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Santa Monica's “Chez Jay” May Get Landmark Status



Frank Gruber for Santa Monica City Council

Ted Winterer for City Council 2012

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Re-elect Robert Kronovet for Rent Control Board

Pico Business Improvement District
7th Annual Pico Festival
Sunday, October 28th

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

October 5, 2012 -- The tiny bar with sawdust and peanut-shell covered floors and a storied past, on the edge of Santa Monica's downtown, is likely to be designated a landmark Monday when it goes before the Landmarks Commission.

If granted landmark status, the squat, nautical-themed building on Ocean Avenue which has been a hide-out for celebrities, politicians and struggling artists for over fifty years, will likely remain a Santa Monica icon for some time longer.

“Chez Jay is a great example of the Santa Monica Community culture going back to the 1950s,” said former Pier Restoration Commissioner Abby Arnold, who has been working as a consultant with Chez Jay.

The building -- which the staff report recommends be designated a landmark -- is going before the Landmarks Commission in response to concerns that the City would require owners to dramatically redesign the bar if they wanted to keep their lease.

But Chez Jay's long and eccentric history makes it a likely candidate for landmark status.

One criterion Commissioners will have to consider is whether the building “is identified with historic personages or with important events in local, state or national history.”

The “Jay” in Chez Jay is one of those personages, according to staff.

“From 1959 until 2008 when he died, Jay Fiondella was intimately identified with the bar/restaurant bearing his name,” staff wrote. “As a highly regarded raconteur, adventurer, playboy, restaurateur and friend of numerous celebrities from a wide variety of professions, Jay Fiondella was a local Santa Monica celebrity in his own right.”

The bar has also been a refuge for many famous people, including one of Fiondella's friends: Frank Sinatra.

The back room of the tiny bar became known as “Table 10” is said to be where former Secretary of State would take his meals when in town.

According to legend, it was at “Table 10” where Daniel Ellsberg, a former RAND Corporation researcher, leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press.

It's because of these stories and Chez Jay's famous clientele that City staff agrees that the bar “exemplifies, symbolizes, or manifests elements of the cultural, social, economic, political or architectural history of the City.

A landmark status only guarantees that the building will stay, since the use of a building can't be designated a landmark.

But keeping the building the way it is will “decrease the likelihood of other operators taking it over,” said Arnold. “We want to keep our business the way it is as an iconic remembrance of Santa Monica in the 50s, 60s and 70s.”

But, she added, with the coming Palisades Garden Walk, Chez Jay will expand to accommodate park patrons as well.

In April, City officials were planning to put out a request for proposal (RFP) for the property -- standard procedure when a lease on city-owned property runs out -- which would've required a newly-designed building.

City officials said that the current building does not fit the standards of the Civic Center specific plan and that the dimly-lit, windowless bar would have to be redesigned to better compliment the Palisades Garden Walk next door.

"The design of all buildings within the district shall appear as pavilion-like structures that allow for a generous flow of activities from interior to exterior spaces," the plan states. "The use of verandas, terraces, patios and other such intermediary spaces is encouraged."

However, the question about who owns the land -- which was purchased with Redevelopment Agency money -- is currently up in the air.

After ABX1 26, the law abolishing all redevelopment agencies throughout the state, was approved by the State Supreme Court, properties owned by former redevelopment agencies may get taken over by the State.

If Chez Jay becomes a landmark, however, its future as a Santa Monica mainstay could be assured for some time yet, regardless of who owns the property.

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