From the beginning of time, humanity has used landmarks as a way to preserve history and keep our path in mind. From ancient Greece with its Parthenon to the Tower of London, cities are defined by their landmarks. To some degree the communities that make up the cities are defined as well.
Would Vatican City be the same without St. Peter’s Basilica? If it were lost, the Catholic community would be immensely diminished in its cultural icons. San Antonio would be just another city in Texas if it were not for The Alamo. San Franciscans would mourn the loss of the Golden Gate Bridge.
These are major icons, they have come to embody the city they inhabit, and vice versa in some existentialist way, I’m sure. We begin to identify with our surroundings in ways that are emotionally satisfying, if not rationally justified.
After 20 years of living in Santa Monica, I feel like a Santa Monican. Before that I was a Northern California boy. When I was in school on the East Coast, I was a Californian and my classmates from around the globe were considered wherever they came from.
As we put down roots in a city, and make it our own, we change it, as much as it changes us. It’s the process of growth, for the city, and for us as individuals.
But changing doesn’t mean we have to lose ourselves, or our landmarks.
The culture of our city is changing radically and rapidly. We have gone from sleepy beach-side town to world-class tourist destination. Our restaurant base has shifted away from the quirky and unique (which means one of a kind — no multi-location chains) toward the upscale, but highly corporate and replicated industrial restaurant.
We have fewer and fewer little shops and more of the mega-retailers like T.J. Maxx, Nordstrom, and CB2. This is growth and progress. It is the way of the future, like it or not. All you have to do is take a road trip and the highway is bordered by mega-corporate stores and businesses as they put the little guys out of business.
The land values in Santa Monica have steadily risen, and with it the rents that the commercial property managers can command. That leads to greater revenue for the city in theory. I don’t know if it really happens, but since the trend seems to be continuing, I’m assuming it’s true.
Higher rents mean that fewer small retailers and businesses can compete for the same space. Look at what is happening on the Third Street Promenade. It is becoming little more than a big retailer showcase. Maybe that’s good, and maybe not. Maybe that is what the tourists and shoppers want to see.
I hope not. I would hope that they would come to Santa Monica to see the uniqueness of our city, the diversity that makes us wonderful. But with each passing of a business, that uniqueness dies a little more.
This past week I learned that the Tudor House will be closing this year. I don’t know why. But I mourn the loss of yet another landmark that harkens to a nicer time. Tea in the afternoon at the Tudor House is one of my favorite ways to get out of the office. The tiered trays of sandwiches and sweets enjoyed in an environment of old world class and elegance remind me of what it means to have manners in a world where manners are dying.
The Tudor House is one link in an eroding chain of businesses that remind me of the history of Santa Monica. We had a large British contingent who came over during World War II to help build planes. This is back when we had manufacturing facilities in the city. Our city played a vital role in the war, helping to beat back the German onslaught. And we’re losing that memory, one store at a time.
We have a history in our city that deserves to be preserved, even in the face of new development. Our landmarks need to be saved. Landmarks like Bay Cities Deli, which used to be known as the little Italian shop, or Chez Jay and Bruno’s. These are places we need to patronize and support. We need to recognize them as landmarks, and for the value they add to our city beyond the sheer dollars that the developers and their lawyers see. These unique businesses need to be protected with our money and our hearts, for they are the heart of our city. They are among the last vestiges of a time when surfers and movie stars retreated to Santa Monica for the good life — the good life that we are selling to the rest of the world as a reason to come here. Let’s not lose all of our soul in the pursuit of development and bigger and better.
Sometimes it’s the small places that make a city special.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.