News + Advocacy

Preservation Alerts + Issues

San Vicente Courtyard Apartments Historic District Approved!

Santa Monica has its first new historic district in fifteen years.  The City Council, on the recommendation of the Landmarks Commission, voted unanimously on December 15, 2015 to designate the iconic courtyard housing on San Vicente Boulevard from Seventh Street west. (Read the City’s staff report here.) Through the grassroots efforts of the Historic San Vicente Coalition, assisted by the Conservancy and endorsed by many local community organizations, this district will be the third historic district in our city, joining the Third Street Neighborhood District and the Bay Street Craftsman Cluster.

The next step is for staff to draft an ordinance with input from stakeholders regarding guidelines for changes to the properties within the district. Interiors are not subject to restrictions.

Congratulations to all those who worked hard to successfully shepherd this designation through the landmarking procedures!

HSVC, historic san vicente coalitiion, historic district

Update on the 5th Street Post Office

The building that housed Santa Monica’s main post office for over 70 years closed in June 2013. That August, the Santa Monica City Council (with strong support from the Conservancy) approved a preservation covenant for the building and assumed responsibility for its enforcement, clearing the way for the Postal Service to sell the property. It was purchased in December 2013 by 1248 5th Street, LLC as creative office space for Skydance Productions, headed by David Ellison.

Photo caption: Over 90 people gathered for the Conservancy’s rally for the preservation of the historic 5th Street Post Office on June 29, 2013, its last day of operation Photo Credit Mike Crosby

Over 90 people gathered for the Conservancy’s rally for the preservation of the historic 5th Street Post Office on June 29, 2013, its last day of operation. Photo Credit Mike Crosby.

The exterior of the building was designated as a landmark in March 2014. While the lobby was not included since it was no longer a public space, it is protected by the covenant that gives City Council the power to approve any changes. The Conservancy is currently advocating that the City Council delegate that responsibility to the Landmarks Commission.

Skydance has hired preservation architect Robert Chattel to oversee their plans. He will research the building and guide the plans so that they are compliant with the covenant, the landmark designation and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards. Skydance has submitted an application for a discretionary review permit for their plans to rehabilitate the exterior and restore the historic lobby. Proposed changes include an addition on the rear of the building and two interior atria to bring in more natural light and air. One atrium will extend from the basement to the roof and the other will open from the first floor to the roof. The rear and interior changes will accommodate the addition of an enlarged second floor, a partial third floor and a roof terrace with the existing parapet serving as a guardrail.

The date for Landmarks Commission consideration of the plans is not yet determined.

 

Landmark Courtyard Apartments Threatened with Demolition — Again!

An Environmental Impact Report is being prepared for the demolition of Colonial Revival courtyard apartments at 423 Ocean Avenue to enable construction of a new 13-unit condominium complex.  The property was landmarked in 2006 by a unanimous vote of the commissioners.  The owners lost an appeal intended to overturn the designation by a unanimous vote of the city council.  In 2013, an application for a certificate of economic hardship was filed, and the EIR now underway is a step in that process.

423 Ocean Ave - endangered Courtyard

Photo Credit Evelyn Lauchenauer.

In order to grant a certificate of economic hardship in the case of demolition, the Landmarks Commission must make a finding that the designated landmark cannot be remodeled or rehabilitated in a manner which would allow a reasonable use of or return from such property to a property owner.  The Conservancy has filed a detailed letter, outlining property’s historic significance and, according to state and local requirements, the analysis that must take place in the EIR if a finding of economic hardship is to be supported. Specifically, the letter notes that the financial return from preservation need not be superior to that of redevelopment, only “reasonable,” and requests that the analysis should include use of all financial incentives available to designated properties.  Finally, renovation costs incurred because of the owner’s neglect cannot be considered.  We are hopeful that if all these considerations are taken into account, it will be shown that there is a viable preservation alternative and the hardship certificate will be denied, opening the way for a productive use of the historic property.

 

Mills Act Incentives Threatened

The Mills Act, the state program that reduces property taxes on designated historic properties with approved restoration and maintenance plans, is Santa Monica’s only concrete incentive for historic preservation.  The Landmarks Commission has been working to improve Santa Monica’s application and monitoring process by proposing explicit standards that ensure that contracts fulfill the intent and public purpose of the Mills Act.  In March, the City Council will be asked to consider those recommendations, and to place limits both on the value of any individual contract and on the total value of contracts approved each year.

The Conservancy Board supports the Landmarks Commission recommendations, but is adamantly opposed to the proposed limits on the number and value of Mills Act contracts.  To date, 57 historic buildings have awarded these contracts, at an average cost to the city of $2,300 per contract per year.  The City’s total annual cost of this investment in the preservation of its historic properties is less than 0.3 % of property tax receipts!

Given Santa Monica’s high property values, some are concerned that the impact of the Mills Act on the City budget could be much greater in the future.  We believe that the data does not support that concern.  Fewer than 10% of the City’s properties are potentially eligible for the Mills Act, and only a small percentage of these are likely to seek designation.  Furthermore, we do not see evidence of a rush to apply.  In the 22-year life of the program, only two years – 2005 and 2006 – had more than 5 contracts approved.

Why, then, is the Conservancy so concerned about a cap on the contracts?  We believe it will create a disincentive to designate and apply for a contract because of factors out of the property owner’s control.  After investing the significant funds necessary to produce an application, the owner of a modest property could find that the number of submitted applications exceeds the cap and be forced to wait for some time to re-apply.  A limit on the value of a contract could also discourage a buyer from the purchase and rehabilitation of a valuable property in poor condition, resulting in another loss to Santa Monica’s historic character.

Please watch your email and the Conservancy website for additional discussion of this issue once the staff report is published!

 

New Zoning Ordinance

The creation of a new Zoning Ordinance is an immense effort intended to incorporate the land use goals of the LUCE into a document that will govern growth in Santa Monica over the next twenty years. A subcommittee of the Landmarks Commission will work closely with the Commission as a whole, the Planning Commission, planning staff and members of the public to advocate for language in the ordinance that supports historic preservation. Along with the Santa Monica Conservancy, the group will work to include language that recognizes the importance of protecting historic resources in Santa Monica and that provides guidance, flexibility and incentives when any historic resource is a part of a building project.

In other reports, the Landmarks Commission has recently initiated actions on several historic resources. The Junipher Building, at 301 Wilshire Boulevard, was nominated for landmark designation last December 9, and is slated for review March 10. The Post Office building at Fifth and Arizona was nominated for landmark designation on January 13 and will also be considered March 10. The Home Savings Bank building at 2600 Wilshire Boulevard, with artwork by Millard Sheets, was designated a Santa Monica Historic Landmark in December, but has been appealed to the City Council. An appeal to overturn the designation of the Mayfair Theater terrazzo sidewalk paving at 210 Santa Monica Boulevard as Santa Monica’s 106th city landmark has been withdrawn. Lastly, the 100-year-old Bundy House at 401 25th Street was nominated for landmark status at the February Landmarks Commission meeting.

The Landmarks Commission is also pleased to congratulate the Santa Monica Conservancy and their perseverance in completing the entitlement process for the Shotgun House, a Designated Historic Landmark, thus allowing its relocation and restoration process to proceed. –By Barbara Kaplan

 

City Council Approves Covenant for Downtown Post Office

At its August 27 meeting, the City Council approved a preservation covenant for the former Post Office building at 1248 5th Street and assumed responsibility for the enforcement of the covenant.  This cleared the way for the Postal Service to put the property up for sale, and the sign went up on the Arizona Street side of the building the next morning.

Post Office for sale

The Conservancy Board of Directors strongly supported this action by the Council, which addresses concerns that the Post Office might have been sold without a mechanism in place to prevent inappropriate alterations to the building. The new owner will be required to submit any proposed changes for the exterior and the lobby for review, as would be required of any structure designated under our Landmark Ordinance. The covenant’s description of the building’s character-defining features was developed by the Landmarks Commission, which is expected to nominate the building as a City Landmark once it is privately owned.  This action will make the property eligible for preservation incentives such as the Mills Act.

Since the Postal Service announced its intention to close the Downtown Post Office over a year ago, the Santa Monica Conservancy has played an active role in opposing the closure and insisting on detailed plans for the preservation of the building. When appeals of the decision to close the Post Office were denied, the Conservancy was granted Section 106 Consulting Party status, giving us an advisory role in the process for determining conditions on future alteration of the building.  We have made numerous statements to the Landmarks Commission urging a proactive role in protection of the building and expressing our support for the City’s assumption of responsibility for the covenant.  The City of Los Angeles did the same when the historic Venice Post Office was sold in 2012.

The Conservancy has also made every effort to make the public aware of the process which was taking place and the importance of protecting the structure in any future adaptive reuse. A Conservancy rally at the 5th Street location on its last day of operation drew nearly 100 people, some of whom were unaware that the facility was to be closed.

Santa Monica is a city that prides itself on preserving its historic places. The Post Office building, as one of three Works Progress Administration (WPA) projects in the City, is an important a part of our history. The City’s acceptance of responsibility for the covenant ensures that the building’s future adaptive reuse will retain its historic character and will continue to communicate the story of the WPA era to our community.

 

Help Shape the Future of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium 

Civic

Photo credit Brian Thomas Jones.

Help Shape the Future of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium!  If you have experience managing, building, booking, restoring or financing an entertainment venue – or know someone who does – the City of Santa Monica needs you!

A Civic Working Group (CWG) is being formed which will meet monthly to provide professional and community input on the renovation, programming and long-term operation of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The CWG’s objectives are to work with City staff and consultants to:

  • Draft a vision for the future cultural and community use of the Civic as the hub of a cultural campus
  • Explore an appropriate mix of compatible adjacent uses, from open space to additional facilities as identified in the Urban Land Institute report
  • Evaluate potential financing options and programming and operating models for the Civic
  • Convene a community process to gather input and to build consensus regarding the future of the Civic
  • Provide Council with recommendations regarding the vision, feasible renovation options and the preferred long-term operating model for the Civic.

The City seeks members who collectively demonstrate expertise in the areas of strategic planning, policy development, performing arts production, real estate development, construction, fundraising and event management.  All applicants are welcome, but those who live or work in Santa Monica will be given priority.

Members of the CWG will be appointed for (1) two-year term.  Five of the nine members will be selected by City Council in October.  The remaining four will be current or former members of the Arts, Landmarks, Planning and Recreation and Parks Commissions, to be selected by the Commissions in September.

A three member Technical Advisory Subcommittee is also being formed.  Members will possess extensive professional and technical expertise associated with the CWG objectives, in particular the financing, management and programming of venues similar to the Civic.

Follow this link for details and the application.  Completed applications must be submitted by September 16. Santa Monica City Council will appoint the five positions on October 22, 2013.

Do you know someone who qualifies?  You can post this information on a website, Facebook page or Twitter feed to reach interested people! Please share the link today!

If you would like to see who has applied so far, the Civic Working Group (CWG) now has its own listing on the Boards and Commissions page of the City website under “Task Forces” with links to the CWG applicants (click here) and the Technical Advisory Sub Committee (click here).

Thank you to Board Member Nina Fresco and the “Save the Civic” group for everything they have done to get us moving toward a plan for the future of this important building.

 

Rally at Downtown Santa Monica Post Office

Join us on Saturday, June 29 at 11 AM for a rally to show your support for preservation of our downtown Santa Monica Post Office!

SMPostOfficeSMMirror

Meet us at the Fifth Street Post Office (1248 Fifth Street) on its last day of operation at this convenient and very historic location.

The Conservancy strongly supports an appropriate new use of the structure, but we are very concerned that the Post Office is closing without any formal protection for its character-defining features.  We share the community’s disappointment over the loss of the convenience of the Fifth Street location, but now we must focus on putting the needed protections in place or we could lose yet another important, iconic downtown building.

Please remember that Saturday morning is Farmer’s Market day and allow ample time for parking if you are coming by car!

 

Protecting the Post Office

In 2012, the National Trust for Historic Preservation was so concerned about the lack of protection for the historic Post Offices that it named them to its annual list of endangered historic places. As soon as the U.S. Postal Service announced that it would sell the historic Fifth Street building a year ago, the Conservancy and others began advocating for the preservation of the building.

Built by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Moderne building with Art Deco appointments opened with great fanfare in July 1938.

Santa_Monica_Post_Office_Dedication_July_23_1938

Photo credit: Santa Monica Public Library Archives.

Every historic preservation consultant who has looked at the building considers it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The Post Office qualifies as a Santa Monica Landmark as one of three WPA buildings in the City, and is distinguished by its Art Deco-inspired features including the beautifully detailed paneling and the original lighting fixtures of the lobby.  The cities of Glendale, Southgate and Santa Barbara have landmarked their post offices, but that has not happened in Santa Monica.

santamonica_int

Photo Credit: Ethan Pine for the New York Times

The Postal Service has proposed a protective covenant describing the important features of the building. Under Federal law, it must identify the entity which will preserve and protect the property by enforcing the covenant before the Post Office can be sold.

“The current draft of the covenant leaves out important character-defining features like the 1937 plaque commemorating the building’s dedication, and could be weakened further in the sale negotiations if the City is not proactive. It is important to ensure local control over the building’s future. The Landmarks Commission must better define the attributes of the building listed in the covenant and the City should agree accept enforcement responsibility,” notes Carol Lemlein, Conservancy President.  ”We cannot wait until after the Post Office passes into private hands and then landmark it. This process takes time, during which unacceptable alterations could be made to the building. And once the Post Office is closed, the lobby is no longer a public space and the Commission loses its ability to protect the important interior features.”

The protection of the Post Office building is expected to be on the July 8 Landmarks Commission agenda, which should be posted on the City website by Friday July 5.

 

A Victory for Preservation Funding

Preservation as a “community benefit” in City development agreements moved a step forward in April as the Planning Commission forwarded the Century West Partners proposal for 1318 2nd Street on to City Council with a recommendation that $25,000 of approximately $500,000 in community benefit funding be allocated to historic preservation.

The project is a 4-story mixed-use building and involves the demolition of a property listed in the current Historic Resources Inventory as a potential contributor to previously identified historic districts. The Landmarks Commission approved demolition because its members did not see the building as having the level of significance that would merit consideration as an individual landmark. The Conservancy did not advocate for the project; our position was that, if the project moved forward, funding for preservation should be included in the agreement.

This positive vote was the culmination of months of effort by the Conservancy.  The rationale for inclusion in the agreement was the stipulation in the Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) that preservation was one of five priorities for potential community benefits, as well as the fact that many of the highest priorities set forth in the City’s 2002 Historic Preservation Element remain unrealized.  Seeing that current budget constraints limit the City’s ability to make progress against these priorities, we have been working with members of the Landmarks and Planning Commissions, Planning staff, and members of City Council to propose that a small portion of the total community benefits associated with development agreements might begin to address the needs stated in the Historic Preservation Element.

Examples include:

  • A Preservation Resource Center for the community at the landmark Shotgun House
  • Heritage education in our schools
  • A program to support heritage tourism
  • Inclusion of historic and cultural information in the Downtown Wayfinding Program
  • A Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program which would encourage preservation and adaptive reuse of historic structures

As of May 14, 2013, the ordinance defining the 1318 2nd Street Development Agreement was approved by City Council on first reading with the funding for preservation in place. The ordinance requires a second reading and vote at a subsequent Council meeting for adoption.  This is schedule to take place on June 11, 2013

Whatever the outcome for this project, the Conservancy will continue to advocate for preservation funding to bring the priorities of the 2002 Historic Preservation Element much closer to reality.

Protection of the 5th Street Post Office

santamonica_ext

Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

The fate of the Santa Monica 5th Street Post Office is featured in a New York Times article about preserving the nation’s historic post offices. Click here for NY Times article.   The March 8, 2013 article describes how frustrated local and national preservationists are with the Postal Service’s execution of the federally mandated processes intended to protect historic buildings when they are sold. A photo essay including a photo of the lobby of our post office accompanies the article.

At this time, the status of our 5th Street Post Office is in flux.   Under the Federal protection for historic buildings known as Section 106, the US Postal Service recently notified the Conservancy and other interested parties that the sale of the 5th Street Post Office would have “no adverse effect” upon Santa Monica because a protective preservation covenant would be placed on the building.

Some progress has been made toward instituting a covenant.  Two consultants’ studies describing the building’s character-defining features have been completed, one for the Postal Service and one for the City. The Postal Service is reported to be reviewing the municipal code regarding Landmark designation and protection to determine if it offers adequate protection for the building.

However, after discussions with several of the consulting parties, including the California Preservation Foundation, the Conservancy responded that we could not agree to the finding of “no adverse effect” until the City’s designation process – or an equivalent public process involving the consulting parties – was used to define and protect the character-defining features of the building, and either:

  • an agreement between the USPS and the City that the municipal code provides sufficient protection to meet the requirements of the Section 106 process;  or
  • the identification of a qualified entity to hold the required covenant, preferably the City of Santa Monica.

To date, the Conservancy has not heard back from the Postal Service on the status of the Section 106 process.

Santa Monica Pier to be Restored to Original Wood Condition

Credit:  Jared Morgan, Santa Monica Patch

The Santa Monica Pier could be on its way to becoming a full wooden boardwalk again, should a permit request filed by the City of Santa Monica be granted by the California Coastal Commission. 

The state agency will vote on the project—which will renovate 13,068-square-foot portion of the pier—at its Nov. 14 meeting in Santa Monica. 

”Many people have probably noticed that for the last 10 years, the middle part of the pier has had metal plates in it,” said pier manager Rod Merl.

The metal plates sit atop wooden pilings and were installed to address structural issues dealing with load balance, said Merl. 

There are 19 such wood pilings that the project intends to replace with concrete ones, “much like the west end of the pier, which got destroyed in a 1983 storm and was rebuilt in concrete pilings,” said Merl.

Once the concrete structure is in place, the boardwalk can be fitted with wooden planks.

“We will be able to go back to having a real wooden boardwalk again,” said Merl.

According to the California Coastal Commission staff report (attached), the permit should be approved with several conditions. 

Two such conditions require that public access to the pier be maintained and that compliance with the coastal access and marine resource protection policies of the Coastal Act are observed.

Because the construction will be on the narrow west end of the pier, temporary trestles will be constructed so that there will be room to accommodate public access.

The project could start as early as Nov. 19 and take as long as a year to complete.

 

Closure of the 5th Street Post Office

The Postal Service announced on August 17 that they are proceeding with plans to sell the historic Santa Monica Main Post Office and relocate its services to the carrier annex at 1653 7th Street, south of Colorado and the future Expo line. The Santa Monica Conservancy has joined the City of Santa Monica and others in writing letters to appeal this decision.

We are following this situation very closely, and are taking two additional initiatives to assure the protection of the building if our appeals to maintain retail service at the 5th Street location are denied and the Postal Service proceeds with plans to sell the building:

• Requesting Consulting Party status in the Section 106 Process defined by the National Historic Preservation Act
• Asking our Landmarks Commission to prepare a nomination of the Post Office

See below for details.

Photo Credit Jessie Geoffray, Santa Monica Mirror.

 

Our appeal of the Postal Service decision to close the 5th Street Post Office included the following points:

• The Santa Monica Main Post Office is a beautiful historic structure which is recognized in the City’s Historic Resource Inventory as being eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It has been serving the community since its dedication in 1938 as part of the Federal Works Progress Administration.

• We are very concerned that the proposed sale of the Post Office will place this historic building at risk. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is so concerned about the failure of the Postal Service to provide adequate protections that it has named the Historic Post Offices to its 2012 list of the Nation’s Most Endangered Historic Places. (See below for additional description of the concerns about Postal Service adherence to federal laws intended to protect historic properties as they are sold into private ownership.)

• Closing the 5th Street Post Office and relocating its services to 7th Street may very well turn a profitable location into one that operates at a loss. The current location in the Central Business District is within walking distance of many local residents and businesses, and accessible by public transit. The outpouring of opposition describes the proposed location as much less convenient and indicates that the facility would be avoided by many – suggesting that it may not generate enough revenue to cover operating costs.

Our request for Consulting Party status in the Section 106 process defined by the National Historic Preservation Act: Under Section 106, the Postal Service cannot sell a historic property without a protective covenant to ensure that the historic property suffers “no adverse effects” when sold. Unfortunately, experience to date indicates the protections put in place are likely to be very weak unless local preservation organizations like the Conservancy request a consulting role. We will be making this request immediately without waiting for the results of the appeal, and will keep you informed of our progress.

Finally, the Conservancy has requested that the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission prepare a nomination of the Post Office so as to be ready to act as soon as the Post Office passes into private ownership, since they have no jurisdiction as long as the building remains a federal property. We understand that this will be on the Commission’s agenda for their next meeting, scheduled September 10 at 7 PM in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

 

Update on the Closure of the 5th Street Post Office

The Postal Service announced on August 17 that they are proceeding with plans to relocate the services of the historic Santa Monica Main Post Office to the carrier annex at 1653 7th Street, south of Colorado and the future Expo line.  The Santa Monica Conservancy was among dozens of organizations and hundreds of residents who wrote letters opposing the closure at the time of the July 17 hearing.

We are following this situation very closely, and would like to bring you up to date on three initiatives we are taking:

  • Joining appeals of the decision to relocate the Post Office
  • Requesting Consulting Party status in the Section 106 Process defined by the National Historic Preservation Act
  • Asking our Landmarks Commission to prepare a nomination of the Post Office

See below for details and how you can help.

Appeal of the Postal Service decision to close the 5th Street Post Office: It is our understanding that the City of Santa Monica will be making a formal appeal. The Conservancy will be sending its own letter opposing the decision for closure and ask you to do the same. The Conservancy’s letter will include the following points:

The Santa Monica Main Post Office is a beautiful historic structure which is recognized in the City’s Historic Resource Inventory as being eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. It has been serving the community since its dedication in 1938 as part of the Federal Works Progress Administration.

We are very concerned that the proposed sale of the Post Office will place this historic building at risk. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is so concerned about the failure of the Postal Service to provide adequate protections that it has named the Historic Post Offices to its 2012 list of the Nation’s Most Endangered Historic Places. See below for additional concerns about Postal Service adherence to federal laws intended to protect historic properties as they are sold into private ownership.

Closing the 5th Street Post Office may very well turn a profitable location into one that operates at a loss. The current location in the Central Business District is within walking distance of many local residents and businesses, and accessible by public transit. The outpouring of opposition describes the proposed location as much less convenient and indicates that the facility would be avoided by many – suggesting that it may not generate enough revenue to cover operating costs.

Your letters of support should be sent in time to arrive by August 31 to:

Vice President, Facilities
Pacific Facilities Service Office
1300 Evans Ave. Ste. 200
San Francisco CA 94188-0200

Requesting Consulting Party status in the Section 106 process defined by the National Historic Preservation Act: Under Section 106, the Postal Service cannot sell a historic property without a protective covenant to ensure that the historic property suffers “no adverse effects” when sold. Unfortunately, experience to date indicates the protections put in place are likely to be very weak unless local preservation organizations like the Conservancy request a consulting role. We will be making this request immediately without waiting for the results of the appeal, and will keep you informed of our progress.

Finally, the Conservancy has requested that the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission prepare a nomination of the Post Office so as to be ready to act as soon as the Post Office passes into private ownership, since they have no jurisdiction as long as the building remains a federal property. We understand that this will be on the Commission’s agenda for their next meeting, scheduled September 10 at 7 PM in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

 

Update on LA Commission Fails to Nominate Early Byers Adobe

The Spanish Colonial Revival house at 201 S. Rockingham is widely regarded as the project that launched the architectural career of John Byers. It was built 1919-1920 out of adobe bricks that were made on site. The house is an outstanding example of Byers’ work and is in excellent condition. (More details about the house and its story are below).

Although the house was marketed as one of the first homes in Brentwood Park, and previous owners had respected its historic character in making additions and renovations, it was sold recently to a buyer who plans to demolish it.

The Santa Monica Conservancy was asked for assistance, nominated the house as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, and worked intensely to rally public support. The Los Angeles Conservancy supported the nomination as did many Westside residents as they became familiar with the history of the home.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the district where it is located, opposed the nomination. With just 3 of the 5 members of the Cultural Heritage Commission present, the motion to approve the nomination received one vote in opposition and failed.
What does it mean to be a Landmark or Historic-Cultural Monument?

The landmark process does not seek to freeze the home in time. Rather, it identifies the significant attributes of a historic structure to be protected while allowing change so long as it is consistent with nationally recognized standards for the treatment of historic properties. Major additions can be made, building systems can be upgraded, and interiors can be remodeling reflecting an individual homeowner’s needs and taste. Preservation ordinances give owners a lot of flexibility with their properties and offer financial incentives as well.

In Los Angeles, designation as a Historic-Cultural Monument allows the Cultural Heritage Commision to object to and delay the issuance of a demolition permit, and activates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) which protects historic buildings from adverse impacts without environmental review. For more information about Historic-Cultural Monuments, see www.preservation.lacity.org/commission.

John Byers was teaching Spanish and French at Santa Monica High School in 1919, when his wife’s cousin, Harry Johnson, asked him to act as translator to the Mexican workers hired to build an adobe house for him and his wife Olivia. Byers, who had built a home for himself and his wife and had traveled and lived extensively in Latin America, quickly became involved in the design and construction of this new adobe. The Johnson residence marked a turning point in his life, as he gave up teaching and devoted himself to architecture and building, starting a very successful career that lasted for decades.

Byers is well known for the fine detailing and authenticity in design and construction of his Spanish Colonial Revival homes. He established shops where terra cotta tile, wrought iron and wood were hand crafted. Byers’ buildings are found across Southern California, particularly in Santa Monica, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades. His Bradbury House in Santa Monica Canyon is designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument and several of his homes as well as his office and the Miles Playhouse are designated as Santa Monica Landmarks.

While some have questioned Byers’ role as the architect, it is clear that although he was not yet licensed at the time of construction, Byers and the architectural community of the 1920s considered 201 S. Rockingham as a Byers project. This is evident by the article written by Byers in the April 1929 issue of California Arts and Architecture, where the first page of the article includes a photo of 201 S. Rockingham with the caption declaring, “An Adobe House for Mr. H. R. Johnson at Brentwood Park. John Byers, Architect”.

Furthermore, in an August 1926 article by Harris Allen in Pacific Architect, there is a photo of the family room of 201 S. Rockingham. The caption reads, “Living Room for Mr. Harry R. Johnson, Brentwood Park, Santa Monica California. Designed by John Byers.”
Construction of the house was extensively photographed and documented in scrapbooks, copies of which were given to the Conservancy. Olivia Johnson wrote: “Thank God for John Byers, a trained architect, who added interest and beauty to our rather stark plan!”

Posted August 02, 2010

 

Help Save An Early John Byers Adobe!

The Santa Monica and Los Angeles Conservancies need your help with an important preservation issue in Brentwood where a significant historic home is threatened with demolition.

The Spanish Colonial Revival house at 201 S. Rockingham is widely regarded as the project that launched the architectural career of John Byers. It was built 1919-1920 out of adobe bricks that were made on site. The house is an outstanding example of Byers’ work and is in excellent condition. More details about the house and its story are below.

Although the Johnson house was marketed as one of the first homes built in Brentwood Park, it was sold recently to a buyer who plans to demolish it. The Santa Monica Conservancy was asked for assistance and nominated the house as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

The nomination will succeed only with political support, and if people like you take an active part in voicing support for protecting the house. We are asking you to help by sending an email message to the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission (LACHC) President Richard Barron at chc@lacity.org before Thursday July 29, 2010, the date that the nomination will be heard before the Cultural Heritage Commission.

  • Please copy Councilman Rosendahl councilman.rosendahl@lacity.org if you are a resident of his district, and state that in the letter.
  • Also send a blind (bcc:) copy of your message to info@smconservancy.org so we will know that you have cast your vote for preservation!

Finally, please send this on to other friends and relatives who are preservation-minded and wish to save the most important buildings representing our cultural heritage.
Thank you so much for your help!

Talking points for your email:

  • I urge you (and Councilman Rosendahl) to support the nomination of the Johnson Residence at 201 S. Rockingham as a Historic-Cultural Monument.
  • The house is an architectural treasure and a rare example of adobe construction.
  • The house is notable for launching the architectural career of John Byers, its construction of adobe brick and that it led the revival of Spanish Colonial residential architecture in California.
  • It has survived for 90 years in excellent condition.
  • Preserving and protecting our heritage is important to me as a voter.

What does it mean to be a Landmark or Historic-Cultural Monument?

The landmark process does not seek to freeze the home in time. Rather, it identifies the significant attributes of a historic structure to be protected while allowing change so long as it is consistent with nationally recognized standards for the treatment of historic properties. Major additions can be made, building systems can be upgraded, and interiors can be remodeling reflecting an individual homeowner’s needs and taste. Preservation ordinances give owners a lot of flexibility with their properties and offer financial incentives as well. For more information about Historic-Cultural Monuments, see www.preservation.lacity.org/commission

 

John Byers and the Johnson House

John Byers was teaching Spanish and French at Santa Monica High School in 1919, when his wife’s cousin, Harry Johnson, asked him to act as translator to the Mexican workers hired to build an adobe house for him and his wife Olivia. Byers, who had built a home for himself and his wife and had traveled and lived extensively in Latin America, quickly became involved in the design and construction of this new adobe. The Johnson residence marked a turning point in his life, as he gave up teaching and devoted himself to architecture and building, starting a very successful career that lasted for decades.

Byers is well known for the fine detailing and authenticity in design and construction of his Spanish Colonial Revival homes. He established shops where terra cotta tile, wrought iron and wood were hand crafted. Byers’ buildings are found across Southern California, particularly in Santa Monica, Brentwood and Pacific Palisades. His Bradbury House in Santa Monica Canyon is designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument and several of his homes as well as his office and the Miles Playhouse are designated as Santa Monica Landmarks.

While some have questioned Byers’ role as the architect, it is clear that although he was not yet licensed at the time of construction, Byers and the architectural community of the 1920s considered 201 S. Rockingham as a Byers project. This is evident by the article written by Byers in the April 1929 issue of California Arts and Architecture, where the first page of the article includes a photo of 201 S. Rockingham with the caption declaring, “An Adobe House for Mr. H. R. Johnson at Brentwood Park. John Byers, Architect”. Clearly Byers claimed responsibility for the design of the residence. Furthermore, in an August 1926 article in Pacific Architect, there is a photo of the family room of 201 S. Rockingham and the caption reads, “Living Room for Mr. Harry R. Johnson, Brentwood Park, Santa Monica California. Designed by John Byers.”

The Santa Monica Conservancy responded to a request for assistance with the nomination. The Los Angeles Conservancy supports the nomination as well.