City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to designate a strip of Craftsman bungalows on 11th Street as Santa Monica’s fourth historic district.
The decision goes against a report City staff made to the Landmarks Commission in November that found the bungalows lacked historical merit. After reviewing the report, the commission decided the houses were worth preserving and recommended that Council incorporate them into a historic district.
The district is composed of 10 buildings on 11th Street between Wilshire Boulevard and Arizona Avenue, seven of which are Craftsman bungalows built between 1905 and 1925. Kenneth Strickfaden, a pioneer in special movie effects, Waldo Cowan, an early civic leader and Joseph Rowe, a locally renowned builder, lived in or built the bungalows.
The Mid-City Neighborhood Organization, which coordinated the effort to create the district, say bungalows exemplify a style of early 20th-century architecture that used to be widespread in Santa Monica but has disappeared over time. The organization has been trying to landmark the district since 1989, when one of the bungalows was demolished to make room for an apartment building.
While two of the seven bungalows have altered facades and the other three buildings in the district are apartment buildings, councilmembers and commissioners said the district conveys a sense of time and place and should be protected.
“Throughout the city, there have been historic properties where, through a slow process of taking away the elements that made them special, they have become not historic anymore,” said Councilmember Sue Himmelrich. “At this point, we need to be vigilant because there are not as many left as we would like.”
Some who own homes in the district told Council said they feel the bungalows carry significant history.
“This area is a visual history we’re passing down,” said Debbie Mahdessian, who owns 1107 Arizona Avenue. “When these are gone, they’re gone, and having grown up here, I remember a lot more of these houses that aren’t here anymore.”
Several homeowners, however, did not support the creation of the district on the grounds that it would make renovating their homes more expensive and prevent them from using their properties as they see fit. One homeowner, a 96-year-old woman named Doris Lennon, intended to convert her property to multi-family housing.
Lennon’s attorney and other opponents argued that Council should have followed the recommendations made in the original staff report on the bungalows that the Landmarks Commission voted against.
“The Landmarks Commission’s decision was not supported by fact,” said Alicia Bartley of Gaines & Stacey LLP. “Land use decisions should not be based on popularity contests. When popular opinion outweighs the objective findings of … Planning staff, the result is an arbitrary designation that actually degrades the significance of other historic districts throughout the city.”
Councilmember Greg Morena said he understands that some homeowners wish to develop their properties and pointed out that they can still build on the back of their lots and make interior renovations. He suggested City staff work with residents to craft historic preservation guidelines for the bungalows.
“I want to be fair to people who have invested in their properties, and they are their properties,” he said.