Alan Epstein, “lead negotiator of MSD Capital,
one of the owners of the Miramar Hotel,” is
quoted in Surf Santa Monica as saying, “With
all the demands for services and amenities
from customers, the cost of building new lux-
ury hotels has skyrocketed.
“Given the risk profile of such projects,
construction lenders have become quite cau-
tious. As a result, financing has become
difficult without a residential component.”
What? Does Epstein expect us to be sympa-
thetic, and allow him to have his way with
Santa Monica because building here is really
MSD Capital and the Miramar are both owned
by Michael Dell, a billionaire who lives in
Texas, developed the Dell computer and is
currently engaged in trying to take his com-
pany, Dell, private, and doing battle with
Carl Icahn, also a billionaire, who believes
the company should remain public and Dell
should be replaced as CEO. (see story below)
“I am ready to fight and I am committed to
doing what I believe is right for the com-
pany,” Michael Dell told The Wall Street
At Epstein’s initial presentation of what he
called the “Miramar revitalization,” which
would have doubled its size, the inclusion
of 120 condominiums was questioned. Epstein
said, the condos were crucial. They were
“the equity.” Their sale would finance the
cost of the redevelopment, thus sparing Dell
from having to put any of his own money into
The plans were subsequently changed. The new
plan is dominated by a 320-foot tall faux
Art Deco tower, which would contain the 120
condominiums, along with other elements from-
the original plan. At 320 feet, the new Mira-
mar would be twice as tall as the Huntley
Hotel, which is directly behind the Miramar
across Second Street. TWICE AS TALL AS THE
And an ever-enlarging number of residents
say, at every opportunity, “We are ready to
fight and committed to doing what we believe
is right for this beach town.”
Surely, Mr. Dell would understand our position.
Mr. Epstein doesn’t. City Hall doesn’t. The
Chamber of Commerce doesn’t. The developer
don’t. Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. doesn’t.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau doesn’t.
They all think the operative word is MORE –
more “luxury” hotels, more oversized, undis-
tinguished mixed use complexes, more revenue,
more traffic, more profit.
We, the people disagree.
What Epstein, City manager Rod Gould, the plan-
ners and consultants, the Chamber, the deve-
lopers, Third Street bosses, the hype meisters,
all the would-be shakers and movers and their
sycophants, the critics of resident critics
choose to ignore or fail to understand is that
Santa Monica, this gloriously idiosyncratic
beach town, isn’t a business or real estate
or merchandise. It’s a place. A real place
with a complex history. It was founded 138
years ago. It’s very small (8.3 square miles),
the most densely populated town in southern
California, situated in the heart of the
fabled Southern California coast – “the for-
tunate coast,” Hamlin Garland called it,
It’s been on a first-name basis with the
world for generations. It was the site of the
Vanderbilt car races, In the Golden Age of
Hollywood, in the 1930s, four of the five
studio heads lived on the Santa Monica Gold
Coast, along with Fairbanks and Pickford, Cary
Grant, “boy wonder” Irving Thalberg and Norma
Shearer, queen of MGM, and, of course, Marion
Davies and William Randolph Hearst, and all
three of the Talmadge sisters.
For years, Salka Viertel, screenwriter and
Garbo’s closest advisor, had a Sunday salon
at her house in the Canyon, which attracted
other writers who’d fled Hitler, English nov-
elist Aldous Huxley, who lived in the Holly-
wood Hills, the original Tarzan, Johnny Weis-
smuller, and assorted actors and actresses.
Four World Cruiser airplanes were built here,
and took off from here to fly around the world.
Three of the four made it. A gaggle of women
tennis stars from Santa Monica dominated the
sport in the 1940s. In World War II, Douglas
Aircraft’s 22,000 workers assembled thousands
of war planes here. With Malibu, Santa Monica
introduced and was the epicenter of surfing
on the mainland.
Charles and Ray Eames reinvented domestic life
here. Painters were drawn by the light, the
colors. Raymond Chandler set some of his stories
here (i.e. Bay City), and featured corrupt cops.
Christopher Isherwood, an Englishman, arrived
here in his 20s, wrote many books, lived here
for 50 years, died and was buried here.
The world’s most influential architect, Frank
Gehry, turned an ordinary tract house into
an ever-changing sculpture of a sort.
Some of Hollywood’s best films were shot here.
The Z boys conjured Dogtown here. Nearly a
dozen great independent bookstores were once
here, including the legendary Midnight Special.
Tom Hayden and Jane Fonda’s Center for Economic
Democracy was here. The nation’s most radical
rent control ordinance was approved here in 1979.
Esther McCoy, arguably America’s best writer on
architecture, lived in Santa Monica most of her
adult life, and died here at 89. She wrote about
the modernists — Schindler, Neutra, Gill, the
Wrights – father and son, and the architects
who followed them. It was a very exciting time,
a crucial time in the rise of Los Angeles. Rey-
nar Banham, no slouch himself as a writer and
teacher of design, said Los Angeles’s two
greatest architectural treasures were the Gamble
house in Pasadena and McCoy.
If McCoy were still alive and writing in her tiny
semi-Schindler house in Ocean Park, she would be
as horrified at what passes for planning and arch-
itecture these days as many residents are.
The Santa Monica Conservancy and the Landmarks
Commission have managed to save many buildings
and other things of value from the bulldozers,
but the developers and their local supporters
are still coming – City staff, chamber members,
self-anointed community leaders and shills, real
estate hucksters, and the Council Four who have
taken campaign contributions from developers,
and are still agitating for MORE.
And so residents must keep saying NO – often
and emphatically, because this extraordinary
town, our town is at a crucial verge, in danger
of choking on a surfeit of profoundly clumsy
It is not our job to cheer the developers and
their profoundly mediocre plans on. It is our
job to preserve and protect this extraordinary
town from the philistines.
NOTE: If you haven’t read McCoy, read PIECING
TOGETHER LOS ANGELES, edited, with an essay by
Susan Morgan, East of Borneo Books