OCEAN PARK BLVD — After months of controversy, the nativity scenes displaced from their perennial berth in Palisades Park have found a new home on the eastern end of the city, just in time for the Christmas celebrations to begin.
All 14 of the dioramas will be on display on a piece of private property on Ocean Park Boulevard adjacent to Clover Park, said Hunter Jameson, a spokesperson for the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee.
“We are very pleased to be able to present the displays,” Jameson said. “It was very difficult to find adequate open space in Santa Monica to display 14 large booths.”
Committee members were forced to go hunting for a new spot after the City Council closed a loophole in an existing ordinance that banned unattended displays from public spaces without a special permit.
The decision resulted from months of back and forth between City Hall, the Nativity Scenes Committee and a group of atheists who successfully co-opted 18 of 21 open spots in Palisades Park for their displays.
When churches complained, the City Council ended the tradition and City Hall found itself facing a lawsuit over the decision. That suit is still in the courts, although a federal judge dismissed the case last week.
Members of the Nativity Scenes Committee eventually landed on a strip of land that belongs to the Watts Companies, a commercial real estate firm in Santa Monica. The City Council’s action banned only those displays on public property, which means the area is still fair game, said Karen Ginsberg, director of the Community and Cultural Services Department at City Hall.
The crèches will be on display until the beginning of January, Jameson said.
It’s unclear what connection the company has to the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee, but in a statement released Monday, the company said it looked forward to helping preserve the tradition.
“In partnership with the Santa Monica Nativity Scenes Committee and the Chabad House in Santa Monica, Watt Companies has agreed to host 15 holiday displays along Ocean Park Boulevard at their Santa Monica headquarters,” the statement read.
Jameson also refused to give further information about how the group had managed to find the space, just saying that he was “not in a position to talk about that.”
The committee will kick off the holiday season with a celebration on Sunday, Dec. 9 in Clover Park at 3 p.m. with a recitation of the Christmas story and seasonal songs.
According to a release, the group is also hoping participants will be taken by the giving spirit and donate cash to cover the $19,000 annual cost, which covers assembly, removal, storage and insurance for the booths, amongst other things.
Although the nativity scenes may have moved, the tradition of celebrating the Christmas season has not left Palisades Park.
Primo DeJesus, a member of Trinity Church of Santa Monica, became the point person over a month and a half ago to create living nativity displays in the park just north of the Santa Monica Pier entrance.
DeJesus organized churches to spend two hours each day beginning at 7 p.m. in the space, singing carols, enjoying coffee and hot cocoa and possibly watching a reenactment of the nativity story.
That kicked off Monday with what DeJesus called an “olive branch” ceremony to honor outgoing Mayor Richard Bloom and Councilmember Bobby Shriver.
He’s not the only one with designs on Palisades Park.
“The Nativity Project,” an effort put forward by the Christian Defense Coalition that encourages the display of nativity scenes in public places, is “dedicated to ensuring that nativity scenes continue to be displayed in Palisades Park,” according to a release by the group.
As such, the Christian Defense Coalition plans to hold the “Celebrate Santa Monica Nativity and Freedom” event on Dec. 8 between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.
“It’s our hope that private individuals and faith community of Santa Monica continues on with the tradition,” said Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition.