Santa Monica Commission Blocks Demolition of Gussie Moran House

Times Staff Writer

The Santa Monica Landmarks Commission has blocked for 180 days the demolition of a landmark Victorian house on Ocean Avenue that was once owned by 1940s tennis star Gussie Moran.

The owner of the property, Kevork Momdjian of Los Angeles, had sought a demolition permit to clear the way to develop the site, located on prime commercial land at 1323 Ocean Ave.

Momdjian’s representative, Fadi Shatsshar, told the commission that the owner is willing to have the historic home moved so that it can be restored elsewhere in Santa Monica.

One plan calls for it to be renovated as a restaurant on the Santa Monica Pier.


Landmark Status

The Friends of the Gussie Moran House, a group that obtained city landmark status for the home last year, wants to keep it at its site on Ocean Avenue, which in the 1890s was the residential center of Santa Monica.

Friends spokeswoman Lisa Monk said it would be “grossly premature” to allow demolition until the owner tries to find someone who would restore the house at its current location.

The Landmarks Commission last week denied Momdjian’s request for a demolition permit and decided to appoint a committee to explore ways in which the picturesque Queen Anne-style home could be renovated at its present site.


Under the city’s 1976 landmarks law, the commission can hold off demolition of a property that has been declared a landmark for two successive 180-day periods to allow time for alternative plans to be made to save the structure.

The commission’s April 9 vote on the Gussie Moran house prohibits its demolition until Aug. 3. A second 180-day stay could delay demolition until January, said city assistant planner Amanda Schachter.

Move to Pier

At its meeting, the Landmarks Commission heard a proposal from Philippe Marcelis, chef-owner of Panache restaurant, who said he would like to have the house moved to the Santa Monica Pier for use as a restaurant. He estimated costs for moving and restoring the house at $150,000.

Viken Momdjian, son of the owner, told the commission that his father paid $850,000 in cash for the property in February. His father knew the house was protected by the city’s landmarks law, but figured that he could wait out the 360-day delay, if necessary, before developing the property, Momdjian said.

Shatsshar told the commission that Momdjian has set his own deadline of Aug. 1 for the city to resolve the situation.

Under questioning from the commission, the owner’s son said that if the city begins work on Momdjian’s development plans for the site during the moratorium period, Momdjian would extend his deadline past Aug. 1. He said Momdjian set the August deadline to speed city action.

By not developing the property, he said, Momdjian is losing $10,000 a month in income he could have received on another investment.


Hands Are Tied

However, according to city officials, Momdjian’s hands are tied for the time being because he cannot demolish or move the house without approval from the Landmarks Commission.

City officials are in favor, if possible, of keeping the home on Ocean Avenue, where it has stood since it was built nearly 100 years ago.

Moran owned the home until it fell into foreclosure last year, planners said.

It then was acquired by a company called 1323 Ocean Inc., which in January appealed to the City Council in an unsuccessful attempt to have the house’s landmark status revoked.

The council rejected that appeal and called for a study on how to strengthen the city’s landmarks law to provide greater protections for historically and architecturally significant properties in Santa Monica. That study will be considered for funding in next year’s budget, Schachter said.