Santa Monica’s rapid pace of change and the vitality of economic development have created a cityscape that is a mixture of old and new. The catalyst for the movement to preserve Santa Monica’s heritage was a 1973 proposal to demolish the Santa Monica Pier, thought to be an obsolete structure standing in the way of redevelopment. A grassroots movement to “Save the Pier” successfully convinced the City Council to change course. As the Centennial approached in 1975, the Council created a Historical Site Committee to develop a process for preserving historic sites. A Landmarks and Historic District Ordinance was adopted on March 24, 1976 and has been revised and strengthened several times over the years.
By 1982, the City of Santa Monica was recognized by the State Office of Historic Preservation as a Certified Local Government enabling the city to take advantage of state and federal preservation benefits. To maintain this status, the city is required to conduct and comprehensively update an inventory of its historic building stock on a regular basis. This online inventory, the Historic Resources Inventory (HRI), is a database identifying sites of potential historic significance to be designated as a landmark, structure of merit or historic district. It is searchable by building type, year of construction, style, architect, address and more.
In 2002, the city adopted a Historic Preservation Element as part of its General Plan setting up goals and policies that recognize the value of preserving historic resources in Santa Monica and incorporating historic preservation into overall land use planning and development of the city. As a response to a long-felt need for a public voice for preservation advocacy and education, the Santa Monica Conservancy was founded. While supporting the city’s historic preservation program, the Conservancy wanted to make preservation successful and increase the public constituency for saving the city’s heritage.
Then in 2003, a referendum on landmarks, called the Homeowners Freedom of Choice Initiative, came before voters. This initiative attempted to weaken the landmarks ordinance by allowing owners of property in single-family zones, be they residents or developers, to alter or remove buildings of potential historic value at their sole discretion. The initiative was defeated by a majority vote of Santa Monicans and protections for historic properties remain in place.
Through the continuous work of the community and the city, Santa Monica was honored in 2005 as a Preserve America Community with federal recognition and designation for local commitment to preserving America’s heritage.
The City of Santa Monica is committed to preserving its valued historic buildings. Throughout the community one can see that preservation plays a critical role in connecting today’s urban environment to the city’s roots and historic development.