District: The cluster of buildings in Ocean Park will not be a district

A proposal to create Santa Monica’s fifth historic district encompassing a group of homes in Ocean Park will not go forward.

The Santa Monica Conservancy applied to designate the buildings, which are spread over five adjacent lots, as a historic district. The 13 buildings were built between 1906 and 1936 in the Late Victorian Cottage, Craftsman and Mission Revival styles, according to the Conservancy. The Landmarks Commission tied 3-3 on whether to recommend City Council approve the proposed district, an effective denial of the Conservancy’s application.

The denial aligned with the findings of city staff, who said the buildings vary in architectural style and are similar to other small groupings of early 20th century homes in Ocean Park.

“The grouping of properties do not appear strongly unified aesthetically through its architectural style and scale to contribute to each other cohesively as a district,” staff wrote in a report on the application.

Commissioner Kenneth Breisch, who voted against the district, said while the buildings represent different architectural styles found in Ocean Park, historical districts cannot be designated based on style alone.

“This is a hodgepodge of styles,” he said. “Just because these houses have survived doesn’t necessarily raise their level of significance.”

The Conservancy’s case to landmark the district didn’t just rely on architecture, however. The group also argued that it exemplifies the pattern of development in Ocean Park, as they lived through the opening of Central Avenue in 1917 and the widening of Ocean Park Boulevard in the 1960s to accommodate the I-10 freeway. Both projects sparked new development in the area.

But for Breisch and Commissioners Richard Brand and Amy Green, that context wasn’t enough to merit creating the district.

“If we’re talking about this as reflecting this scope of time and the evolution of the neighborhood, I’m not sure there’s enough here to tell the story,” Breisch said. “At some point, every street in Santa Monica was developed and that spurred development. I don’t see that as earth-shaking.”

Chair Dolores Sloan voted for the district, saying she felt the homes were stylistically distinct and illuminated the story of Ocean Park.

“The rest of Santa Monica doesn’t look like that street,” she said. “Ocean Park is unique and that street is unique within Ocean Park. And that’s worth preserving.”

Carol Lemlein, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy, said the organization has not yet decided whether to appeal the decision. Lemlein said she believes the buildings may be altered if they are not landmarked because tenants in the district’s rentals are being evicted under the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict tenants if they want to get out of the rental business.

“The owner must have some plans for the properties,” she said.

The Ocean Park district would have been the third historic district created in the past four years following a rule change that allows districts to be formed without a vote by property owners. The other districts are located on 3rd Street, San Vicente Boulevard, Bay Street and 11th Street.

madeleine@smdp.com

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