History Building c. 1940. Credit: Samohi Campus Plan Historic Resources Technical Report, July 2018. Courtesy photo.

Four years ago the School Board approved a Samohi renovation plan that included the demolition of the 85 year old History Building. Now, with the demolition date around the corner some community members are fighting to stop it.

On Oct. 17, former School Board candidate Esther Hickman launched a petition to “Save the History Building”. The petition has gained steam in the following weeks, accruing over 2500 signatures and the support of the Santa Monica Conservancy.

“The Santa Monica Conservancy urges you to pause phase three of the Samohi Campus Plan because preservation alternatives for the historic resources on Prospect Hill have not been fully considered,” said Nina Fresco, SM Conservancy board member in a Nov. 5 School Board meeting. “Historic Preservation, especially on a school site provides opportunities for multidisciplinary experiences in history, sustainability, art, architecture and culture.”

Under Santa Monica High School’s current plan the History Building will be demolished this summer alongside the English, Art, Business, and Business Annex Buildings to make room for the new Gold Gymnasium and Exploration Building.

This renovation project will be funded through $112 million in bond money and is scheduled to be completed by fall 2023. The demolition of the History building will cost around $500,000, according to District COO Carey Upton.

“I don’t want in any way to come across not appreciating people’s love, memory, nostalgia, and the symbolism of that building on this campus,” said Upton in an interview with the Daily Press. “However, it is a building that no longer serves the education of our students and on a small campus, we can’t keep a 30 something classroom building that doesn’t function for us.”

The District believes that the building is too outdated for the needs of 21st century learning to merit rehabilitation and retrofitting.

Many of the building’s classrooms are in the 700 square foot range, which is smaller than a standard 960 square foot classroom, but can accommodate 34 desks packed into rows as was the traditional format for 20th century classrooms. These days the District builds new classrooms in the 1100 to 1200 square foot range to allow for more group work and project based learning.

Because the History building is built on the structure of an even older building, the walls cannot be moved without changing the entire structure and this would require consulting the Division of State Architects, according to Upton.

“If would be somewhere between difficult, to expensive, to not allowed by the Division of State architects,” said Upton.

The petitioners still feel the historic value of the building merits preservation. It was built in 1935 on the foundation of a 1912 building destroyed by the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. Franklin Roosevelt’s historic WPA New Deal Funding was used for its construction. The building was also shot as part of the now iconic 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause.

“Preservation and adaptive reuse of buildings like these is not really a question of if it can be done, but rather a question of how,” said Fresco. “Qualified preservation architects and engineers rather than those primarily experienced in new construction, have not yet been consulted.”

The Santa Monica Conservancy is scheduling Zoom meetings to give School Board members more information about their demands for preservation.

The District remains reluctant to reconsider its decision as renovation plans are already underway and there were four public meetings between Oct. 2017 and Dec. 2018 in which the demolition was discussed and no objections were raised.

“Revising the Samohi Campus plan to include preserving the History Building at this time would compromise the District’s educational objectives,” said Upton in a Nov. 3 memo to Superintendent Ben Drati. “It would likely cause a delay of at least one year, depriving students of the improved spaces in the Exploration Building, and would likely result in significant negative financial impacts to the District.”

Clara@smdp.com