CITY HALL — It was the scene of great triumph for a group of long-time renters fighting to save their apartment from demolition, a celebration over a decision by the Landmarks Commission to historically preserve the building.
More than two months after the hearing in which the 57-year-old complex was deemed a landmark because of its association with late mayor Clo Hoover, the building today is nearly empty as just a small group of tenants remain, packing up their boxes and getting ready to leave this weekend.
While the building has been landmarked — a status that is being challenged by the developer Trammell Crow Co. — the eviction notices issued last year requiring that tenants move out by March 17 remains in place
Betty Yamamoto, a retired researcher who spent her career at the West L.A. VA, called the past 26 years living at 301 Ocean Ave. “superb,” speaking fondly of a community where neighbors got along well.
She plans to leave in the next few days to live temporarily with a sister in the San Fernando Valley, hoping to find a permanent home closer to Santa Monica where she has been visiting the same doctor and bank for years.
“I go with a very heavy heart,” Yamamoto said. “It’s been home for all of us.”
The Dallas-based developer acquired the 47-unit apartment complex in 2007 with plans to construct a 26-unit condominium project in its place, but was met with resistance by residents who lobbied officials to landmark the building. The project at one point was proposed to have a mix of three-level townhouses, duplexes, penthouse and affordable housing units.
The appeal is scheduled to be heard by the City Council on April 28.
The Landmarks Commission in a close 4-3 vote decided to designate the building based on just one of six criteria for structures to be named as landmarks, meeting the bare minimum requirement. The building became the first in the city to be deemed a landmark solely because of its association with a historic person.
“There was one commissioner in the majority who was clearly torn so even with the commission it was a close call so we’re hopeful that the City Council will reconsider the commission vote and render a decision,” said Chris Harding, an attorney representing the developer.
Both city staff and consultant PCR Services Corp., which conducted its own assessment, advised the commission against designating the building, believing it did not qualify for landmark status.
“Although the subject property is directly connected to Clo Hoover as her primary residence, the property is not historically associated with her productive life as a civil servant,” the city staff report said.
The building was constructed in three phases from 1952 to 1958 following Clo and Chester Hoovers’ move from Kentucky to the West Coast, serving as both their primary residence and source of income for the couple. Hoover, who died in 1997, was the first female mayor and helped lead the fight against demolition of the Santa Monica and Newcomb Piers in opposition to the construction of an island in the Santa Monica Bay.
“This is the first time the city has ever landmarked a property solely based upon criterion 3 … and we do not believe that the best way or appropriate way to recognize Clo Hoover’s service to the community is landmarking an apartment building where she lived,” Harding said.
He added there are alternative ways of recognizing Hoover’s impact on the community, pointing out other memorials, including the Ken Edwards Center and Christine Emerson Reed Park, both of which were named after late councilmembers.
Among the remaining tenants are couple Ty Wapato and Dish Taylor who have lived in a second-floor unit that looks out onto the Pacific Ocean for about 18 years.
They plan to move just a few blocks up on San Vicente Boulevard.
“We actually didn’t start looking until two weeks ago,” Wapato said. “We were hoping that something was going to change.”
There was some belief among residents that the developer might not proceed with the eviction once the building was landmarked, Wapato said, adding he received a letter earlier this month reaffirming the move-out date.
“This isn’t just an apartment,” he said. “This is home.”