A local architectural artifact with over 100 years of history has been given a new lease on life.
The Santa Monica Conservancy has signed a 20-year lease with Santa Monica city officials for the historic “shotgun house,” which was designated as a cultural landmark in 1999.
The last of its kind in the area, the cottage has been the focus of an intense community effort to save and preserve the history surrounding it as one of Santa Monica’s most iconic cultural touchstones.
“Since the time the house was saved from demolition and designated as a landmark, members of the Santa Monica Conservancy have worked tenaciously to become the steward of this special property,” Santa Monica Conservancy Board President Carol Lemlein noted. “We’re ‘walking the talk’ by rehabilitating it and putting it back into service as our headquarters and a center for teaching about Ocean Park’s early history as well as historic preservation.”
The shotgun house, which has been in storage with the city for several years, was previously located at 2712 Second St. in the Ocean Park section of Santa Monica. The conservancy hopes to return it within a few blocks of its original site after it undergoes extensive rehabilitation.
The length of the lease, which was negotiated by the Santa Monica law firm of Harding Larmore Kutcher and Kozal, is significant because it will allow the conservancy time to rehabilitate the wood-framed house, said Lemlein.
“We’re putting a lot of resources into turning it into a historical preservation center,” she said.
Most shotgun houses were one story high, one room wide and two or three rooms deep, one behind the other, and connected by doorways that line up. That is where the name “shotgun” originated: the idea that if one shot a gun through the front door, the bullet would come out the back door without touching a wall.
“We commend City Council and city staff, especially Barbara Stinchfield and Karen Ginsburg, (the director and assistant director of Community and Cultural Services) who have diligently worked with us to make our dream a reality,” Sherrill Kushner, chair of the Conservancy’s Shotgun House Committee, said in a statement.
“And we couldn’t have done it without the untold hours put in by Ken Kutcher of the law firm Harding Larmore Kutcher and Kozal to negotiate the lease.”
Ginsberg said the city is pleased to work with the conservancy on obtaining the long-term lease and agrees that having the house relocated to its original neighborhood is important.
“We’re delighted to see the lease finally come to fruition, and that the shotgun house will be located close to its original site in the Ocean Park neighborhood,” she said.
Some of the same qualities that made the shotgun houses attractive as instant housing in the early 20th century eventually contributed to their demise, city historians note.
Privacy was limited, because each room was a hallway leading to the next room. According to the conservancy, the walls consisted of a single vertical board, leaving no room to hide unsightly plumbing, insulation, wiring and utilities that were being incorporated into the more modern, turn-of-the-century homes.
Typically, they had no foundations since they were intended to be erected quickly and inexpensively. Posts and sills were placed directly onto the ground where the beach moisture attracted termites. And, they were very small, no larger than today’s small two-car garage.
These drawbacks, historians say, were what eventually doomed the shotgun houses.
The conservancy plans to move the house out of storage to its permanent site at Second Street and Norman Place in the Ocean Park neighborhood, where it will be in an area known for its architecture and in close proximity to other historic and cultural landmarks.
Nearby is the Streamline Moderne building, once the headquarters of Merle Norman Cosmetics and the neighboring Greek Revival-style Ocean Park Library.
On Main Street, there’s the California Heritage Museum, which is housed in a historic Victorian home, and a few blocks away lies the Third Street Historic District.
The conservancy plans to run tours and teach preservation at the new location.
“We’re developing programs for shotgun houses and the early architectural history of Ocean Park,” said Lemlein.
Nina Fresco, a conservancy board, noted that the last of these historic homes is a “survivor.” Twice scheduled for demolition, it is now on its way to becoming a historic preservation center.
“It is a great opportunity to be able to reuse a structure that tells a story that is so critical,” she said.
Fresco, who is also a city landmarks commissioner, said the house has a very unique place in the seaside city’s colorful history.
“The shotgun house has a very particular part of Santa Monica history that no other building can tell,” she said.
The relocated shotgun house will also serve as a base of operations for the conservancy.
“We’ve never really had a central office. For the last few years, we’ve been operating out of various members’ homes,” Lemlein explained. “This will be the first time that we will have a location to bring our members together to work on historic projects.”
The house is currently at the old Fisher Lumber site on Olympic Boulevard, where it was transported in 2005.
Anyone who is interested in assisting with the shotgun house rehabilitation may contact the conservancy at (310) 496-3146.