The recent $4 million beautification of Ocean Park Boulevard between Main Street and Lincoln Boulevard has received rave reviews. But Miriam Ginzburg, an Ocean Park resident since 1948, wasn’t one of them. One day during the construction Miriam was sitting in the house she’s lived in since 1957, when she had an unsettling experience. (Pun intended.)
When the asphalt-flattening bulldozer rolled back and forth, Miriam’s walls shook, or, as she recalled, “It felt like a 7.0 earthquake.” She suddenly saw large cracks forming in her walls and ceiling. Fearing the house might collapse, Miriam ran outside and confronted the driver. (Ocean Park’s version of Tiananmen Square?)
With a job to do, the driver wouldn’t back down but Miriam wouldn’t be steamrolled. (Pun intended number two.) After many phone calls to the city, Miriam was told her house was old and any damage was her responsibility. Thousands of dollars later, the cracks and foundation are fixed, but now Miriam is on a mission.
For months Miriam has been rallying against overdevelopment in the city where she was raised, went to school and lived in for the past six decades. “I’m in for the long haul,” Miriam says proudly and I believe her.
Miriam’s roots in Santa Monica go deep. Her mother and father, Ben and Hilda, who barely escaped the Holocaust (Ben was a Nazi prisoner of war for six years), moved here in 1948. When she was 5, Miriam went to Washington Elementary on Fourth Street (now Washington Preschool) only blocks from her house.
Miriam attended John Adams Jr. High and graduated from Santa Monica High in 1964. She is Santa Monica through and through, which is why it pains her to see the quality of life in our city suffer from massive real estate development.
In 1957, Ben opened Benny’s Barber Shop on Main Street. (Between St. Matthew’s Thrift Store and the Pink Elephant bar.) It’s almost impossible to imagine such hatred now, but in the beginning his shop was picketed by local bigots carrying anti-Semitic signs. A “survivor,” Benny was not dissuaded and stayed in business 31 years.
Benny was beloved in the neighborhood and for good reason. He was always giving free haircuts to kids from poor families. Around the holidays he would have Hilda take the kids to Sears and buy them new clothes. Benny only raised the price of haircuts once, to $3.50, in the 31 years.
Sadly, in 1987, when his rent tripled due to gentrification of Main Street, Ben was forced to retire. But he always hoped Santa Monica wouldn’t turn into Westwood or Beverly Hills. This is exactly what Miriam fears is happening right before her eyes.
The first ominous sign may have come in the early 1960s when the city, using the power of eminent domain, seized the front of Miriam’s parents’ house (including the yard and the house’s bay window) to build the Fourth Street overpass.
Since then, little by little, the city has developed the neighborhood to the point where now to be inside Miriam’s house sounds almost like being on the street. Because of busses, heavy trucks and sanitation vehicles all using Ocean Park, Miriam has installed two-ply and three-ply windows, but it can’t keep up with the increased noise.
With traffic, gridlock, overcrowding and pollution seemingly getting worse by the day, Miriam attends city planning and City Council meetings to voice her concerns. “Sometimes I feel like cattle going to slaughter because no one seems to be listening,” she laments. “Developers have the money and power, but that’s not going to stop me, just like it didn’t stop my father.”
Ben and Hilda were married 44 years and among the traits they passed on to Miriam were their commitment and strength. Recently retired, Miriam now has time for her two passions — her cockatiel birds, Rosie and Zoey, and her original oil paintings of Ocean Park’s picturesque landscapes and colorful characters.
Like a modern day Paul Revere, she also goes door to door warning neighbors against over development. In addition, she writes letters to the editor, some of which have run in the Daily Press. In one, describing the new mall, she refers to it as “Dubai by the bay.” In another she laments that Santa Monica, which used to be a charming, sleepy beach town is becoming “Manhattan West.”
There’s an old expression, “You can’t fight City Hall.” Given Miriam Ginzburg’s charm and chutzpah, all I can say is watch out City Hall.
To join Miriam’s battle against overdevelopment in Santa Monica, e-mail Ellenbren@roadrunner.com. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.