists in the 19th century were also attracted to a popular ostrich farm that opened on Second Avenue near Hill Street in 1889, down the street from a Santa Fe Railroad station built a few years prior. In 1907, Ocean Park voters decided to dissolve their separate community and become part of Santa Monica.
The Third Street neighborhood was declared a historic district in 1990 after neighbors submitted an application to the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission, extensively detailing the architectural and historic significance of the district. In 2000, the city designated a second district historic district: the Bay Street Cluster of four Craftsman homes located between 131 and 147 Bay St.
The city of Santa Monica describes historic districts as “geographic areas or non-contiguous groupings of thematically related properties significant in that they contribute to the historic character of an area on the local level.”
Obtaining historic neighborhood designation can be a time-consuming process that can last as long as a year. After an application is submitted to the Landmarks Commission, the proposed district must be discussed at three public meetings: the first when the application is submitted, a second public hearing before the commission, and the third hearing before the City Council, who makes the final decision on designations. Proponents and opponents, including homeowners, have a chance to express their opinions at these sessions.
Architectural preservationists have long complained about the dearth of historic districts in Santa Monica. They maintained the problem was largely created by a city ordinance enabling homeowners to squash a proposed historic district if 51% of them signed a petition opposing designation.
“If the homeowners objected, and 51% petitioned, it was dead,” said Ruthann Lehrer, a SMC board member and a former city landmarks commissioner.
The city council amended the ordinance earlier this year to eliminate the 51% provision, and preservationists are hopeful this move will result in more historic districts.
A group of residents on San Vicente Boulevard between Ocean Avenue and Seventh Street is attempting to obtain a designation for that area. The group wants to preserve 28 garden and courtyard apartment buildings that are among the more than 40 apartment buildings and condominiums along this seven-block stretch.
Phil Brock, one of the leaders of the designation drive, said these buildings, with their park-like spaces and connection to the outdoors, are “the opposite of what we see now” — apartment buildings with “no setbacks or terracing.”
The tour takes place from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Check in at 2612 Third St., Santa Monica; park on the street or at Washington School, 2302 Fourth St. $45. Visit smconservancy.org for info.