Demolition of the 15,000-square-foot Locker Building at the former Marion Davies Estate at 415 Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Santa Monica began at 9 a.m. Monday, April 16th ó a major step to converting the 5.5-acre estate into a public beach club.

The demolition, being performed by Midwest Environmental Controls, is expected to be completed in May, said Karen Ginsberg, assistant director of Community and Cultural Services for the City of Santa Monica.

Asbestos and lead abatement of the two-plus stories (it had a short third floor) Locker Building is already complete.

ìWe were in Palisades Park today, watching the first chunk go from the Locker Building, and itís a pretty incredible sight,î Barbara Stinchfield, director of Community and Cultural Services for the city, said Monday morning. ìWe couldnít get the smiles off our faces. Itís kind of the first real benchmark. Itís such a visible, dramatic day. Reality has hit.î

ìWe wanted the best view,î Ginsberg said of going to Palisades Park to watch the start of the demolition. ìWeíre very excited. It seems like this finally is a reality. It feels like itís proof that the project is truly going to happen, is under way, that we will have a public beach club at the site and itís very exciting.î

A beach restroom building was demolished earlier.

Starting in June, after demolition is complete, the site will be turned over to Pankow Special Projects, which will complete the construction phase of the project. The beach club is expected to be open to the public in January 2009.

ìTheyíre projecting an 18-month construction period,î Stinchfield said, noting that everything is on schedule.

In January, the Santa Monica City Council unanimously approved the construction contract with Pankow Special Projects for just over $28 million for the rehabilitation and adaptive reuse of the former Marion Davies Estate, built in the 1920s by newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst for his mistress, actress Marion Davies.

The majority of the funding, $27.5 million, will come from a grant from the Annenberg Foundation.

The beach club will be called The Annenberg Community Beach Club at Santa Monica State Beach, as a way of acknowledging the Annenberg Foundationís contribution to the project.

The 5.5-acre property will become a public beach club centered around two historic structures from the original estate.

The beach club design will completely restore two remaining components ó the Marion Davies guest house (the North House) and the original swimming pool and deck area.

ìThe whole beach club centers around these historic components,î Stinchfield said. ìWeíre building around them to create this easy day at the beach.î

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

ìItís a very exciting time,î said Joel Brand, board member of the Santa Monica Conservancy and chair of Friends of 415 PCH, a committee of the Conservancy. ìThis is a project which has been dreamed about for a long time and planned for quite some time and is now becoming a reality.

ìThereís something very special when all of these discussions and plans become something concrete, something we can see on the beach. Itís very exciting.î

The beach club will include volleyball courts, a beach playground, a childrenís water play area, a snack bar, an events room, meeting rooms, a lounge deck, two garden areas and parking.

There will also be a beach boardwalk toward the ocean.

New buildings on the site will include an entry pavilion with lifeguard and staff offices, a two-story pool house with locker and changing rooms and a second-floor multipurpose room, Ginsberg said.

There will also be a single-story event house designed to accommodate recreational, interpretative and cultural programs and classes; meetings and retreats; and small social functions, she said.

The 5.5-acre property is owned by California State Parks, but the City of Santa Monica has entered into a 100-year 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.

With the demolition, Stinchfield says, ìI think people believe now that the project is really happening.î

ìItís a once-in-a-lifetime kind of project,î said Brand. ìThereís nothing like this in the whole country. That weíre now taking this giant step forward is thrilling.î