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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

November 8, 2016 -- The Santa Monica Landmarks Commission will get a second chance to determine if a former bank building that features a mural by a prominent Southern California artist is a landmark.

Constructed in the late 1960s, the Y-shaped building, which is currently occupied by the New Balance shoe company, features a large mural created by famed artist Millard Sheets of colored mosaic tiles depicting a day at the beach.

But before determining the fate of the structure on Wilshire Boulevard off 26th Street, the City might have to deal with a lawsuit first.

Picture of Millard Sheets Mosaic on Wilshire Boulevard
Millard Sheets mosaic on Wilshire Boulevard (Courtesy of the USC
Digital Library)

The City Council voted unanimously last Tuesday to overturn the commission's 2013 decision to designate the structure as a landmark because of possible procedural issues, but also to allow that panel to review the matter a second time.

Prior to the vote, the council heard from property owner Mark Leevan’s attorney Roger Diamond, who said his client would sue the City unless the council just reversed the landmark designation without another commission review.

"I don't want Santa Monica taxpayers to spend money defending a lawsuit we'll have to file if we can't resolve this now," Diamond said.

He added, "We're ready, willing and able to go to court if we have to, but I don't want to be threatening in any way."

Diamond also noted that he had a court report in the council chambers recording the session and that he had defeated Santa Monica in an unrelated lawsuit in 1973.

He also said that the Landmarks Commission was not a neutral body, but rather made up of people who are "pro-landmark designation."

Council members did not respond to Diamond's lawsuit threats. A couple took exception to his description of the landmarks commissioners.

"I spent about ten years as the City Council's liaison to the Landmarks Commission,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said. “And what I observed was a thoughtful process among people who cared about the history of our community."

He added, "Mr. Diamond kind of shocked me with this allegation that persons on a landmarks commission might actually be interested in landmarking. I would assume that, and I don’t see that as a bad thing. And I don’t think it means they are landmarking willy-nilly.”

The existence of the mural was among the reasons for the building's landmark designation.

Diamond said the mural was not significant. He then played a audio recording for the council of Sheets, who died in 1989, saying "I wince every time" he drives by the mural and that it was at best "satisfactory."

Ruthann Lehrer, who was on the Landmarks Commission in 2013 when it made its decision, told the council that Sheets' opinion is irrelevant.

"Many artists criticize their own work," she said. "But once it's created, it's in the public domain. And what is significant about this work is its link to the local community."

She continued, "It's a marvelous work that embraces the corner, uses the space and has thematic connections to the life of all Santa Monica residents."

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