Owners of Landmarked courtyard apartment buildings on Ocean Avenue want to tear them down, claiming economic hardship, and replace them with condominiums.

The current buildings contain 16 units and were built in 1936.

“The subject property is a very good example of the American Colonial Revival architectural style as applied to a small-scale garden apartment complex located within the Palisades Tract,” consultants said of the property’s Landmark-worthiness.

S.M. Ocean Star LLC, which owns the property, has filed an application for a Certificate of Economic Hardship, which would allow them to tear the Landmark down and replace it with the 13-unit condo building.

Lawyers representing the owners did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

The buildings were Landmarked in 2007 and an appeal by the property owner was denied by City Council. The building has been vacant for years, Santa Monica Conservancy President Carol Lemlein said.

“This will be our first full-fledged Economic Hardship Case, so there are plans to do some training of the Commission at a future meeting, possibly in February, to clarify their roles and responsibilities in the process,” Lemlein said in an e-mail.

Last year, council voted to make it harder for property owners to reject the creation of historic districts by the Landmarks Commission. Historic districts protect a group of buildings that taken individually are not that historically significant but become so when considered as a group. The move was, in part, in response to concerns that developers planned to rip down courtyard apartments on San Vicente Boulevard.

“This is, of course, a poster child for resident concerns about the future of our courtyard housing,” Lemlein said of the 423 Ocean property, “and good background on why the Council took the action it did on the historic district portion of the ordinance last month.¬† Unfortunately, much of our courtyard housing is not architecturally significant, and therefore difficult to protect through preservation policy.”

The 423 Ocean property is, according to consultants, of a higher design, materials, and craftsmanship levels than similar garden apartment complexes that came in the decades after it was built.

“Specifically, the property’s ornate entrance areas are excellent expressions of the idiom in their incorporation of character-defining features such as highly articulated pediments, pilasters, Doric columns, and porticos,” consultants said of the property. “Additionally, subject property architect William E. Foster succeeded in his clever attempt at segmenting the north and south buildings into three distinct two-story configurations by varying their orientation, depth, exterior sheathing, window placement, and entrance locations with satisfying results.”

In 2007, the owners of the apartment agreed to pay the Rent Control Board $100,000 after city attorneys discovered that the landlords had violated the Ellis Act, a state law that lets property owners get out of the rental business but puts restrictions on the future use of the property, according to Daily Press archives. It was alleged that the owners pulled the units from the market in 2004, evicting four units, but then re-rented some units two years later. S.M. Ocean Star denied wrongdoing but opted to settle with the board.

The Economic Hardship application is expected to come before the Landmarks Commission this spring.

dave@smdp.com

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