In a June 14 City Council meeting, Councilmembers voted to repeal two recently designated landmarks, including a property built and formerly occupied by man who fought to prevent Black people from purchasing property in Santa Monica.
The two properties are a 1914 multi-unit residential structure located at 1665 Appian Way and a 1937 industrial warehouse located at 631 Colorado Ave.
Both appeals of landmark status were heard and considered separately. In the case of 1665 Appian Way, Council voted unanimously in favor of the appeal, while for 631 Colorado Ave there was a 5-2 vote in favor of the appeal.
Demolition permit applications had been submitted by the owners of both properties, which led people to file applications for landmark status to preserve the buildings. Following the stripping of their respective recently designated landmark statuses they will now both be eligible for demolition.
The Landmark Commission voted in November 2021 to designate 1665 Appian Way as a landmark.
The building was constructed by John Stotler, who lived in one of its units and was a founding member of the Santa Monica Bay Protective League, an organization that advocated against Black property ownership and access to the Santa Monica Bay.
The consultant hired by the City to study the property concluded that the property itself was not associated with the racist activities of Stotler. The consultant also concluded that the property was eligible for landmark status on the basis that it was a rare historical example of affordable multi-family development close to the beach.
City Councilmembers disagreed with both conclusions, but took greater issue with the idea of allowing the home of a former racist to become a landmarked property.
“I don’t want to glorify this gentleman. I don’t see the value of this ramshackle vacated apartment house,” said Councilmember Phil Brock.
Councilmembers were particularly moved by the speech of Robbie Jones, a lifelong Santa Monica resident who is the owner of Black Santa Monica Tours and Concierge and steering committee member of the Santa Monica Black Lives Association.
“We did such good work at getting the Belmar project commemorated, remembering the families that were moved out or burned out or taken out of that community. This council is really doing some good work regarding just trying to repair the pain; This right here just brings all this back up… this is offensive, I am outraged,” said Jones.
Jones was referring to the destruction of homes and businesses owned by African Americans and other marginalized groups in the 1950s in the Belmar Triangle Neighborhood to make way for the City’s expanded Civic Center.
“When Robbie Jones said to me that walking by that building makes her cry, that did it for me,” said Mayor Sue Himmelrich, explaining why she would be voting to repeal the landmark designation.
Revoking the landmark status of the second property at 631 Colorado Ave was slightly more contentious, with Himmelrich and Councilmember Christine Parra voting to preserve the landmark status and the remaining five councilmembers voting to revoke it.
The Landmark Commission was also more divided when it approved the designation through a 4-2 vote in a January 2022 meeting.
Their reasoning included the fact that it was the first light industrial commercial building in the south-east portion of Santa Monica’s downtown; its Art Deco/Streamline Moderne style; its use of Groutlock bricks; and the fact that Etta Moxley, a prominent leader in the African American Women’s Club movement, lived on the site prior to the building’s construction.
From 1937 to 1955 the building was home to the Aztec Brewing Company, which was an example of the shift towards industrialization Downtown. Most recently it was the home of offices for Bay Films.
“I get the sense and with all due respect to the applicants here, that there’s a little bit of an attempt to sort of shoehorn this building into historical significance and it’s not working for me,” said Councilmember Gleam Davis, later adding, “I think when we overreach in identifying landmarks, we really do in some respects diminish the real landmarks in our city.”
Mayor Sue Himmelrich disagreed and did feel like the building’s architecture and historical uses were of landmark worthy significance.
“I buy the argument, frankly, that this does satisfy [landmark designation] criteria number one, because it represents a point in time in 1936, 1937 where we were switching to industrial in that part of town,” said Himmelrich. “I think it’s an attractive building that has a certain style and I think that the brickwork is significant.”
Councilmembers agreed that the building was not of historical significance due to the fact that Etta Moxley formerly lived on the site in a different building. However, they indicated an interest in making Moxley’s contributions to racial justice in Santa Monica better known.
Following the landmark repeal vote, councilmembers voted to ask the owner of whatever structure is built on the land once the property is demolished to add a commemorative plaque with information about Etta Moxley.