One of Santa Monica’s most significant assets is its ability to absorb mediocre
architecture without being diminished by it.
Since 1989, when the new buildings on the west end of Santa Monica Pier opened,
the City of Santa Monica has not built one really fine building. The pier buildings
overlook one of the great American coastlines. The old buildings, which were
destroyed in the storms of 1983, were glass boxes. The new buildings had no glass
The mystery of the missing windows was never resolved. The architect vanished, and
subsequently surfaced in San Francisco. Windows were eventually cut in some walls,
but they have a makeshift look, which is, of course, utterly honest and eternally disappointing.
Ken Edwards was a wise, kind mayor, who died in office. The notion of naming a
building for him was a nice idea, but the building looks like nothing so much as
a tract house in New Hampshire, overlooks Fourth Street traffic jams and has been expendable from the day it opened.
If the Ken Edwards center is pointless, the Public Safety Building is too emphatic
— a brutal structure that insults the gorgeous City Hall and looms over the east-
bound Fourth Street exit from the 10, as if to warn arrivals to mind their manners.
As the new Main Library was taking shape, someone summed it up succinctly and
.finally.“It looks like a branch of the L.A. County Jail,” he said. And it did.
And does. And it only provided space for 50,000 additional books, which, in effect,
suggests that literature is on its way to oblivion.
Then, as if to prove that it has no taste, the City commissioned what is surely the ugliest parking structure in the history of parking structures on Fourth Street.
But all that turned out to be a minor bleep on the townscape, when compared to the
City’s mega-blunder: “The Village.” .
In an astonishing move, unmatched in the annals of wrong moves, the City paid $53
million to buy back some of the land it sold to RAND decades earlier for $250,000.
RAND held onto four acres on which it built what appears to be an earthbound blimp
that is at odds with virtually everything else in the area.
The City got it wrong from the start. It dubbed its new mega-project, “The Village,” though it was not a village by any definition. and was a joint venture: the City of
Santa Monica and The Related Companies, one of the largest real estate developers in America,
Now virtually complete, “The Village” is a garish tall wall of 134 rent controlled apartments and about the same number of “luxury condos.” The sheer scale and size of
the project shattered all the precedents, and violated all the traditions. An unsubstantiated rumor has it that Related leased all the rental units in one day.
“The Waverly,” the first of the “luxury condominium” buildings is now open and sell-
ing ($2,500,000 – $4,150,000). Ultimately, it is said, there will be restaurants and shops in all the buildings. So it is that once upon a time, there were wide expanses
of open space and trees, gardens and grass, but now there are gangs of over-sized, visually noisy towers.
According to former mayor Richard Bloom, the primary purpose of “The Village” is to provide customers for Santa Monica Place and Third Street.
The condo marketing boasts about the “luxurious urban beach lifestyle.” But, of course, “urban beach lifestyle” is an oxymoron.
“The Village” has risen like a bizarre renunciation of everything we value in the
heart of our gloriously idiosyncratic beach town. The good news is that the City
Council majority of four who took campaign contributions from developers and returned
the favor by approving their projects no longer prevails. And the new majority of four doesn’t take campaign contributions from developers,
On June 3, the City’s proposed “Plaza at Santa Monica” will be reviewed by the Plann-
ing Commission. It’s not only mediocre architecture, it’s too big, out of scale and,
like the Hines project, the “activity centers,” the “tier threes” and “the Village,”
it does not belong here. . .