CITY HALL — Landmarks commissioners voted unanimously Monday night to investigate whether one of two remaining trailer parks in Santa Monica should be considered an historic landmark worthy of preservation, a designation that could disrupt a condominium development planned at the property for the last five years.
The commission will have 65 days from the filing of the application to consider reports compiled by staff and outside consultants analyzing the history of the park, and determine what on the site, if anything, qualifies as a landmark.
Landmarked sites receive protections from City Hall, and a special city process is required to alter the landmarked elements of a site.
That could spell trouble for co-owner and developer Marc Luzzatto, who announced in 2006 his intention to close the park and pursue a development agreement with City Hall to build a condominium and affordable housing project on the site.
But an application for consideration does not a landmark make.
Commissioners needed only to acknowledge that there was credible evidence that the park had some historic value to move forward with the fact-finding phase of the process, which would inform their later decision.
Each felt that was laid out in a report prepared by historic resource consultant ICF International, which showed that the trailer park fulfilled two of six criteria needed to qualify for consideration as a landmark.
According to the report, the park was an “excellent example of a traditional trailer park,” and represented a tangible peek into post-World War II Santa Monica.
The park also qualified as a rare specimen, being the last of two trailer parks in city limits.
A property or building need only qualify under one condition.
Although the seven-member commission voted to move the landmark consideration forward, they professed to do so out of a need for more information and respect for the process.
“I think we have a mandate to move forward with this and see where it goes,” said Commissioner Ruth Shari, “but I am endlessly uncomfortable with this as a landmark.”
Several had qualms about giving landmark status to a site that could not be seen from the street, and was comprised of residences classified as vehicles, which could be moved to another location.
“My question, and what would need to be explored, is what exactly is being landmarked?” said Commissioner Margaret Bach, noting that the homes in question were really vehicles with wheels, “albeit overgrown.”
If the mobile elements could not be landmarked, were there “character defining features” at the park worth preserving, she wondered.
The 7-0 vote means that nothing at the site can be substantially changed and that City Hall may not issue permits for the site while the application is under consideration, said Deputy City Attorney Barry Rosenbaum.
It’s too soon to tell what potential impacts a landmark status might have on Luzzatto’s development rights.
“It’s appropriate to be cautious, because I just don’t know,” Rosenbaum said. “They have a fair amount of latitude if they were to designate and what that designation is.”
That designation could come as soon as February or as late as April.
Catherine Eldridge, a resident and advocate for Village Trailer Park, said Tuesday that she was “totally delighted” by the decision.
“This is a special site. There are different regulations and rules involved,” she said. “It met all of their criteria for historic sites and neighborhood conservation, and that was being ignored.”
Eldridge hoped that the park could become a “living museum,” a testament to the working class people that it once housed that helped build Santa Monica.
If designated, Village Trailer Park would join the Monterey Trailer Park in northeast Los Angeles as one of the very few parks to earn landmark status.
The Los Angeles City Council landmarked that park in 2002.
The Los Angeles Conservancy pushed for the designation, pointing out the park’s unique character and example of a 20th century recreation and historic resource.
“The notion of ‘historic preservation’ converging in the same sentence with ‘trailer park’ struck some as incongruous initially, but a deeper look at this unique site shows it to be an entirely logical link,” the organization wrote in its November/December 2002 newsletter.