Dozens showed up to a Landmarks Commission meeting Nov. 12 to support a plan to recognize a small strip of bungalows on 11th Street as Santa Monica’s fourth historic district but after about three hours of testimony from residents and discussion among commissioners, the Commission decided to postpone making a decision.
The Commission does not have the power to establish historic districts, but it can recommend the City Council approve or deny the 11th Street district and that discussion will now occur on Dec. 10.
The proposed district between Wilshire Boulevard and Arizona Avenue would include seven houses in California bungalow, Craftsman and Spanish revival styles built between 1905 and 1925, as well as three more contemporary apartment buildings. Supporters say the buildings exemplify a disappearing style of architecture in Santa Monica that housed the working class as the city expanded east from the beach in the early 20th century.
Commissioner Ruth Shari initiated the motion to continue the Commission’s discussion after voting against the district. Commissioner Richard Brand also opposed it, while Commissioners Barry Rosenbaum, Roger Genser and Chair Dolores Sloan voted in favor. Shari asked to continue the discussion so Commissioner Amy Green, who was absent, could vote on the item.
Commissioner Kenneth Breisch recused himself from the discussion because he wrote a letter in 1990 supporting the district.
Local groups Mid-City Neighbors and Friends of 11th Street have been trying to protect the bungalows from demolition or alteration since 1989, when one of the bungalows was demolished to make room for a three-story apartment building, said Friends of 11th Street co-chair Susan Suntree.
The Landmarks Commission declined to recognize 11th Street as a historic district in 1990, citing many of the same reasons Shari and Brand gave to reject the request Monday night. Both commissioners, as well as City staff, said the 10 buildings that would make up the district are not cohesive enough in style to create a distinct sense of history and place.
“The sense of place (on 11th Street) has been reduced to only a handful of buildings,” Brand said, referring to the demolition of several of the street’s original bungalows. “I wish we could have done this 50 years ago.”
Shari pointed to the historic district on San Vicente Boulevard between Ocean Avenue and 7th Street, which was recognized in 2015, as an example of a unified architectural area. The San Vicente district includes more than 20 apartments in a similar style configured around landscaped courtyards.
Owners and residents of the bungalows and nearby properties spoke both in support of and against the proposed district. Some shared stories of the buildings’ original builders and inhabitants to illustrate the street’s historical value, while others said they don’t see the group of houses as a cohesive district, in part because many are obscured by landscaping.
A 96-year-old owner of one of the houses said she wanted to demolish it to build low-income apartments on the property. Suntree, who has rented one of the bungalows for 30 years, spoke about the contributions of local builders Waldo Cowan and Joseph Rowe, who constructed three of the bungalows on 11th Street, to the early civic life of Santa Monica. However, staff said neither were notable builders in the city and the properties are not connected to their professional or civic contributions.
Almost every neighborhood association in the city supports the district, Suntree said, including Friends of Sunset Park, Ocean Park Association, North of Montana Association, Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition and Pico Neighborhood Association. Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights and Santa Monica Conservancy are also in favor of the proposal.
At its Dec. 10 meeting, the Landmarks Commission will continue its deliberations and discuss whether to break the proposed district into two smaller districts containing three and five lots each. Each alternate district would have a higher proportion of the historic buildings than the originally proposed district.
“The trade-off to be determined is whether a historic district is better served by being larger but with a lower density of contributors or being smaller clusters with a higher ratio of contributors,” staff said.