CITY HALL — They’re not exactly priceless artifacts, but two doorknobs once used in Santa Monica’s historic City Jail are causing a stir among collectors who want to own a piece of City Hall’s rich history.

In a so-called “adaptive reuse” project funded by the federal government, the old jail building is being transformed into a computer network facility. As stipulated by the feds, salvageable items are being offered free of charge to the public.

City Hall officials began circulating notices that the doorknobs were available two weeks ago and, to everyone’s surprise, have received 23 inquiries since then, said Margarita Wuellner, director of historic resources for PCR Services Corp., a consultant on City Hall preservation projects.

“I’m pleasantly surprised that there’s this much interest in it,” said City Hall architect Alex Parry.

The higher than expected demand for the doorknobs has complicated the giveaway.

Wuellner and Parry are working on coming up with a set of criteria to help pick the lucky recipients. There’s no final decision yet, but both said a priority will be developed to keep the artifacts close to home. Holding an auction is not a possibility.

“We want to make sure that the doorknobs retain their association with Santa Monica [and] we want to make sure that their history is understood and respected,” Wuellner said. “From a preservation perspective it’s always ideal to have items such as these available for public viewing.”

To that end, if a museum or historical society expresses interest, individual collectors would probably be out of luck. So far, though, Wuellner said all of the inquiries she’s received have been from private parties.

There appears to be no obvious reason why the doorknobs have attracted so much interest.

“They’re nice looking, [but] they probably need a little bit of refurbishment,” Wuellner said. She estimated the doorknobs are worth less than $100.

Parry said: “I think people are just interested in having a piece of history and to have a piece of a historic jail is kind of unique.”

One of the doorknobs came from the jail’s second-story kitchen; the other is from a bathroom in the officer sleeping quarters on the third floor.

Completed in 1939, the jail was a New Deal public works project that was closed in 2002 and replaced by the new Public Safety Facility nearby.

The doorknobs and their accompanying locks are the only artifacts from the jail being offered to the public because most objects from the jail’s interior have been determined to contain high concentrations of lead from the building’s paint, Wuellner said.

When the facility, which is attached to City Hall, reopens, it will include exhibits showing an old jail cell and other features from the building’s past.

Those interested in competing for the doorknobs can contact Wuellner at (310) 451-4488 or via e-mail at m.wuellner@pcrnet.com. The deadline for submissions is March 5.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *