Landmark on Wilshire

The City Council has approved a proposed settlement that would revoke the landmark status of the Home Savings building at 2600 Wilshire and require City Hall to pay $250,000 to the property owners.

Council approved the settlement as part of the closed session discussions at last week’s council meeting but as of Friday, August 31, the settlement had not been formally filed with the court.

“The settlement would set aside the city’s decision landmarking the property, which would remain not landmarked nor designated as a structure of merit for a period of 5 years,” said City Attorney Lane Dilg at the Aug. 28 Council meeting. “It would involve preservation and donation of the four pieces of artwork on site to the city or a nonprofit and a payment of $250,000.”

The settlement is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga over the historic importance of the building. Landmark discussions began in 2013 and it reached City Council in 2017.

Council officially landmarked the property and overruled a technical denial by the Landmarks Commission.

Preservation of the building has hinged on renowned painter Millard Sheets who designed the building and the mosaic on the front. Sheets worked on dozens of other Home Savings branches throughout California in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.  The modern and classically formal architecture was meant to heighten the public’s trust in the financial institution. The mosaic titled “Pleasures along the beach” embodied Santa Monica’s values but Sheets has criticized the Santa Monica work saying he didn’t like the final result.

In landmarking the property last year, Council found the building met landmark criteria because of its post-war architectural history, unique artwork and connection to Sheets regardless of his feelings towards his work.

At the time, Roger Diamond, the attorney for the property owner, said the decision would go to the courts. If finalized, the settlement would end the court case but historic preservation advocates urged the city to reject the proposal.

Carol Lemlein, President of the Santa Monica Conservancy said the building has architectural and cultural significance to the development of Santa Monica and the Southern California region.

“The evidence of structure significance is compelling,” she said. “It was twice designated in 2013 and 2017 as meeting five of the six criteria specified in our landmarks ordinance, these findings were supported by consultants’ reports written for the city.”

While no permits or proposals are on file to demolish the building, Lemlein said revoking landmark status would limit the City and public’s ability to protect it. She said the proposal to donate the artwork was also questionable because the sheer size of the mosaic, in particular, would make it difficult to remove and reinstall.

“It is incredibly expensive and takes a good deal of care to do it properly,” she said. “That particular segment of the proposed settlement may be totally meaningless in terms of practical reality.”

The Conservancy sent out a press release following the meeting with additional information on the case.

“The Conservancy has consistently supported the designation of Home Savings, and made a strongly-worded statement of that position to Council before the closed session commenced,” said Lemlein in the statement. “We believe this proposed settlement, which appears to remove all due process protections from the landmark, would do irreparable damage to our cultural heritage and the credibility of our Historic Preservation Program.”

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