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Santa Monica Miramar Gets “Clarity” on Landmark Designations

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

January 16, 2013 -- The Landmarks Commission weighed in Monday on which buildings on the campus of the 84-year-old Fairmont Miramar hotel in Santa Monica should be given landmark status and which ought to be exempt.

The Commission voted to designate the Palisades Wing on the 550,000-square-foot Miramar property a landmark while affirming that three other buildings, the Administration Building, the Ocean Tower and the Bungalows, did not qualify for landmark status.

The owners of the Miramar -- MSD Capital L.P. -- have proposed demolishing the two-story administration building and the 10-story Ocean Tower to make room for three new buildings that could add as many as 120 new condos to the site.

“We're very pleased with the Landmarks Commissions findings, which found that the Palisades Wing is a historic resource” and that the other buildings are not, said Alan Epstein, who represents MSD Capital.

Over the years, the Bungalows have many of the 20th century's major figures, including Greta Garbo, Charles Lindbergh, Howard Hughes, John Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe. And President Bill Clinton also found regular accomodations in one of the 32 bungalows.

“We think this clarity is very important as we think of the long-term future of the hotel,” he said. “It'll provide guidance for all of us as we think about improving the property.”

Staff contended that though the Palisades Wing building, built in the 1920s, “retains a substantial level of historic integrity,” the other three buildings have experienced too much remodeling and renovation to qualify for landmark status.

The Commission also voted to designate the property a landmark parcel, which means that all activity on the site could be subject to some degree of review by the Commission or City Staff.

As a result, the owners of the Miramar property presented a preliminary “Regulatory Review Matrix,” which “would define the rules of the road going forward,” Epstein said.

The matrix would define activities by the level of approval required from the City or the Commission.

The first level, routine maintenance work, would be exempt from a formal review process. Higher level maintenance would require that Miramar officials consult with a staff liaison to the Landmarks Commission, but no formal approval would need be sought.

The third level of repairs and maintenance would require the staff liaison to officially review and approve plans.

And for the most dramatic level of work on the site, official approval would have to be sought from the Landmarks Commission.

“All activities relevant to the non-contributing structures (i.e. Administration Building, Bungalows and Ocean Tower) would also be Exempt,” staff wrote.

“It's critically important to us and the City about what can and can't be done without commission review,” Epstein said.

“From our perspective,... the hotel is like a small city,” he said, adding that there are “a broad range of activities” that go on as part of day-to-day operations.

The Commission won't weigh in on the proposed matrix until its February meeting.

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