Landmarks Palisades Park
By Anita Varghese
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
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
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
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
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,”
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.