Junipers in front of City Hall are slated to be removed as part of a new park being developed on the historic building's front lawn. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CITY HALL — “Why nix the bricks?”

Santa Monica City Councilmember Kevin McKeown’s pithy inquiry cut to the heart of one of the last remaining questions regarding the design of the Town Square Park in front of City Hall, which became a battleground between the Landmarks Commission and an internationally-renowned design team in recent months.

It did not save the aforementioned bricks, which — along with planterboxes and some juniper trees — got the ax when the City Council voted unanimously to move forward with James Corner Field Operations’ design.

The matter came before the City Council again on Tuesday after city staff appealed the Landmarks Commission’s decision to keep whole the decorative brickwork and retain the planter boxes in front of the building.

Landmarks commissioners argued that the bricks were one of the last remaining features that could tie together the old and the new in the park’s design, which already does away with the electric blue canopy on the face of City Hall as well as the rose garden in front of it.

That garden will be replaced with a water feature with a jet of water for each of the 52 displaced rose bushes.

The water will then run between the Town Square Park and the adjacent Palisades Garden Walk, linking the two.

When questioned on the bricks, representatives with James Corner told council members that they were out of place with the Moderne style of the building and would look “shoddy” next to new materials.

The current design requires bright yellow stripes on the brick for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Also at issue were planter boxes that would be taken out to make way for symmetrical ramps leading to the entrance of City Hall.

The shallow slope of the proposed ramps would eliminate the need for handrails otherwise required under the Americans with Disabilities Act, but would shoulder out juniper trees that frame City Hall.

Putting them in would enhance the symmetry of the site, a key feature of the overall design, Corner’s team said.

Council members lamented the loss of the trees more than that of the bricks, although McKeown spoke in favor of both.

“The juniper trees are a wonderful contrast because they look so wild,” McKeown said.

The Landmarks commissioners’ complaints about the park did not stop at the two contested conditions.

They drafted four conditions at their Sept. 20 meeting held at the Main Library.

The library closes at 9 p.m., and commissioners had to skip over several topics of discussion to finish the meeting on time, including opposition to gentle hills which Corner proposed be installed in the lawn to reflect the Palisades Garden Walk across the street.

The hills seemed “potentially excessive,” said Landmarks Commissioner Margaret Bach.

“I’m hopeful we will not suffer down the line from buyer’s remorse,” Bach said.

Between the hills, low walls designed for sitting and stands of decorative grasses, commissioners also argued that there would not be standing space for individuals to protest or a flat enough area for activities like Jazz on the Lawn.

“The idea of people having a place to sit before they yell at us would be good,” joked Mayor Pro Tem Gleam Davis.

In summary, the Corner design respects many of the features of the park, but there’s still more work to be done, said Landmarks Commissioner Ruthann Lehrer, who represented the commission at the meeting.

“There may be other options not yet on the table,” she said, and asked that the design be sent back to the commission for further review.

The council did not agree, and voted to uphold the staff’s appeal.


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