Santa Monica High School’s Historic Core. Photo courtesy of SM Conservancy.

HERE WE GO AGAIN

Just as we replace half the City Council with representatives who promised they will act for the residents and not their own campaign funds, we get the school board about to do terrible, irreparable damage to our revered Samohi, and the city’s history as a consequence. Since they are not a part of Santa Monica city governance, they are beyond the reach of our new representatives.

They are moving ahead to tear down a cluster of historic buildings there next summer when there’s no need to, ignoring their own half a million dollar study that advised against it and without looking into adaptive reuse instead of bulldozing. Anyone who ever attended Santa Monica High School or even visited that historic campus, from the 19th century to now the 21st, would no longer recognize it.

“Rebel Without a Cause”! For Pete’s sake, that’s James Dean on the steps of the History Building!! (with Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo, in the film hailed as the first realistic portrayal of the disaffection of youth in the ‘50s) — just months before Dean rolled his Porsche and died, ending a remarkable career after just three films. That probably makes Samohi, standing in for Dawson High in “Rebel,” the most famous high school in history. And our school board wants to make that history — history.

MOVING FORWARD TOWARD DEMOLITION

Despite their own half a million dollar study that advised against it, despite opposition by community members who are just now becoming aware of it, despite the obvious historic, architectural and cultural value that will be destroyed. Samohi is virtually a New Deal PWA/WPA museum, a concentration of that government-funded design and construction noted for its architectural/artistic value, that has great significance citywide and beyond, and the four buildings they want to obliterate next summer constitute the irreplaceable core of it. According to a 2018 Historic Resources Assessment, “Santa Monica High School has the distinction of being home of the highest concentration of WPA projects in the city.”

I admit I have had limited experience with and knowledge of the workings of our school board. But for five years I have dealt with them over the Muir Woods mural painted on the sides of Olympic High School facing Lincoln and Ocean Park — you know, the one that’s been there for for more than 40 years, becoming part of our history and Ocean Park culture, but is now pretty much destroyed because of their negligence and intent to remove it — and my dealings with them haven’t been pretty, for the most part.

A lot of lying, obfuscation and broken promises. At some points in the process they acted as the community representatives they were elected to be, but I always saw it as the least they could do at that moment and still accomplish their goal of removing it. I was skeptical of my own harsh judgement, but every time I spoke with someone who did have a lot of experience with them and commented, “Gee, I’m beginning to think the school board is as bad as the City Council…,” the reply always came back, without hesitation — “Worse!” So in approaching this issue, I’m reminded that a leopard doesn’t change its spots.

I PROMISED TO BE NICE

I know, I know, more than once recently. But as Bruce wrote, for the last song on his debut album “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.,” it’s hard to be a saint in the city. And sometimes some people, in this city, make it especially hard for you.

I may be jumping the gun on this issue. But I don’t think so. The more I dig into this the stinkier it gets. Remember, leopards. So I’m just trying to warn you that you should look with a keen eye at what you hear from the school board about this. The first thing I heard (perhaps not an official board statement) was that the History Building doesn’t get wi-fi very reliably, because the old walls are too thick. Are you joking? You never heard of relays and extenders?

Then, the classrooms are too small. Probably so. Not enough room for the precious “project based learning.” So designate some rooms just for project-based, and build another building or annex. It would be cheaper. You’re already building lots more classroom space on campus. And don’t forget: our school population is diminishing, not growing. In great part because our City Council has made it easy for developers to build lots of small units for single tech workers, but very few 3-4 bedroom units for families. Prices are soaring, too. So we are losing families, and students.

SMMUSD HAS MORE THAN A BILLION DOLLARS

Yes, billion with a B, and most of it a blank check with only suggestions from the bond votes as to where the money “should” be spent. That was the main reason I opposed the most recent quarter of a billion dollar bond that passed overwhelmingly (school bonds usually do) and with little organized community discussion, because it was pretty much stifled. There seems to be efforts now to push this through ASAP, but there are a lot of questions that are not being answered. I plan to raise those questions, because this is a big deal. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty fed up with our precious history being thrown needlessly on the trash heap of “progress,” for someone’s profit.

Both the Landmarks Commission and the Santa Monica Conservancy want to see a pause to explore other options, but because the school district is not part of Santa Monica government, they have no standing. So it is up to us.

Get informed, through the conservancy, https://www.smconservancy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/SaveSamoFlyer.pdf

write them at advocacy@smconservancy.org and write to the school board and Superintendent Drati — now, please.

brd@smmusd.org

bdrati@smmusd.org

advocacy@smconservancy.org

Charles Andrews has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com