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Tenants Hope Late Mayor Can Save Building

By Jorge Casuso

August 25 – A group of rent control tenants facing eviction are hoping Santa Monica’s late mayor Clo Hoover once carried enough clout at City Hall to still stop the wrecking ball.

The tenants must make the case that Hoover -- who was the first woman to serve as mayor -- is an important enough local figure to warrant landmark status for the 47-unit garden apartment building she owned and lived in, conducting important City business in her penthouse suite overlooking the Pacific.

The decision by the Landmarks Commission, which is scheduled to hear the item next month, will help determine the fate of the tenants, many of them seniors, remaining in some two dozen units who must leave the building under the Ellis Act by March to pave the way for 25 luxury oceanfront condos.

“Our feeling is that if it gets landmarked, that they (the owners) will probably withdraw the Ellis filing,” said Ty Wapato one of the tenants who declined a buyout offer.

“The cards have been dealt,” said Wapato, who as a senior has a year, instead of 120 days, to move out. “We’re going to play the hand.”

301 Ocean Avenue (Picture courtesy of 301oceanavenue.org)

The battle between the tenants – many of whom pay between $500 and $800 a month to live on prime real estate on Ocean Avenue near San Vicente Boulevard – and the building’s owners will likely reach the City Council, with the losing party sure to appeal the Landmarks decision.

The tenants have recently stepped up the fight against real estate giant Trammell Crow and local developer Michael Rahimi, whose plans to enter into a development agreement with the City was scheduled to make its first stop at the Planning Commission before Landmarks stepped in.

The tenants have filed complaints with City officials, charging the property owners with “a laundry list of serious building code violations and violations of the rent control ordinance,” according to an email sent by tenant Steve Dietrich to City staff dated July 29.

Both Trammell Crow and Rahimi did not return The Lookout’s repeated calls for comment.

Tenants charge that the owners yanked the on-site manager, stored building materials in individual garages, neglected the landscaping and shut off ventilation in the laundry room.

“Over the past 8 years the owners have failed to maintain the building and generally have only responded to demands from the City,” Dietrich wrote.

“Numerous interior demolition and construction projects were done without permits (as has been admitted by ownership) and without the testing required prior to demolition.”

The tenants also have launched a web site, pored over historical documents and gathered testimonials to make the case that Hoover, who served as mayor in 1973, was a major player whose key political moves were crafted in the nondescript mid-century building.

“There is no arguing the important role Clo Hoover played in the way Santa Monica faced the challenges of the 20th Century,” the tenants wrote on their web site. “The significance of Clo Hoover is but one of the ample reasons for saving this building.”

The tenants have interviewed friends, family members and council colleagues who recall attending meetings at the Hoovers’ home where key issues – including fighting offshore oil drilling, banning jets at Santa Monica airport and opposing an offshore causeway – were discussed. ("The Road in the Sea," September 28, 2003, a four-part special report)

Guests at the Hoover home, where she and her husband Chester Hoover raised five children, included such dignitaries as Congressman Ray Haynes, bandleader Lawrence Welk and composer Hoagy Carmichael, according to her son Dudley Hoover.

The tenants’ research seems to counter the findings of a preliminary report by Peter Moruzzi, the architectural historian hired by the City to help determine whether the building is worthy of landmark designation.

“Given the particular significance of Clo Hoover as an elected official important to Santa Monica’s history,” Moruzzi wrote, “a strong argument can be made that it is actually City Hall, not her longtime residence, that best reflects Clo Hoover’s contributions to Santa Monica.”

Tenant Dish Taylor says the residents “have a lot of evidence now that she did conduct a lot of business from her home.”

At their July 14 meeting, the Landmarks Commissioners “were especially wanting to spend more time to more thoroughly evaluate that association (with Clo Hoover),” said Roxanne Tanemori, the Planning Department’s liaison to the commission.

Several Santa Monica landmarks, Tanemori said, achieved their designations because they were directly tied to historical figures – including Senator John P. Jones, a founder of Santa Monica; cosmetics mogul Merle Norman and several distinguished architects.

But none was a strictly local figure from the city’s recent past, Tanemori said.

“Suffice it to say that this is a unique type of analysis we don’t do often,” she said.

The Hoover connection could be the tenants’ only hope. The City’s architectural historian seems to disagree with the contention on their web site that the building is a “gem of Mid-20th Century California Garden apartment architecture.”

Built in 1952 and extensively renovated six years later, the building no longer reflects architect Joe M. Estep’s “design, workmanship and materials,” according to Moruzzi.

“As a typical but unremarkable example of the vernacular Modern style,” the consultant wrote, “the subject property does not appear to rise to the level of meeting the City’s criteria related to architectural merit.”


“The cards have been dealt. We’re going to play the hand." Ty Wapato


“There is no arguing the important role Clo Hoover played in the way Santa Monica faced the challenges of the 20th Century.” Tenants' web site


“Suffice it to say that this is a unique type of analysis we don’t do often.” Roxanne Tanemori


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