CITY HALL — A few dozen pleas to preserve a 57-year-old ocean-front building were not enough to sway the City Council on Tuesday from revoking a landmark designation of the home of Santa Monica’s first female mayor.
Following a roughly hour-long public hearing featuring testimony from more than 30 speakers, the council voted to uphold an appeal by the Trammell Crow Co., the owner of 301 Ocean Ave., who was challenging the Landmarks Commission’s decision in January to historically designate the apartment building based on its association with former Mayor Clo Hoover.
The issue highlighted a growing tension between those who want to preserve Santa Monica’s neighborhoods by limiting development, both residential and commercial, and those who are in favor of growth and redevelopment.
A property is required to meet at least one of six criteria in order to achieve landmark status, most of which deals with the building’s architectural features and location.
The 47-unit apartment complex, which sits on the corner of San Vicente Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, was the first to be designated solely on the criterion that it is associated with a historic figure, though the vote of the commission was close at 4-3.
The Dallas-based development company, one of the nation’s largest, filed the appeal soon after, arguing that the link between Hoover and the significance of the building was not strong enough, pointing out that two historic preservation experts and city staff all concluded that the property does not merit landmark status.
“This is a unique matter because unlike the 31 prior occasions when criterion 3 (historic personage) has been utilized in a designation, this is on the only time when criterion 3 was the only criterion,” Chris Harding, the attorney representing Trammell Crow, said. “That doesn’t mean it is unlawful to do that.
“We aren’t discerning that but we suggest because it is so unique that it requires you to pay particular attention and carefully scrutinize this.”
The developer purchased the property in 2007 with plans to construct a 26-unit condominium project in its place, a proposal that was met with opposition from tenants, many of whom have lived in the building for decades. The project was at one point proposed to have a mix of three-level townhouses, duplexes, penthouses and affordable housing units.
The property owner filed to evict tenants through the Ellis Act last year. The last of the tenants moved out in March.
The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, which authored the 2008 Residents’ Initiative to Fight Traffic, which would have put a cap on commercial development, has also come out in opposition to the project.
Several former tenants also claimed they were offered compensation packages in exchange for their silence at hearings regarding the landmarking issue. Harding said that once he learned about the agreements, he advised the developer against such a measure and sent letters to those tenants who had accepted the packages, informing them that they would be allowed to participate in the public process.
While councilmembers expressed regret over the loss of affordable housing units, those who voted to uphold the appeal said they had concerns with landmarking a building on one criterion when the basis for it might not be sufficient.
Some added that it could lead to a slippery slope, prompting homes of other councilmembers to be landmarked simply because they lived there.
A few councilmembers said they had not even heard of Hoover until the issue of the building arose.
“The problem I have is if this building is worthy of landmarking because Clo Hoover worked there and lived there during her time on council, then perhaps Councilmember (Bob) Holbrook’s house should be landmarked,” Councilwoman Gleam Davis said.
Residents who spoke in favor of keeping the designation argued that Hoover had a profound impact on the city going beyond her years in office, acting as one of the city’s earliest environmentalists and helping pave the way for other women to serve in local government.
Others noted that the location of the apartment helped shape Hoover’s decision making in opposing certain projects, including the construction of an island in the Santa Monica Bay. Some even said the building does have architectural significance, calling it a “jewel.”
“Clo Hoover was a leader and groundbreaker for women in Santa Monica,” Angela Ungurean, a Santa Monica resident, said. “She was successful enough to make it clear to the community that women can be effective leaders.”
Hoover served on the City Council from 1961 to 1975, during which she was mayor three times.
She and her husband, Chester, constructed the apartment building in three phases from 1952-58 following their move from Kentucky to Santa Monica, the complex serving as both the couple’s primary residence and source of income.
One of the speakers in favor of landmarking was Cathy Hoover Hedger, the granddaughter of the late mayor, who said that her grandparents knew that they had a “gem” when they picked the location.
“It’s a very special place not only because my grandparents designed and built it, but because it’s a unique location,” she said.
Councilman Kevin McKeown, one of two dissenting votes — the other being Councilman Bobby Shriver — argued that the building’s location did have an influence on how Hoover felt about certain issues. He pointed to a Los Angeles Times article from April 5, 1973 in which she was quoted as saying that perhaps because her apartment faces the ocean, she feels strongly against projects that would alter her view.
He added that the building is also known for a sign that hung in front of it for years, reading “Soviet Monica.” Hoover was a known opponent of rent control.
But not everyone was in favor of keeping the landmarks designation, including several former colleagues of Hoover and at least one known local historic preservation advocate.
John Bohn, who served on the council with Hoover, said he does not remember meeting once at 301 Ocean Ave. to discuss city business, adding that most officials met at their offices in City Hall.
“I never thought of her apartment as being her office, at least not with the business I had to discuss with her,” he said.
Tom Cleys, who serves on the Santa Monica Conservancy, said he believes if a property is going to be designated based on one criterion, the reason has to be very strong. Cleys added that he studied the property before as part of a proposed historic district and that it did not meet the criteria to be even a contributor.
“I don’t believe this is the best way to memorialize this person in history,” he said.
Harding said that there are other ways of properly honoring Hoover’s memory, adding that previous councilmembers have been commemorated by having buildings and parks named after them, including Christine Emerson Reed Park, Ken Edwards Center, and Barnard Way, named after Ben Barnard.
“We don’t question Clo Hoover’s significance as a Santa Monica figure of her era,” Harding said. “We have no objections to her being recognized as such.”