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Clock Starts for South Beach Historic District

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

August 14 -- South Beach residents who want their neighborhood designated a historic district can see a brighter future ahead, as Santa Monica Landmarks Commission subcommittee members issued friendly recommendations Monday on how to proceed with a historic designation application.

“We are trying to herd cats here,” said commission chair Nina Fresco, who sits on the Landmarks Commission South Beach Subcommittee with Commissioners Margaret Bach and Roger Genser.

“Several people are interested in this, working with us and getting information from us to move forward,” Fresco said. “At this point, I don’t see the level of organization that would result in an application from them, but they could get very excited very quickly.”

The South Beach Tract – an area bounded by Ocean Park Boulevard, Hollister Avenue, Nielsen Way and Barnard Way – is highly valued by residents who believe the design, scale and age of the homes are exceptionally unique.

With Craftsman and Victorian influences, 109 homes in the neighborhood have been identified in the City’s Historic Resources Inventory, of which 88 homes, or more than 75 percent, contribute to the character and fabric of a potential historic district.

The South Beach Tract is the last remaining intact group of historic beach houses in Santa Monica that once extended from Pico Boulevard into Venice.

Much of the area was razed in the 1960s. What exists today was once red-tagged, but residents saved the homes from bulldozers and had the area zoned to discourage large development projects.

“As property values have risen and older generations have moved on, the special qualities of our neighborhood are endangered by demolition and new construction that is incompatible with the scale or style of the neighborhood,” wrote South Beach residents Dan Rush and Mike and CJ Bigelow, in a pamphlet they plan to distribute to neighbors soon.

“This erosion of neighborhood fabric has begun to take hold,” Rush and the Bigelows wrote. “We are losing forever the qualities we treasure in South Beach. Under current zoning regulations, we can do very little to manage the nature of change.”

One demolition of a historic home has been temporarily averted thanks to a Structure of Merit designation recently approved by the Landmarks Commission, but this hold will expire unless a historic district designation process for South Beach is set in motion.

A historic district can be established by a City ordinance designed and customized by South Beach residents to protect neighborhood qualities, planning officials said.

Residents, City staff and the Landmarks Commission are empowered to define the parameters of this ordinance, deciding what to preserve and allow in terms of modernization, updates, expansion and repair of homes.

At least 50 percent of the property owners in South Beach must support the historic designation for the neighborhood’s application to succeed.

A provision in the City’s historic district ordinance automatically nullifies an application if a majority of property owners sign a petition opposing the designation.

The Landmarks Commission, any person or any group may file an application. Genser and Fresco agreed that a faster approach would be for the commission to file the application at the urging of South Beach residents, who would also have to pay a fee if they file their own application.

“If the commission files the application, then the City and staff acts upon our initiative immediately,” Genser said. “If the neighborhood files the application, they may have to create all of the documentation, which would be a lot of work.”

Roxanne Tanemori, an associate planner for the City, said South Beach residents are not required to submit extensive research if they want to submit their own application.

An application requires the filer to accurately describe the proposed historic district and only give as much information possible or available to make the case for historic designation.

In conjunction with any application filed for a historic district nomination, City consultants would review all information submitted by whoever filed the application.

Consultants would conduct a detailed analysis to determine exactly what the district represents to the City from a standpoint of historic contributions and the existence of non-contributing buildings.

“The amount of information that was generated for the Third Street Neighborhood Historic District in 1991 was three volumes,” Tanemori said.

“This breadth of information was submitted by a community that took ownership of the process,” she said. “The budget for the City was not there at the time to do an analysis of a potential historic district in the same manner we can now.”


“We are trying to herd cats here.” Nina Fresco


“This erosion of neighborhood fabric has begun to take hold.”
Dan Rush and Mike and CJ Bigelow


“The amount of information that was generated for the Third Street Neighborhood Historic District in 1991 was three volumes.” Roxanne Tanemori


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