Photo courtesy Diane Michelle

Photo courtesy Diane Michelle

You can take the proverbial long walk off a short pier, but our pier is pretty long, so I suggest you instead take a short walk Downtown that’s long on history. It covers only six blocks but takes a couple of hours, because there’s so much to see that you’ve always seen but didn’t know what you were seeing.

The Santa Monica Conservancy has been giving this walking tour of our local history for seven years now, every Saturday morning at 10, but I just found out about it. (By reading the invaluable What’s Up Westside notices in the Daily Press.)

“The walk traverses more than 130 years of Santa Monica history, from its Wild West frontier beginnings to the sophisticated metropolis of today. You’ll learn about the civic leaders whose vision built the growing city, and experience Downtown’s diverse architectural heritage, including:

• The 1875 Rapp Saloon, opened the year the city was founded, later served as the first City Hall. Having passed through many adaptive reuses in its long life, today it is incorporated into the Hostelling International facility.

• The Majestic Theatre, later the Mayfair, the city’s first theater built to showcase the nascent film industry, which used the city for film locations.

• The Keller Block, a splendid example of Romanesque Revival architecture.

• The Builders Exchange, a restored Churrigueresque/Spanish Revival building, with intact decorative interiors.

• The Bay Cities Guaranty Building, the city’s first skyscraper, a soaring Art Deco landmark with its signature clock tower.

• The El Miro Theater, an exuberant Art Deco/Streamline Moderne creation that became the centerpiece for the revitalization of the old mall into the Third Street Promenade.”

Now, maybe that description from the conservancy’s website doesn’t arouse your curiosity. It’s just talking about buildings. It would mine, because I’d never heard of half of them, and the little teaser alongside each one piqued my interest to know more.

But the tour gives you much more. Our docent/guide that morning, Jeff, told our small group at the start that he might get a few facts or dates wrong but he felt the most memorable thing you could hear on a tour is stories, ones that bring history to life and give you real people to attach to the events and buildings. He certainly accomplished that, with some timely interjections from Kay Pattison, the tour docent leader.

The tour costs $10 and is well worth it. The conservancy has a booklet, for $3, that gives you the information and would allow you to walk the tour yourself. But you’d be missing out on all those good stories, and if you take the tour they throw in the illustrated booklet for free.

Did you know that, before Hollywood, Santa Monica (very briefly) was the center for movie making, with open air, three-walled studios facing the ocean? Only problem — they soon discovered the marine layer that blew half the filming day, so Chaplin-Pickford-et al packed up and moved not-too-far east.

What’s Popeye got to do with Santa Monica? Where did the notorious Bugsy Siegel go for speakeasy partying? What swanky Ocean Avenue digs were opened to the military for R&R during WWII? Can you find the hooks on outer walls around Downtown that were used for the old trolley system (wish we still had it)?

I could tell you all this and more but you will enjoy it much more in person in the glorious winter sun, strolling leisurely around the Downtown Santa Monica that you thought you knew. You can just show up, in front of Hostelling International at 1436 Second St., but it’s better to make a reservation at (310) 496-3146 or by sending an e-mail to dwt@smconservancy.org.

 

Wednesday’s developments 

 

I switched my column a few months ago from the weekend edition to Wednesdays for a number of reasons. But a down side is that I miss the immediacy of some important meetings, in particular Tuesday night City Council sessions. Grrr, phoo! Now I still have to go, but can’t comment in a timely manner.

This week’s was an important one, with the humongous Hines development under consideration. It’s amazing how a groundswell of opinion can develop, against something that formerly seemed unstoppable. I trust the council members recognized a tipping point in public opinion has been reached, that they previously felt safe to ignore.

The vote is in as you read this, but let me add my two cents for the record, that I am opposed to the Bergamot Transit Village plans as they now stand, and the same goes for the entire Bergamot Area Plan. Too many apartments and retail and their inevitable car trips added to an area desperately in need of reduced traffic, and no green space. And what about the water consumption? Unacceptable.

Wait until the coming Expo Line has arrived and had its effects, then decide. What’s the big hurry?

 

Where’s Robert Redford when we really need him?

 

In Utah? This time of year, you betcha. He bought an entire ski area in the early 1970s and renamed it Sundance, and launched his famous film festival a decade later.

Santa Monica native son Redford (in)famously slammed his hometown in an interview in Esquire last April, conducted in his Santa Monica office, saying, “I’m never here more than two, three days at a crack. I get itchy — traffic, freeways, out of control development. There was never a land-use plan. This was a beautiful city once, and it isn’t anymore.”

Bob, give us 15 minutes of your time. Come to a City Council meeting and say those same things. You could help immensely in turning things around. You owe it to us.

I made my first trip to Sundance (the film fest) over the weekend, caught three movies and enjoyed the spectacular snow-covered sights. One doc was memorable, but not for the right reasons. Seeing “Mitt” in Utah is something I will never forget. The unabashed paean to the failed Mormon candidate was applauded in parts, and cries of “liar!” greeted the president’s brief appearance on-screen, twice. Yikes.

 

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 28 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. You can reach him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com

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