Preservation in Santa Monica
The Citywide update of the Historic Resources Inventory
to see the City's Historic Preservation Element, adopted
in September 2002
Preservation of historic resources has been important to the City of Santa Monica and its residents for decades. The local preservation movement began in earnest as the City responded to the increased development pressures taking place in Southern California cities during the 1960s and 1970s. One of the early catalysts was the threatened demolition of the Santa Monica Pier. Constructed as two separately owned adjacent piers - the Municipal Pier, built in 1909, and the Pleasure Pier, built in 1916 the fishing pier and amusement park was one of the focal points of the City. The Pier, as the two separate structures were known, was acquired by the City in the 1950s. Soon thereafter, several developments were proposed
which would have led to demolition of the Pier.
The first two proposals, a large boat harbor, and an ocean causeway to Point Dume, ended after some controversy. But the third, a man-made island, with commercial and recreational uses, a 1500-room hotel, and a convention center, was approved by the City Council over public protests. Opposition increased, a
"Save the Santa Monica Bay advocacy group formed, and a lawsuit was filed. The City Council responded by approving a motion preventing development of any kind near the water, which would have meant that the Pier would have to be removed. Several more groups formed with the objective of saving the Pier, and on February 27, 1973, the City Council voted 6-0 to not demolish the Municipal Pier, followed by a 6-1 vote on May 8, 1973, to rescind the order to raze the
Preservation politics began to change in 1973 as the Santa Monica Centennial approached, and the City Council created the Historical Site Committee. The
committee's primary responsibility was to help develop standards and procedures for designating and preserving historic sites in the city. The City Council, following the community interest in preserving local landmarks, adopted the Landmarks and Historic District Ordinance on March 24, 1976. Even prior to the adoption of the formal ordinance, the City designated its first Landmarks: the Rapp Saloon/Old Town Hall on August 20, 1975 and the Miles Playhouse on October 15,1975. Since that time, the city has designated a total of 35
city landmarks, including the Santa Monica Municipal Pier which was
designated in 1976.
The Santa Monica Landmarks and Historic Districts Ordinance was amended in 1987 and again in 1991, to create a more comprehensive preservation program. The ordinance established a Landmarks Commission with the power to designate Structures of Merit and Landmarks, and to make recommendations to the City Council regarding the designation of potential Historic Districts. It established criteria and procedures for designating historic resources and instituted requirements for Certificates of Appropriateness for alterations or demolitions of historic resources. Other sections of the ordinance include an economic hardship provision, requirements and exemptions for maintenance and repair of resources, and procedures to respond to unsafe conditions. In addition to regulatory requirements, the ordinance provides for preservation incentives including waivers of fees and zoning regulations, use of the California Historical Building Code, and the Mills Act property tax reduction contracts. A comprehensive architectural and historic resources survey of the City of Santa Monica had been a goal of the City since the late 1970s.
In 1980, the Planning Department staff began the process
with a study of the Central Beach Tract neighborhood,
hoping ultimately to name it as an historic district.
Although this objective was not realized, in 1982-83,
the City authorized a city-wide survey and a Historic
Preservation Plan Element for the General Plan. This
became Phase I of the Historic Resources Inventory,
identifying 2,775 sites of potential significance
city-wide and documenting 555 of those sites, mostly
located in a strip along the western City boundary. In 1985-86, the City obtained a matching grant from the California Office of Historic Preservation to continue the process; Phase II of the survey documented the sections of the City north of Montana Avenue not previously inventoried and produced an additional 162 inventory forms. Phase III, the final increment of the Santa Monica Historic Resources Inventory, was completed in May of 1994, and encompassed the remaining 75% of the City. An additional 660 properties were recorded on inventory forms, bringing the total number of documented historic resources to 1377 (See Figure 1 on page 9).
In 1990, Santa Monica designated its first historic district, the Third Street Neighborhood Historic District, consisting of 38 contributing buildings constructed between 1875 and 1930. The small neighborhood, located in the Ocean Park section of the City, illustrates historic and architectural patterns characteristic of the larger community. Architecturally, the buildings chronicle the evolution of design from the Victorian era through the revival styles of the 1920s and 1930s. Historically, the neighborhood has ties to some of Santa Monica's most prominent early residents.