The Santa Monica Landmarks Commission, in a last-ditch effort to save a landmark Victorian house before it is demolished by its owner, is seeking proposals to move and restore the structure.
The 96-year-old house at 1323 Ocean Ave. was the home of Gussie Moran, the tennis star of the 1940s and '50s. It is the oldest Santa Monica residence in its original location and the last unaltered reminder of the Victorian houses that lined Ocean Avenue at the turn of the century.
The house was bought in February by Kevork Momdjian of Los Angeles for $840,000. Momdjian has sought to demolish the house and develop the property.
Under a 1976 city ordinance the commission can delay for only one year destruction of buildings designated as landmarks. The year will be up Jan. 29 on the Moran house.
The house was declared a landmark last year. The commission ordered a 180-day delay in April and two weeks ago voted to extend it to January.
Now that time is running out, "we really have to move forward with the idea of relocating it," Commissioner Christopher Johnson said.
One proposal, submitted in April by Philippe Marcelis of Panache restaurant, is to move the house to the Santa Monica Pier and convert it into a restaurant. Johnson said that proposal "hasn't been thoroughly investigated" and faces difficulties because pier restoration plans are still being developed.
The commission is considering another restaurant plan and proposals to move the house to a residential neighborhood.
"We are interested in seeing as many different kinds of proposals as concrete as possible and as soon as possible," Johnson said.
Commission members estimate that it will cost $150,000 to move and renovate the house in Santa Monica.
The commission has acted as real estate broker before, Johnson said. In the case of the historic Rapp Saloon on 2nd Street, the commission found a buyer willing to preserve the building.
In 1985, however, the owner of a landmark house designed by noted Los Angeles architect Donald Parkinson waited out the one-year period and then demolished the house.
As a result of the loss of the Parkinson house and imminent loss of the Moran house, the City Council is attempting to strengthen Santa Monica's landmarks ordinance.
In January, the council voted unanimously to ask the city Planning Department to study landmarks ordinances in other cities and prepare a stronger code for Santa Monica.
"Our original hope . . . was to give an additional level of protection to the Gussie Moran house," said Councilwoman Christine Reed.
Whether a strengthened ordinance will save the Moran house depends on when the proposal is ready for the council's consideration. Reed said she has asked the city manager's office to complete the study as soon as possible.
Johnson said the Landmarks Commission should be allowed to delay destruction for more than one year. He also suggested that the council change the ordinance to stipulate that a landmark may not face the wrecking ball until a new structure is already approved for the site.
Momdjian has not applied for a permit to develop the property, Reed said. Under the current law, Momdjian could demolish the house and keep an empty lot if his development plans fail, Johnson said.