A controversial Ocean Avenue project debated half a decade ago will be significantly remodeled, not demolished.

Still, some renters’ rights advocates and historic preservationists say the distinction is moot.

In 2008, a developer began ousting rent control tenants from a 47-unit apartment complex formerly owned and occupied by Clo Hoover, the first female mayor of Santa Monica. Hoover’s inhabitation of the building had been enough to get it a protective designation from the Landmarks Commission, but council overturned the decision in 2010, paving the way for a demolition.

Developers got approval to build 20 multi-family luxury condos for the plot on the corner of Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard, but in 2013 the property was sold for $21 million and new owners decided, instead, to perform a substantial remodel. Construction is underway and expected to be done in November of next year.

“The current construction remodel of the project maintains the same use and general configuration of the previous 47-unit complex, housed within two separate buildings and oriented around a central garden courtyard,” said architect Howard Laks, who designed the new look. “The previous post-World War II, mid-century modernist design of the outdated structure will be transformed into a minimalist contemporary design.”

Nina Fresco, a former Landmark Commissioner who voted in favor of protecting the property at 301 Ocean Ave., said the historic significance of the building is lost.

“Adaptive reuse is always a good idea from an environmental standpoint,” she said of the remodel. “It‚Äôs more sustainable to save the structure rather than haul it away, dump it somewhere and then manufacture new materials and haul them in to rebuild. But from a historic preservation perspective, it‚Äôs demolished.”

Mayor Kevin McKeown, who was one of two council members who had tried to keep the landmark status in place, agreed with Fresco on the historical loss but went a step further.

“The buildings won‚Äôt be demolished, but the lives of 47 households, my neighbors, were demolished,” McKeown said of the remodel this week. “A predatory speculator evicted them, held housing off the market, and sold the vacant apartment building ‘with entitlements’ at a handsome profit. After waiting five years so the former rent-control tenants have no rights, another developer is going to gussy up the property and command top-dollar rents for the homes where those 47 families should have been let live their lives in peace.”

The attempted landmarking had revolved around Hoover’s historical significance to Santa Monica. There are a number of criteria that can qualify a structure for landmark status, but the case for Hoover’s apartments rested solely on historic personage — the first time a Santa Monica landmark relied only on that criterion. Ultimately, council decided that it was wasn’t enough and several members argued it would set a bad precedent.

Hoover, was, incidentally, an opponent of rent control, according to Daily Press archives, and hung a sign reading “Soviet Monica” in front of the house for years. She served on council from 1961 to 1975 and was mayor three times.

McKeown argued, at the time, that the location influenced Hoover’s views on certain issues, according to Daily Press archives — she apparently told the Los Angeles Times that she opposed projects that might obstruct her ocean view.

“The site work includes new landscaping and lighting improvements, removal and backfill of the existing pool, construction of ground floor private open space, and a new retaining wall along San Vicente Boulevard,” Laks said of the new design. “Modifications to the building facades include six new exterior stair towers, remodel of the existing elevator tower, the addition of private open space on upper levels and rooftops, window replacement, and new projected awnings with retractable canvas.”

dave@smdp.com

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