Hearing on Moran House Triggers Move to Strengthen Landmark Law

Times Staff Writer

Calling Santa Monica's landmark-designation law weak because it protects historic properties from demolition only for one year, Councilman Dennis Zane on Tuesday won council support for a study on how the city can strengthen its 11-year-old ordinance.

The council authorized the study at the close of a public hearing in which developers sought to have landmark status removed from a Victorian home once owned by tennis star Gussie Moran.

The council voted unanimously to reject the owners' appeal and retain the landmark designation on the picturesque Queen Anne-style home at 1323 Ocean Ave.

The council then directed city planners to work with the Landmarks Commission to draft a stronger law to protect architecturally and historically significant properties in Santa Monica.

One-Year Restriction

The city's 1976 landmark law requires an owner to obtain city approval for exterior changes or demolition. The city can prevent demolition for as long as a year, but after that, the owner is free to proceed.

An attorney representing the owners of the Gussie Moran house reminded the council Tuesday that in 1985, a city landmark house built by noted Los Angeles architect Donald B. Parkinson was razed by the owner after the one-year protection period had expired. The owner wanted to build a larger house on the site.

Attorney Francis C. Pizzulli said owners of the Gussie Moran house "would hate to see that happen to this house," but noted that the owners would be within their rights to demolish the house in a year.

Pizzulli said that a company called 1323 Ocean Inc. acquired the property in September, a month before residents filed an application seeking landmark status for the house. He said the owners are paying $9,000 a month for the property but are powerless to develop it because of the controversy over its landmark status.

The owners believe that their property rights are being violated by the city and that the company is being subjected to "unnecessary financial harm" because of delays resulting from landmark restrictions, Pizzulli said.

Would Move House

The company is willing to move the 95-year-old home to another site for restoration so it can proceed with development of the choice Ocean Avenue property, he told the council Tuesday.

Ocean Avenue is commercially zoned, but at the turn of the century it was lined with picturesque residences that were "the center of Victorian Santa Monica," according to city planners.

The Friends of the Gussie Moran House, a community organization headed by Julie Lopez Dad, applied for landmark status for the house in October, and the city Landmarks Commission granted the committee's request in December.

But the commission refused to give the owners immediate permission to move the house to another site, and instead asked the developer to come back with a specific plan for its removal.

Instead, the owners on Tuesday asked the City Council to lift the landmark status.

Present Site Preferred

At Tuesday's meeting, Landmarks Commissioner David Cameron said the commission would prefer to keep the house at its original site. If it is impossible for it to remain on Ocean Avenue, the developer can apply to the commission for a so-called "certificate of appropriateness" that would give permission to move the house, he said.

Councilman Herbert Katz said that the Gussie Moran house, one of only two homes of its kind left in the city, is "a rare commodity" that should be protected by the city. If it cannot be kept at its present site, the home should be moved elsewhere in Santa Monica rather than being torn down, he said.

Officials said the home has landmark value not only because of its architecture, but because it was once owned by Gussie Moran, who shocked the staid tennis world in 1949 by wearing lace panties to compete at Wimbledon.

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