Hotel: The project proposed for Ocean Ave. includes a hotel, museum, retail and apartments. Courtesy image

The Santa Monica Planning Commission voiced its approval on Wednesday night for a luxury hotel, apartment, retail and public space project on Ocean Avenue at Santa Monica Boulevard, designed by renowned architect and longtime Santa Monica resident Frank Gehry. At the hearing, many of the seven commissioners were effusive in their praise of the project, which has been nearly 10 years in the making.

“I’ve been on the commission for six years and I don’t think I’ve seen a more perfect project,” Commissioner Leslie Lambert said at one point in the hearing.

The current plans are the latest iteration of the long-dreamed-of project, which was first announced in 2013 and went through a major overhaul in 2018. Gehry Partners was hired to come aboard the project 15 years ago in 2007.

The proposal, which developers predicted could break ground as early as “mid-2024,” should all approvals be met, features several structures including a 122,400-square-foot hotel, 36,110 square feet of commercial space, 117,700 square feet of residential space and a 35,500-square-foot “cultural uses campus” — a museum, with two satellite buildings.

Currently, the site is home to Blue Plate Oysterette, BOA Steakhouse, Sur Mer Boutique, Brambila Salon, TUMBI and other businesses, plus a large surface parking lot. There are also currently 19 rent controlled studio or one-bedroom units on the site; all current residents will be given the opportunity to return to new units once the build is complete. The new build will include 11 replacement units specifically constructed for current tenants, but developers assured the Commission all current tenants displaced by the construction will be guaranteed a unit at similar rent when the project is completed.

The new project will have subterranean parking to the tune of 285 vehicle spaces and 231 bicycle parking spaces, plus EV infrastructure for electric plug-in vehicles.

It will also include a 5,000-square-foot publicly-accessible rooftop observation deck overlooking Ocean Avenue and the Pier. 

Community benefits include art and cultural programming, ongoing financial donations to the local school district, a $6 million financial contribution to the city, 1.3 million hours of union construction jobs, 25 percent affordable housing among the 100 housing units being constructed and plans for both water neutrality and 100 percent green power. 

Although commissioners spent more than an hour of the hearing ironing out details — particularly when it comes to those anticipated community benefits — overall, there was a unanimous, 7-0, vote in support of the project as described, moving it forward toward City Council consideration.

“Everything I’ve seen so far is — I have no complaints — I’m in heaven,” Commissioner Nina Fresco said at one point during the nearly five-hour hearing on May 19. “I mean, basically, I see this project as a 100-year landmark that makes other landmarks that are 100 years old today 200-year landmarks. So it’s all good, to me.”

The “200-year landmarks” to which Fresco was referring are two structures that will remain on the parcel when the other buildings currently on site are razed in preparation for the new build: a 1906 Queen Ann style Victorian home at 1333 Ocean Avenue and a 1926 Spanish Colonial Revival mixed-use building at 1337 Ocean Avenue. These two buildings, each of which previously earned city landmark status, will be relocated to frame the new museum building, remaining clearly visible on the street.

In the plans, gone will be the narrow alleys that currently bisect the block, to be replaced with “pedestrian paseos” meandering between the various structures.

The 93-year-old architect attended the virtual meeting, describing his vision for the project that he first designed in 2013.

“I’m really interested in creating buildings that relate to an image of the city, I guess,” Gehry said. 

“I have an image of the city that it’s this scale, that you’re looking at here,” the architect continued, referencing a rendering of the project — “this smaller scale, with more intimacy, more pedestrian access. Architecture that sort of fits, I think, with the history of the place. I wouldn’t be building buildings like this hotel, exactly like that, anywhere else, I don’t think.”