ALL OF IT?
Pretty much. Most is already gone. Replaced with shiny new buildings. By the time they bulldoze the History Building — in just a couple of weeks — and other historic structures on the top of what used to be Prospect Hill (soon to be leveled a few feet), none of the 50,000 Santa Monica High School students who spent an important part of their lives there over the last century will be able to recognize it. I see Barnum Hall but where did the rest of my school go? …where am I?
Is this really necessary, or even needed? No. Who’s doing this? Your School District (SMMUSD), its staff and your elected seven-member School Board. Half of whom now face the threat of recall, over this and a long list of other parent and community grievances, including mismanagement of huge amounts of funds, lack of transparency, communication and access, and disrespecting, marginalizing, bullying and retaliating against parents who speak out and disagree.
CAN WE STOP IT?
Many have been trying, since the District’s master construction plan and its History Building demolition became much more widely known last year. Can we avoid a messy and expensive recall, and keep those hard-working public servants on their board? Possibly, both.
Go to the School Board site to see how to call in and raise your voices at the Board meeting Thursday night. You have to put in early to get a turn, prior to the 5:30 public start. But to have any effect with a mostly intransigent Board, the numbers would have to be impressive. Hundreds. When news spread of the destructive master plan last fall, a group put up an online petition to save the History Building and got 6,000 signatures in a matter of days. Pooh. Your School Board and SMMUSD have ignored it.
How many of you are willing to make the effort to save yet another iconic piece of Santa Monica history? Because of the seemingly irrational fervor to build and overdevelop, both by the City and SMMUSD, there are not many of those touchstones left. Sadly, Santa Monicans are usually not willing to make that effort. But that is what it takes. Will you, this time? (A flood of emails would also be good — ALSO — to: email@example.com, which reaches every Board member.)
A SLIGHTLY BETTER LAST HOPE?
That one or more Board members will use common sense and look at all this and finally have the courage to stand up and say, we must take a pause. At least, a pause. We must meet with parents and community members who are so strongly opposed to this and see if some accommodation is possible. We can save the exterior of the History Building and still accomplish our facilities goals.
The LA Times just published an embarrassing op-ed about how Santa Monica has never been a progressive haven for Latinos. I’ll go a step further: the whole we’re so liberal-inclusive-green-diverse-compassionate-progressive thing is a myth. A sham. A very successful PR campaign sold to the world. It really is one of the reasons some people run for Council. They know they will eventually wangle the title of Mayor (that will stick for a lifetime), and that ticket will let them walk onto some pretty impressive world stages, waving that banner cut from the emperor’s new clothes, that has no basis in reality.
But here, indeed, is a rare chance for a local politico to claim that banner. We’re not asking much. It can be a win-win resolution. You will forever be known as the School Board Member Who Saved the History Building. And the big bonus could be… that your papers for recall might wind up in the trash instead of the county clerk’s desk.
BUT THE BUILDING HAS BEEN COMPROMISED
— they tell us. It’s not the original from 1913, and the WPA post-quake rebuild from 1937 has also had changes. All true. But forget 1913. The WPA rebuild is more than enough history, 83 years worth. No one ever claimed it could go onto the National Registry as an intact landmark. But it is part of a set of buildings that have historic significance, as declared in two studies done in 2008 and 2018, and that makes it worth saving.
But don’t take my word. A very highly regarded architecture conservation expert, Daniel Paul, who worked on one of those previous two studies, and extensively to save Chain Reaction, wrote a lengthy argument for preservation, in a letter yesterday to the Board. He praised the reputations of the companies who did the previous studies but disagreed on some conclusions, and presented and supported those disagreements. Qualified experts can differ.
What’s clear to Paul is that there was nothing compelling the Board to make the decision they did. And they could still change their mind. But they can’t after the bulldozers are sent in. Why not restore the exterior and gut the interior to 21st century standards? Win-win. The greenest building is the one that’s already built. Did you know that 80 percent of the material from building demos wind up in landfills? How progressive is that?
Whomever on the Council makes the decision to save the History Building will have plenty of factual support.
And for a kicker: you do know that “Rebel Without A Cause,” one of only three films by the legendary actor James Dean, was shot there, standing in for “Dawson High School.” (It’s on AFI’s list of 100 Greatest Films, about halfway down.) Did you know that the City of LA and Griffith Observatory thought it so significant that they commissioned a bust of Dean, which rests there on the Observatory terrace where the famous knife fight took place? We’ve got the whole high school, those famous steps up to the History Building entrance, everything. And we’re going to toss it in a landfill? Instead of repurposing? Why?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org