The Santa Monica City Council, at its meeting Tuesday, July 26th, overturned a decision the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission made last year that designated an apartment complex built in 1924 as a city landmark.
The complex, known as Christie Court, at 125 Pacific St., came to the Landmarks Commission’s attention after the property owner — 125 Pacific LLC — submitted applications to redevelop the site into a nine-unit condominium project.
The Landmarks Commission has the authority to review demolition permits on properties 40 years old or older.
Property owners can appeal Landmarks Commission decisions to the City Council.
“Any building has a history behind it that tells a story of the people who lived there,” said Santa Monica mayor Pam O’Connor. O’Connor is a professional historic preservationist.
“If we use the story behind the house or building as the sole criteria for historic designation, we would be designating most buildings 40 years or older,” she said.
The Christie Court complex consists of three bungalow-style buildings, described as a bungalow courtyard.
Two single-story buildings contain eight units each and face a courtyard. A third building has two stories with four units on each floor and is located at the rear of the complex.
Architectural features define the complex as Mission Revival or Spanish Colonial Revival.
“The actions of the Landmarks Commission are clear and comprehensive,” said John Berley, an architect and member of the Landmarks Commission. “The commission succeeds in being careful and considerate of the large responsibility it has to the Santa Monica community.”
Numerous Christie Court residents spoke on behalf of the landmark designation and urged the City Council not to overturn the decision.
“The lives of the people who built this city and their modest dwellings are important,” said Michelle Katz, a 13-year Christie Court resident.
“History and culture are not only for the rich and famous,” she said.
Christie Court residents and Landmarks Commission members said the complex was the first apartment building in Santa Monica to be outfitted with radios in each unit.
They said Christie Court offered the only opportunity for many families to have affordable housing within walking distance of the beach.
“Christie Court was one of the first housing units to be built in Santa Monica that was affordable for working-class families and individuals,” said Robert Minsner, a Christie Court resident for 12 years. “Its courtyard helped foster an instant sense of community among newcomers.”
The Landmarks Commission had used three of six criteria established by the city municipal code to determine that the complex met historic designation standards.
Commissioners found that the complex met Criterion #1, in that the complex “exemplifies, symbolizes or manifests elements of the cultural, social, economic, political or architectural history of the city.”
The two other criteria used by the commission include Criterion #4 and Criterion #6.
Christie Court complies with Criterion #4 in that it “embodies distinguishing architectural characteristics valuable to a study of a period, style, method of construction or the use of indigenous materials or craftsmanship,” according to the commission.
The complex is eligible under Criterion #6 because it “has a unique location, a singular physical characteristic or is an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood, community or the city,” the commission wrote.
The Landmarks Commission concluded that the complex is a historic building within the context of the Ocean Park neighborhood development in the 1920s.
Staff from the City Planning Division and the city’s historic preservationist — Janet Ostashay of PCR Services Corporation — said the complex does not merit individual landmark status.
Stephanie Reich, city urban designer, said the complex has been evaluated three times and is only “eligible as a contributor to a potential thematic historic district.”
Ocean Park does not have a historic district of courtyard bungalows and no plans are currently in the works to establish such a thematic district.
Ostashay said fire damage and $35,000 in repairs caused the complex to lose most of its historical significance.
“We do consider properties that have been slightly modified,” Ostashay said. “But key features such as windows, exterior siding and doors have been altered, and we want those features to be there in historic buildings.”
“We understand that the residents would prefer to stay in their apartments, but the issue before the City Council is the city’s standards that have been reviewed by numerous professional consultants,” said David Moss, an attorney for the property owner. “Replacements have rendered the building basically a featureless stucco box.”
Councilmember Bobby Shriver voted against overturning the Landmarks Commission decision, saying that he could feel a strong sense of community at the complex.
“I walked around the building and listened to the residents,” Shriver said. “Criterion #1 struck me, that there were so many people living there and it was close to the beach.”