Aim is true for Santa Monica's 'shotgun house' relocation

Aim is true for Santa Monica's 'shotgun house' relocation
Carol Lemlein, center, president of the Santa Monica Conservancy, watches with others as the city's 19th century "shotgun house" begins its move to its new location, only a few blocks from where it stood for many years. The structure will become the conservancy's new headquarters. (Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times)

It was moving day Saturday in Santa Monica — for a historic 19th century "shotgun house" that narrowly escaped demolition and will become the Santa Monica Conservancy's headquarters.

Regarded as the last such intact structure in the coastal city, the skinny abode has been weakened by time and weather during 12 years in storage at Santa Monica Airport and the parking lot of a former lumber yard that is now a construction staging area for the Expo Line light rail.


Just before 8 a.m., workers from American Heavy Moving & Rigging of Chino hitched a flatbed trailer carrying the house to a truck in the lot on Colorado Avenue. Guided by workers on the ground, driver Joe Day spent several minutes negotiating the 90-degree turn onto 16th Street and then began the nearly two-mile drive to just north of the Ocean Park public library branch.

The move brought the house full circle, to within blocks of its longtime location on 2nd Street between Hill Street and Ashland Avenue.

Even when it was first assembled in the 1890s, the narrow one-story board-and-batten structure was little more than a shack, with a pile of bricks as its foundation. It was one room wide and three rooms deep, with no connecting hallway. The front gabled roof and porch featured gingerbread details that were stolen long ago. Pieces of the erstwhile front porch will be reassembled.

The term "shotgun house" is said to derive from the notion that the pellets of a shotgun could be fired through the front or rear door and fly cleanly through.

Dozens of preservation advocates and neighbors turned out with children and dogs in tow to watch the arrival at the new site. About three hours after the relocation journey began, the house was lifted off the truck and then lowered onto three I-beams laid atop stacks of 6-by-8-inch boards.

Among the observers was Ron Accosta of Mar Vista, who recalled sitting on the shotgun house's floor and learning to tie knots at Cub Scout den meetings in the 1940s.

Efforts to preserve the house began in 1998, when the property owner applied to demolish it. Mario Fonda-Bonardi, a local architect, was among proponents who pushed the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission to designate the structure a city landmark. The City Council ordered an environmental review to assess options.

After four years of wrangling, the owner and the city allowed activists to have the house towed to Santa Monica Airport. In 2005, the council authorized another temporary relocation, to the former Fisher Lumber site.

Conservancy President Carol Lemlein said the group has raised between $300,000 and $400,000 and received in-kind donations for the preservation effort. Saturday's move, she added, took about a month of planning.

The house now sits amid a cluster of other historic buildings, including the California Heritage Museum, the Merle Norman Cosmetics office, the Carnegie branch library and the Third Street Neighborhood Historic District.

"It's unbelievable that it's finally here," Lemlein said.

Fonda-Bonardi said it would take about four months to pour a new concrete foundation and rehabilitate the structure. The building will become a clearinghouse for information about historic resources and the methods and benefits of preserving older structures.

To see a rendering of the future conservancy resource center and a historical photo of shotgun beach houses, visit the project website.


Twitter: @MarthaGroves