CITY HALL — A new hotel planned for 1554 Fifth St. hit a snag Monday night when Landmarks commissioners chose to review the property’s landmark status, despite a consultant’s report to the contrary.
The building, which currently houses a Midas auto shop, was the site of Santa Monican Waldo Waterman’s flying car factory, where he designed and manufactured his Arrowbile between 1935 and 1938, according to a report by consultant PCR Services Corporation.
It also exemplifies the Spanish Colonial style of architecture, and might become a contributing factor to a future historic district in the Downtown, the report continued.
The report also stated that the building did not meet any of the six criteria used to determine landmark status in Santa Monica, including one that states that the property is identified with a historic person or events in local history.
Commissioner Nina Fresco lambasted the document and the consultant, calling it shoddy work mixed with contradictory facts.
“That a report this shabby took three months to create is shocking,” Fresco said. “It really reads as if some sociopath prankster came in and edited it in the night.”
The report left out information specifically requested by commissioners, including when the first assembly line was created and details about the Aerophysics Development Corporation, which was a tenant at the building in the 1950s.
Other background, including information on the Buick dealership that pre-dated Waterman’s ownership of the building, was also left out.
“This is not OK for this commission,” Fresco said. “We cannot do what we’re doing with the effort, sincerity and thoroughness we give it with crappy reports like this.”
Ultimately, the commission voted to move forward and put in an application to landmark the property over protests by land use attorney Ken Kutcher, who pointed out that Waterman is already recognized in other places including the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and on a roadway near Van Nuys Airport.
“Those are appropriate ways for him to be recognized,” Kutcher said. “I don’t see that association vested in this property.”
The vote is not a promise that the property will be landmarked, cautioned Deputy City Attorney Barry Rosenbaum.
“What’s before you tonight is whether or not you should file an application,” he said. “This is a preliminary stage.”
Still, it might throw a wrench into plans by OTO Development, the new owner of the site, to redevelop the property.
The information about Waterman was brought to light in December 2011, when Commissioner Nina Fresco appeared at a meeting for a $30 million Courtyard by Marriott hotel.
At that meeting, OTO representative Taylor Callaham told commissioners that a landmark designation would kill the project.
“If one or more of the buildings were left intact and in their current state, it would require us to abandon the project,” Callaham said in December.
The company thought it had skirted the issue.
In 2007, when the property first appeared before the Landmarks Commission, commissioners took no action on the property because they believed that the flying car was built at Waterman’s home on Mesa Road rather than at the building on Fifth Street.
It later came to light that the home on 460 Mesa Road did not exist when the flying car was originally built, Fresco said.