The Santa Monica City Council has denied an appeal by Harry Wu and SM Ocean Star, LLC, challenging an Ocean Avenue apartment complex’s landmark status.
This will protect the garden apartment complex — north of Montana Avenue between Marguerita and Georgina Avenues — from demolition.
The Landmarks Commission, which is charged with protecting the city’s cultural heritage and architectural history, unanimously designated 423-431 Ocean Ave. a city landmark in October last year.
But Wu and SM Ocean Star, LLC, the property owner, wanted the City Council to overturn the Landmark Commission’s decision to designate the apartment buildings a city landmark.
A building is eligible for landmark status if it meets one of the six criteria in the city’s landmark ordinance.
The complex at 423-431 Ocean Ave. met four of the six Landmark Status criteria.
The Landmarks Commission found that the apartment complex is one of the earliest remaining examples of “garden apartments” in the immediate area.
The north and east buildings of the complex were constructed in 1936 and formed an “L” configuration. Fourteen years later, a south building was constructed, forming a “U” configuration centered around a courtyard.
The Landmarks Commission found that it exemplifies the second wave of residential development characterized by multi-family housing and was designed by notable architect William E. Foster, who also designed the Shangri-La Hotel at Arizona and Ocean Avenues.
The buildings articulate key design elements of the American Colonial Revival style and possess numerous unique architectural details that enhance their esthetical value, the commission also found.
Wu and SM Ocean Star, LLC, were not present at the meeting to give a rebuttal — which a deputy city attorney said is very unusual.
In the appeal, Wu said the property is not eligible for landmark designation under any of the criteria set forth in the city’s landmark ordinance.
He argued that the property is a common building type and is neither the best nor last remaining example of a Colonial Revival style courtyard apartment complex in the immediate area.
Additionally, he argued that the addition of a third building in 1950 detracts from the original courtyard configuration, that the property is not a significant or representative example of Foster’s work and that its location on Ocean Avenue is irrelevant.
A number of tenants and concerned residents attended the meeting in support of upholding the apartment building’s city landmark status, although only several of them spoke.
“It’s a very special experience to live in a landmark building,” said Ron Lachner, who has lived in the apartment complex for 20 years. “We hope that that history and expanded awareness will make this even more valuable to the public and Santa Monica history as part of what we have contributed to our sense of community.”
Anthony Carr, co-applicant for the landmark designation of the property and longtime tenant of the apartment building, pointed out that “many experts have weighed in independently with favorable opinions on the uniqueness” of the courtyard and building.
After public comment, the City Council unanimously denied the appeal and voted to uphold the property as a city landmark, as recommended by city staff, at its meeting Tuesday, November 27th.
“Really, this appeal seems to be the legal equivalent of a Hail Mary pass and this Hail Mary’s not full of grace,” said Councilman Kevin McKeown.