In January, 1115 Georgina Ave., a house constructed in the Mediterranean Revival style in 1932 got a new roof, a new door (the French doors were replaced), and new siding.
About a month later, the owners applied to have it demolished.
A similar pattern occurred at a house on Palisades Avenue. Both houses are listed on City Hall’s Historic Resource Inventory.
When any property is up for demolition, the Landmarks Commission reviews it for potential historical value. If the commission feels that the property may be historically significant, it can nominate the property for Landmark or Structure of Merit status — designations that add protections against demolition.
Of particular note are properties, like those on Georgina and Palisades avenues, listed on the Historic Resource Inventory.
Despite their place on the inventory, both landowners got begrudging permission to demolition from the commission.
“What I’m seeing is now a trend,” Commissioner John Berley said. “Word has gotten out that you can spend a few thousand dollars to disfigure your house and then you don’t have any obstacles for tearing it down.”
Several commissioners expressed concern that owners of potentially historically significant properties have found a loophole. To alter a Landmarked building, owners have to jump through several hoops and demolitions, as mentioned above, are reviewed by the commission, but alterations made to an unlandmarked building, regardless of its potential significance, goes through a far less rigorous process.
Commissioners discussed the two properties at length but agreed that all of the character-defining features, which once may have allowed the commission to protect the property, are gone.
“The property now lacks integrity,” Commissioner Laura Elizabeth O’Neill said of the Georgina property. “The problem is that the alterations occurred and we never got to see them so we never knew they were removing really character defining features right up to applying for a demo permit, which is really unfortunate, but it lacks its character defining-features of the Mediterranean Revival style for sure, now.”
Craig Mordoh, a Santa Monica attorney representing the owner of the 237 Palisades Ave. property, said that accusations of malicious repairs are unfair.
“What was done was to make repairs and it was only when the repairs were started that the condition of the property was discovered,” he said. “But some of the things that have changed recently, based on the roofline, those are not new changes.”
Mordoh and the landowner claimed that the property was altered repeatedly throughout the second half of the last century.
“I am concerned when there’s an application to repair the property and then a month later there’s an application to demolish the property,” Berley said of the trend.
President of the Santa Monica Conservancy Carol Lemlein claimed that both she and the neighbors of the property were unable to locate demolition permits, which are supposed to be displayed publicly months in advance, until recently.
She asked the commission devise a strategy that “would offer more protection against this incremental demolition” without placing undue burden on landowners or city officials.
The commission agreed, directing city officials to agendize a discussion at a future meeting.
“I’m personally sickened by this situation,” Chair Pro Tempore Leslie Lambert said of the Palisades property. “If this had come to us in December it probably would have been nominated for designation and now it has been ravaged and it’s not even close to be eligible for that and it really is sickening.”