Redevelopment across from the Santa Monica Civic could stimulate more interest in reviving the mothballed venue

By Gary Walker

A housing and retail complex planned for Pico above Main could bring foot traffic closer to the Civic
Rendering by Frederick Fisher and Partners

Several properties along Pico Boulevard adjacent to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, including Santa Monica’s last bowling alley, could soon be replaced by a new commercial and residential development designed to reactivate the underutilized area.

The three-story structure designed by West L.A. architectural firm Fredrick Fisher and Partners for 216-234 Pico Blvd. would include 10,800 square feet commercial space below 105 apartments, a pool, a rooftop garden and 231 subterranean parking spaces. Eight of the units would be set aside as affordable housing.

The parcel just north of Main Street takes up a whole city block across the street from the storied but long-dormant Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, a 3,000-seat concert venue that also hosted trade shows, sporting events and 1960s productions of the Academy Awards.

In need of repairs but unable to attract outside investment, the city-owned Civic has been shuttered since 2013; last year city council members authorized a temporary sports complex on the convention center portion of the Civic’s footprint, and city hall continues to seek private contractors with ideas for reviving the complex.

Commercial real estate experts say new development in the neighborhood could be good news for the future of the Civic.

Colin Wellman of Venice-based commercial real estate firm Campbell Wellman said pursuing the right redevelopment strategy along Pico between Fourth and Main has the potential to spark a scaled-down version of something like the L.A. Live entertainment complex in downtown Los Angeles.

“Anything that can create energy and that can connect Main Street to the other streets has the possibility of reinvigorating that corridor — especially if the Civic Center opens again soon,” Wellman said. “It’s a historical venue, and if they can find a way to integrate it into the rest of the neighborhood, the Civic could again be a destination event center on the Westside.”

The new project’s footprint would include Bowlmor Santa Monica, formerly the AMF Bay Shore Lanes, renovated after the 2016 merger of the Bowlero Corp. and AMF Bowling. The bowling alley’s historic freestanding BOWL signpost is a protected city landmark and would be incorporated into the new building’s design. A Bowlero spokeswoman declined to comment, other than to say “business is running as usual.”

Kurt Krueger, a Brentwood-based architect, said integrating existing architecture into a new design landscape with open space would certainly stimulate more interest into the area surrounding the Civic.

“It’s such a historic building and a historic venue, and there are so many ways that you can reinvigorate the building and the public space around it,” Krueger said. “There are opportunities to stretch the tourism that usually goes to Santa Monica Pier to the area around the Civic Auditorium with more open space and engaging landscapes.”

The Santa Monica Architectural Review Board gave the Fredrick Fisher and Partners proposal high marks during its Aug. 6 meeting.

Commissioner Therese Kelly, who once lived around the corner from the project, congratulated the developer for studying the history and architecture of the neighborhood.

“It’s very artful. I like the amount of open spaces and I think you get how these buildings can really activate this section of Pico,” Kelly said.

Evan Meyer, a 13-year resident of Santa Monica, said he is looking forward to seeing the development in its final stages.

“This is an area on Pico that doesn’t have too much action right now,” he said. “Pico could use some love in this area, and this [project] will bring some light, love and joy.”