OCEAN AVE — Concerned the Spanish-Colonial revival design of a proposed condominium project here would detract from the neighborhood’s historic character, preservationists said they are prepared to fight a Dallas-based developer’s plan, which won approval from the Planning Commission last week.
The condominium complex, which consists of three separate buildings surrounding a 5,000 square-foot central courtyard at the corner of Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard, will replace the former home of Santa Monica’s first female mayor, Clo Hoover, who led the fight against the demolition of the Santa Monica and Newcomb piers and the construction of an island in the Santa Monica Bay.
Preservationists lobbied for the building to be landmarked based on its association with Hoover, who built a 47-unit apartment complex during the 1950s with her husband, Chester, when the two moved out west from Kentucky. It served as the couple’s primary residence and a source of income.
The Landmarks Commission, on a 4-3 vote, approved landmark status, however, it was appealed to the City Council by the property owner, TrammellCrow Co., one of the nation’s largest developers. The council, on a 4-2 vote, overturned the designation, paving the way for demolition.
John Berley, an architectural historian and member of the Santa Monica Landmarks commission, said the condo project, which includes 20 units, five of which for moderate-income households, incorporates elements of the garden courtyard style that dominates San Vicente from Ocean to Seventh Street.
However, he and other preservationists can’t get over the design, which they say is inappropriate, particularly for the location, which has been characterized as a “gateway” to San Vicente, which some would like to have designated an historic district.
“It’s important for Santa Monica to retain a very strong sense of place,” Berley said.
TrammellCrow submitted an earlier project that featured a more modern, contemporary design with a curved facade that was rejected by community members. Berley feels the developer went too far in the opposite direction to appease critics.
“They unfortunately had a knee-jerk reaction for feel-good architecture, which in this case is Spanish-Colonial revival, which I must say is shockingly disappointing,” he said.
Two planning commissioners, Hank Koning and Gwynne Pugh, who are architects, blasted the design as well, however, aesthetics are not under the commission’s purview. The commission looks strictly at compatibility issues such as the scale of a project, not the design.
That said, it was clear members of the commission want to see changes. Members voted to approve the project but want the developer to meet with the Architectural Review Board to discuss the design.
The project’s architect, Howard Laks, told the commissioners that the design was in response to community feedback in which residents complained about the contemporary design. He said that the Spanish style was “found to be consistent with many parts of the surrounding community.”
A representative from TrammellCrow said the company does not comment on criticism of design given that “design is subjective,” however, they believe the project will “make a statement” worthy of its location, which features stunning, panoramic views of the Santa Monica Bay.
TrammellCrow purchased the 47-unit apartment building in 2007. Residents there were forced to relocate in 2009 during the landmarks process.
Planning Commissioner Jim Reis said above all else, his biggest problem with the project is the displacement of those residents. By losing 27 units, the jobs-housing imbalance in Santa Monica increased.
“I want to keep as many housing units in Santa Monica … ,” Reis said.
Reis said the project would also cater to the wealthy, limiting the types of residents who can afford to live there. He said he would also like to see more landscaping but feels confident the architect, who is Santa Monica-based, can make the project work if given the opportunity. The scale and size of the project was in line with current zoning codes, Reis said, making its approval routine.
The proposed condo project will feature three buildings, two will be four stories in height while a third will be three stories. As part of City Hall’s Affordable Housing Production Program, TrammellCrow agreed to set aside five, two-bedroom units for moderate-income households, which in Santa Monica means a family of four earning $82,800 a year.
Fourty-three subterranean parking spaces will be provided.
A hearing with the Architectural Review Board has yet to be scheduled, city officials said.