Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

On Tuesday, City Council will consider the historical value of a few Mid-Century Modern-style buildings that were slated for demolition by a condominium developer.

When a 21-unit development, on 21st Street at Virginia Avenue in the Pico Neighborhood, went in front of the Planning Commission last year, several residents came out to decry the condos as an example of gentrification. The new buildings would replace 19 rent-controlled units.

Some commissioners were unimpressed by the project but felt legally prohibited from rejecting it outright. Instead, they delayed a vote and sent the buildings, which date back to the 1940s, to the Landmarks Commission for consideration.

The commission declared that a few of the buildings should be designated as Structures of Merit, saying that they are a unique and rare example of Mid-Century Modern courtyard housing.

The designation would make it much harder for the landowners to demolish the project and put in condos.

Following the commission’s decision, the landowner filed an appeal, which will be heard by council next week.

“The statement asserts that the Landmarks Commission action was not so much a historic preservation issue as it was a way to conduct a broader discussion about the loss and erosion of affordable and/or courtyard housing within the City,” city officials said in a report to council.

The landowner, Park Virginia LLC, focuses on a comment made by Commissioner Lois Lambert, when she noted that, if the requirements for designation weren’t broadened, Santa Monica would lose courtyard housing.

“Isn’t this the 800-pound gorilla in the middle of the room?” the appeal says. “Isn’t the erosion of affordable housing along with the vanishing courtyard breed truly the real underlying and overriding issue here that is clouding the actual merits of the property itself … ?”

They go on to claim that several commissioners were on the fence about designation of the property but decided to vote in favor of the designation anyway. The final vote was 4-2 in favor of the designation, with one commissioner recusing herself.

Park Virginia hired historical consultant, Chattel, to analyze the potential historic value of the buildings.

“The appeal statement also includes excerpts from the Chattel report stating that the buildings are not rare or unique examples of the Mid-Century Modern style but rather, modest buildings designed in a hybrid Minimal Traditional style,” city officials said in the report.

Finally, the landowners allude to the fact that the designation has nothing to do with historical significance and everything to do with affordable housing.

“The appeal statement concludes with an expressed opinion that a Structure of Merit designation is weak and does not offer any real protection,” city officials said.

City officials recommend that council deny the appeal and uphold the commission’s decision to protect these properties “based upon their age and the rarity of their architectural style and on-site configuration.”

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