It may be a little house, but it has a lot of history. It currently sits at the former site of Fisher Lumber in Santa Monica, where it was moved on November 13th and will stay temporarily. That is, until it finds a permanent home.
What is believed to be the last intact “shotgun house” in Santa Monica has been through a lot since it was built in the late 1890s at 2712 Second St. This landmark, called a “treasure” by many, was nearly demolished twice — once in 1998 and again in 2002 — yet this piece of history still stands.
So, what exactly is a shotgun house?
Shotgun houses were homes that were one story high, one room wide (about 12 feet) and typically two or three rooms deep (about 36 feet), one room behind the other, connected by doorways that were lined up.
If you shot a gun through the front door, the shot would come out the back door without even touching the wall and passing though each doorway. For that reason, these homes were called “shotgun houses.”
“Shotgun houses provided both vacation housing and permanent housing that was inexpensive, fast to construct and affordable,” says Ruthann Lehrer, a member on the board of the Santa Monica Conservancy, a member of the shotgun house subcommittee and a member of the Landmarks Commission.
Their affordability made them very appealing to many in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Shotgun houses are part of Santa Monica’s history, yet the shotgun house now at Fisher Lumber is believed to be the “sole survivor of that period,” in the city, Lehrer said.
“It [this shotgun house] represents one of the earliest buildings in Santa Monica, when Santa Monica was first being settled as a small California coastal city,” said Lehrer.
Despite this, the house was almost torn down by the owner in 2002.
“They started to tear the back of the house off,” said Sherrill Kushner, a Santa Monica Conservancy member who edits the group’s newsletter, is the chair of its subcommittee on the Shotgun House and a member of the Program Committee.
The house was designated a landmark by the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission in 1998, and it was saved just in time by concerned residents who quickly asked Santa Monica City Council to allow the house to be stored on city property until a permanent site could be found.
At that time, the Ocean Park Community Organization, an organization that is now defunct, bought the house from the owner for a dollar, according to the Santa Monica Conservancy.
Some community members, who were devoted to saving the shotgun house, gathered funds to pay a mover to relocate the house to the Santa Monica Airport with the city’s permission.
For three years, the shotgun house remained at Santa Monica Airport. The city gave the Ocean Park Community Organization (OPCO) until November 1st last year to move the house, or it would be considered abandoned.
But at this time, OPCO was no longer functioning as an organization and the house remained at the airport after the deadline passed.
Four days later, at the November 12th City Council meeting, Councilman Kevin McKeown made a motion to direct staff to provide continued temporary storage for up to two years and the motion passed.
With OPCO no longer functioning as an organization, a new group of residents stepped up to the plate to save the house. Some members of the Santa Monica Conservancy, whose mission is to preserve the architectural heritage of the city, formed an ad-hoc committee.
This committee was called the Friends of the Shotgun House — which recently was absorbed by the Santa Monica Conservancy — and was dedicated to relocating, rehabilitating and reusing the shotgun house.
“We sort of inherited the house when OPCO didn’t follow through,” Kushner said.
And preserving the shotgun house clearly fell within the Santa Monica Conservancy’s mission of preserving the architectural history of the city, among other things, Kushner said.
“We’re talking about a piece of history and a type of building that was very important to developing Santa Monica as a beach resort,” Lehrer said. “It’s a vernacular type of house. They have cultural, historic and economic significance.”
“And if we don’t do it [preserve the shotgun house], I don’t think there’s anyone else out there that will,” Kushner said. “Even though it’s not a grand building, it is still of historic importance. It is a treasure. If we don’t start somewhere, we will have nothing to show. We will have no history.”
So they forked up $3,500 from individual donors to move the house to another temporary site, the former Fisher Lumber location, a city-owned property at Colorado Avenue and 16th Street, where it is now.
After the house was moved, it was inspected for termites and found to be sound, Kushner said. Measured architectural drawings were taken of the house’s interior and exterior in a pro bono collaborative and educational project involving the Fonda-Bonardi & Hohman firm and graduate students in the USC Historic Preservation program, who used the house as a case study, directed by Dr. Ken Breisch.
“It was a wonderful partnering to have the USC students,” Kushner said. “They did all the measuring and they did some research on the shotgun house genre. The information they gathered was helpful for us.”
So, where will the house go now? That’s in the works. The Santa Monica Conservancy says it is working tirelessly to sort things out before November 2007, when the house must have a permanent location.
“We have identified potential funding sources,” said Kushner. “We’ve visited 17 sites in Santa Monica and they’re all public property. We’ve narrowed it down. We have a top three that we’d like to propose [to the city].”
The Santa Monica Conservancy has also identified how the house could be reused — by becoming a preservation resource center so it would benefit the public.
“People would be able to tour it because it shows the way of life in Santa Monica in the 1880s when that kind of house was prevalent,” Kushner said.
The house would be open to the public and would have an exhibit about the house and its history in Santa Monica. A staff person would be available to help answer questions about preservation. Additionally, the Conservancy would hold its meetings at the house, Kushner said.
Today, it has been eight months since the house was moved and Kushner feels as though her hands have been tied.
She said that the Conservancy needs some answers from the city about the shotgun house — for example, clarification of the title to the house. Not knowing who has the title has prevented Kushner from doing any fundraising because potential donors want to know answers that she can’t provide.
“I’ve been stymied because we have all these unanswered questions,” Kushner said. “The council gave us two years. Time is ticking. We’re afraid to go forward too much, and everything costs money.”
So, to get some clarification from City Council, the Conservancy made a proposal, got on the council meeting agenda and showed up at the council meeting Tuesday, June 27th. But because so many things were on the council’s agenda and there was not enough time to get through them all, the item was postponed twice to a special meeting Wednesday, July 12th.
At that meeting, at the Santa Monica Conservancy’s request, the City Council directed staff to:
— pursue ownership of the house;
— identify an appropriate site on designated city property for the permanent relocation of the house in Ocean Park;
— initiate a process to select a nonprofit organization to raise funds and potentially lease the house for public benefit purposes; and
— create a lease agreement that clearly delineates responsibilities of both lessor and lessee.
At the meeting, Councilman Richard Bloom encouraged the Conservancy to continue its work on what he called “this little run-down piece of treasure” which would “provide a legacy for the city for many years.”
Councilman Herbert Katz agreed.
“This house is a treasure,” Katz said.
The Conservancy hopes that it will be selected as the nonprofit organization to lease the house.
“It’s really up to the City Council to decide where it’s going to go,” Kushner said. “So we’re doing the legwork in the hope that they will see us as a very vested entity that’s willing to move forward with this so that local residents and tourists have the opportunity to learn about early Santa Monica.”
In the meantime, the house sits at the former site of Fisher Lumber as it waits to be relocated, rehabilitated and reused for the public to enjoy.