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Commission Landmarks Palisades Park

By Anita Varghese
Staff Writer

September 12 -- Santa Monica’s first public open space is finally an official city landmark, after the Landmarks Commission on Monday bestowed the designation on the 115-year-old Palisades Park.

The commission determined that the park overlooking the Pacific is inexorably tied to the city’s history and contains significant monuments, structures and vegetation that creates a special ambience that reflects the spirit of Santa Monica.

“The history of this park is a continuum of human history and of our community’s history over time,” said Ruthann Lehrer, a member of the Landmarks Commission and an architectural historian.

The commission will now launch a regulatory review program with the Recreation and Parks Commission to identify and manage the park’s historic landscape and monuments.

“The Recreation and Parks Commission unanimously supported the idea of land marking this park,” said Susan Cloke, who chairs the commission. “We recognize not only its recreational value, but its iconic and historic value.”

In 1892, Palisades Park was the first officially designated public open space in Santa Monica after city founders John P. Jones and Robert S. Baker donated the strip of land from the Santa Monica Pier to Montana Avenue on the condition that it is forever used as a public park.

Baker’s wife, Arcadia Bandini de Stearns, actually owned the land, said Lehrer. Five years later, the Santa Monica Land and Water Company donated the remaining property from Montana Avenue to the northern city limits.

The park setting and environments epitomize the spirit of Santa Monica through the diversity of the landscape plantings, historic structures, historic features and commemorative monuments, said associate planner Roxanne Tanemori.

Although the features of the park have evolved, many of the contributing design elements and character-defining features of the park appear to be intact and, when viewed and experienced together, continue to convey the park’s significance, she said.

The creation and evolution of the park throughout the 1890s and 1900s correspond with a period of economic growth in Santa Monica, when the Central Business District and Palisades Tract developed, expanded and reflected the culture and ethos of the city over time, staff said.

Its significance is the manner in which the character of the park has evolved over time, Tanemori said.

Palisades Park is inextricably tied to the identity of Santa Monica as a resort destination and has continued to be important in the economic and political history of the city with landmark monuments and features.

Landmarks in the park include the Camera Obscura building, the St. Monica Statue, the Jones Memorial Seat, the Redwood Pergola, the Idaho Gate, the Alaskan Totem Pole, the Sister Cities Monument, the California Presidents Club, the George Washington Memorial and the Cabrillo Monument.

The design and workmanship of the park’s myriad of crafty features can be associated with the Beaux-Arts style accompanied by regional and local influences.

In French, the term beaux arts mean fine arts. Based on ideas taught at the legendary École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, the style flourished between 1885 and 1920.

Combining ancient Greek and Roman forms with Renaissance ideas, Beaux-Arts features create an eclectic Neoclassic style in Palisades Park.

In recognition of the park’s role as an important social space for the community and region, Tanemori said the Landmarks Commission should continue to allow future generations the opportunity to leave their imprint on the park, while still preserving its important historic context.

Commissioners had asked city staff to explain the difference between designating Palisades Park as a cultural landscape or city landmark.

A cultural landscape designation requires city staff to create a detailed inventory of every tree and vegetation and develop a comprehensive maintenance schedule, whereas a city landmark designation allows the Landmarks Commission some flexibility in removing dead plants and rotating or adding monuments.

“For the future, we need to have an opportunity to rotate monuments in and out,” said Landmarks Commission chair Nina Fresco. “To be able to take something out, put it in storage for 10 or 20 years and put it back when an issue related to it is interesting again is important.

“Having flexibility with things we don’t normally do with landmarks, but would be appropriate for a park like this, is what we need,” Fresco said.

City landmark designation also allows the Landmarks Commission to replace or refurbish longitudinal elements in the park, which are defining for Palisades Park because most parks in any city are not typically designed to run length-wise.

Longitudinal elements contribute to a design that has historically established the layout, character, style and overall design of the park, even though some of these elements may have been replaced, replanted or refurbished such as trees, sidewalks and lampposts.

These elements, which are important for their spatial configuration and contribute to the landmark role, are distributed along the entire length of the park and include the fence, paved and unpaved walkways, lampposts, rows of palm trees and the row of eucalyptus trees.

While the individual lampposts, individual trees and current material of the fence are not inherently significant, the historic presence, form and spatial relationships of these elements contribute to the landmark character of the park.

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“The history of this park is a continuum of human history and of our community’s history over time.” Ruthann Lehrer


“We recognize not only its recreational value, but its iconic and historic value.” Susan Cloke


“Having flexibility with things we don’t normally do with landmarks, but would be appropriate for a park like this, is what we need.” Nina Fresco


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