PCD:SF:JT:AS:KC:EB:F:\PLAN\SHARE\COUNCIL\STRPT\2002\Civic Auditorium Appeal.doc

Council Mtg: April 9, 2002                                                                     Santa Monica, California

 

 

 

TO:                  Mayor and City Council

 

FROM:            City Staff

 

SUBJECT:     Appeal of a Decision of the Landmarks Commission Designating the Structure Located at 1855 Main Street (Civic Auditorium) as a City Landmark (Case No. LC-01-LM-004).  Applicant: City of Santa Monica Landmarks Commission.  Appellant: Council Member Herb Katz        

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

This report recommends that the City Council uphold the decision of the Landmarks Commission designating the Civic Auditorium, located at 1855 Main Street, as a City Landmark.  On November 12, 2001, the Landmarks Commission designated the structure a City Landmark.  A Council member has appealed this decision and provided a written waiver to the appeal timeline (Attachment A).  As the appellant, Council member Katz is required to recuse himself from all Council discussion and decision-making on this matter.  This item was continued from the February 5, 2002 Council meeting.

 

DISCUSSION

Landmarks Commission Action

The Landmarks Commission filed an application nominating the Civic Auditorium for Landmark designation on August 13, 2001.  On October 8, 2001, the Landmarks Commission received a preliminary report from staff, with analysis indicating that the property meets the criteria for designation as a City Landmark.  The Commission unanimously voted to schedule a public hearing for formal consideration of the Landmark designation on November 12, 2001.  The Commission also asked staff to provide additional research on the elements of the auditorium’s interior that might be eligible for inclusion in the designation.

On November 12, 2001, the Commission voted 6-0 to approve the designation, which included both the exterior of the building as well as specific character-defining features of the interior public spaces as provided for in SMMC 9.36.110.  The Landmarks Commission staff report is contained in Attachment B and the Landmarks Commission minutes are contained in Attachment C.

Architectural Description

 

The Civic Auditorium is a good example of the International Style (Modern), a style that dominated the architectural face of the globe from the first decade of the 20th Century until 1972.  The Modern Movement emphasized a rational approach to design, and many architects designed their buildings following Mies van der Rohe’s credo of “less is more.”  Common character-defining features of this style include flat roofs, curtain walls, large expanses of walls devoid of ornamentation, rectilinear, string or ribbon windows – flush with exterior walls and lacking pronounced sills or lintels, and those following the theories of Le Corbusier incorporated brise-soleils.  Their interiors were simple, minimalist spaces, lacking applied decoration.  Space would flow freely, interrupted by few walls and filled with limited functional furniture.

The Civic Auditorium retains many significant character-defining elements including a grand canopy, supported by parabolic pylons, a glass curtain wall, and brise-soleil, as well as the original hydraulic floor.  It occupies a significant and prominent location and is an established and familiar visual feature of the Main Street Civic Center area.  Further, the Civic Auditorium has been the venue for hundreds of significant concerts, exhibitions and award ceremonies since its opening.

In addition to the exterior features, the Landmarks Commission found that the interior of the Civic Auditorium contains the following character-defining features:

·        Configuration of lobby spaces (first and second floors) and auditorium entry doors (height and semi-circular shape of lobby, upper lobby shape reflective of lower lobby, and columns contributing to the overall light, open and modernistic feeling);

·        Wood paneling along south wall of first floor lobby;

·        Two original lobby staircases;

·        Volume and configuration of auditorium main hall space;

·        Adjustable auditorium main hall floor with hydraulic lift mechanism;

·        Metal acoustical panels and wall sconces in auditorium main hall;

·        Soundproof sliding doors to conference room (adjacent to the east elevation).

 

These elements have been noted as significant elements of the building’s interior public spaces and have been included in the designation.  Although there have already been some alterations to the lobby and auditorium main hall areas, the above list includes a sufficient number of the remaining original features that contribute to the character of the Civic Auditorium.  The Commission has listed these features within the designation to preserve the overall context and character of the building and to ensure that any future proposed changes to these elements will be executed based on compliance with the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation through a Certificate of Appropriateness.

In consideration of the context of the Civic Auditorium, staff’s evaluation included discussion of the view corridor, which adds to the dramatic effect of the structure, especially when lit up at night.  However, this view corridor is not a designated feature, nor could it be because it involves property that is not part of the landmark property. 

 

 

Findings for Designation

 

The Landmarks Ordinance permits the Commission to designate a landmark if the structure under consideration meets one or more of six criteria.  The Landmarks Commission found that the Civic Auditorium meets all six criteria (see FINDINGS, below).  The criteria were met because the Civic Auditorium is a resource that still retains  comprehensive integrity of its original architectural design. It was designed in the International Modern Style by a prominent Santa Monica-based architect (Welton Beckett) with acoustics designed by a world-renowned acoustical engineer (UCLA Chancellor Vern O. Knudsen).  The building’s character-defining features are still largely intact, including significant interior features that are integral to the overall concept of the Civic Auditorium’s architecture. 

The findings also show that the Civic Auditorium has played an important role in the City’s cultural development by strengthening the function of the Civic Center as a primary hub of activity.  Its unique location at the bend of Main Street, its grand scale and its unusual design with futuristic pylons have made the Civic Auditorium a familiar and integral part of the Civic Center complex and an important visual monument in the City. The Civic Auditorium has been associated with many prominent celebrities as the venue for countless events and public performances, representing the diversity for which Santa Monica has become renown. 

 

APPEAL ANALYSIS

The appeal is based on the following reasons.  (Please note that the appellant=s statement is indicated in bold text.  Staff=s analysis follows in regular text.)

 

“The appeal is for the restrictive nature of the Landmarks designation regarding the Civic Auditorium.  This decision highly restricts future improvements and modifications of and to the building.  This needs to be a less restrictive designation to allow greater freedom in our Civic Center planning and use and to help conserve our citizen’s monies to be used in the project. ”

 

The appeal statement does not dispute the findings that justify this designation, but rather focuses on concern about whether the designation, including several interior elements and one landscaping element, described as a secondary feature, might hamper the City’s future plans to expand the Civic Auditorium.  The expansion, included in concept as part of the Civic Center plan, might include an addition to or replacement of the eastern wing, the removal of western wing offices, and subterranean parking around, but not under, the main hall.

The Landmarks Commission, in reaching a decision regarding the designation, found the Civic Auditorium to be a significant historic resource, both its exterior and interior public space areas.  The Commission found that the resource meets all six Landmarks Ordinance criteria for designation. The modern architecture of the building, and its design for flexibility and functionality, have served to make the building adaptable for a variety of functions, enabling it to remain viable through many cultural and economic changes in the City.  In any future modifications to the building, the principle of flexibility envisioned by the original architects can easily be incorporated by a skilled preservation architect in a way that is consistent with or complementary to the original building while meeting the Secretary of Interior’s Standards.  The Landmark designation requires taking a preservation approach to proposed modifications in the future, and reviewing modifications in terms of their impact to a building of historic significance. 

The designation would result in some change to the approval process for future exterior alterations to the property as well as any alterations involving change to the designated character-defining features in the interior public spaces.  These projects would require a Certificate of Appropriateness from the Landmarks Commission prior to approval of building permits.  There is an exception for work that is defined by the Landmarks Ordinance as ordinary maintenance and repair, which may receive a staff-approved exemption.  Use of architects, structural engineers and contractors experienced in modification  and renovation of historic buildings is important to successful compliance with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Resources.  Alternatively, if the Civic Auditorium were not a landmark, all exterior changes would require architectural review (ARB).  Modifications would still be held to a high standard of architectural quality; however, meeting the Secretary of Interior’s Standards would not be required.  The designation of the Civic Auditorium as a landmark changes the approach to the improvements, not the need to propose high quality work and gain City approval.  As such, the designation will not impose any undue burden or restriction on the process for implementation of the Civic Center Master Plan as suggested in the appeal.

Character-defining features: Primary and Secondary

The overall character of a building is identified by looking at its distinguishing physical aspects.  The major contributors to the building’s exterior character are embodied in the general aspects of its setting, shape, roof and roof features, projections, recesses or voids, openings for windows and doorways, and various exterior materials utilized.  To understand the character of interior spaces, it is necessary to move through the spaces of the building one at a time and identify individual rooms or those spaces that are interconnected and interrelated.  Key spaces may be perceived in the visual qualities of an interior space and how those spaces relate to the plan of the building, or through the visual linkage in a sequence of spaces.  Those key spaces or features identified can further be seen as a series of primary or secondary elements.  Primary spaces and features are usually the places in a building that the public uses and sees.  These areas are always important to the character of the building and should be preserved.  Secondary spaces and features are generally more utilitarian in appearance and size than primary spaces and features.  These areas tend to be less important to the building and may accept greater change in the course of work without compromising a building’s historic character.

In regard to the interior features of the auditorium that have been included in the designation, these features as a group contribute to the character of the structure.  However, the removal of one of them, if the others are preserved, may still be found to be appropriate for the structure.  For instance, if the overall volume and spatial relations of the interior are retained, the acoustical panels may at some time be replaced with more updated materials, or the sliding sound wall may be removed in favor of another element if the eastern wing were replaced.  However, overall, changes would need to be undertaken in a manner that is sensitive to the building’s character.  As long as the principles of preservation are applied sensitively and consistently, it is possible to make changes to the designated public areas in the interior of the Civic Auditorium.

It should be noted that the pygmy palm trees were included in the determination as a “secondary” feature.  As such, it is recognized that while the trees are the last remnant of original landscaping, their preservation may be approached at a different level, making it more likely that it would be found appropriate to relocate or remove them with minimal impact to the overall integrity of the resource.

Furthermore, since the Main Street view corridor looking towards the Civic Auditorium is not part of the designation, the Civic Auditorium’s landmark status would not impose any restrictions that would preclude other new development and improvements proposed in the Civic Center Master Plan.  Staff notes that the Master Plan has already carefully considered the proposed siting of new development in relation to the Civic Auditorium.

Conceptual Proposals to Modify the Civic Auditorium

As part of the Civic Center Master Plan, the City envisions some modifications to the Civic Auditorium.  The Preferred Alternative developed by the Civic Center Task Force shows the removal of the western wing and extension of the eastern wing.  The most important character-defining exterior features of the structure – and all of the most significant interior features - are located in the central portion of the building.  As currently proposed, the concept plan maintains the prominence of the central hall area, with the eastern wing addition recessed and extended in the southeast direction.  To the west of the structure, the proposal shows a loading zone and entrance to new subterranean parking.  While a conceptual proposal at this level cannot be analyzed to reach conclusions as to whether it meets the Secretary of Interior’s Standards for Historic Resources, the proposal does show potential as an appropriate addition.  With thoughtful architectural design, the loading zone can include an element that adds some symmetry to balance the east wing, and landscaping can be employed to emphasize the prominence of the primary façade of the central hall area.  There are many examples, both locally and nationally, of public buildings that have been designated as landmarks and subsequently enlarged in a manner that has enhanced the building’s function and preserved its character-defining features. There is no reason to conclude that this could not be done to Santa Monica’s Civic Auditorium.

In the next five years, three significant Capital Improvement Projects are scheduled for the Civic Auditorium, including repairing and strengthening the hydraulic floor (current fiscal year), replacing the East Wing ceiling and lighting fixtures (FY 2002-03) and replacing the cooling tower (FY 2003-04).  The repair of the floor will preserve an important character-defining feature of the building, and the other two projects will likely have no impact on any significant features of the building.  Although Landmarks review at Commission or staff level will be required, landmark designation of the Civic Auditorium would not prevent the projects from proceeding.

One last project that is likely to come forward when funding becomes available is seismic retrofitting to further strengthen the Civic Auditorium.  Again, the Landmarks Ordinance does not prevent this work.  However, instead of the easiest and most visually intrusive method of reinforcement, a more careful and thoughtful solution would be required.  The Civic Auditorium staff has worked with engineers who have proposed a concept for retrofitting the structure that involves the enlargement of the lobby columns and the installation of a major new girder between the lobby columns.  Both of these features would be visible in the lobby.  In addition to the lobby work, shear walls would be installed under the seating areas and some walls would be strengthened with shotcrete.  This concept could be further developed in the future, and through use of compatible finishes and application of the Secretary of Interior Standards, it is possible to find a solution that will meet the goals of both public safety and preservation.

In regard to environmental review, projects involving restoration/rehabilitation of a historic resource are exempt from further review if they meet the criteria of Section 15331 of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).  Briefly, the criteria of this section are consistency with all of the Secretary of Interior’s Standards and no adverse impact to the resource.  While other aspects of the project (traffic, geology, etc.) may trigger the need for an initial study and possibly an Environmental Impact Report, the designation of the property as a landmark will not add to the length of the environmental review process provided that alterations are consistent with the Standards.

Overall, staff does not believe that this designation is restrictive.  Rather, it is recognition of the architectural merit and historic importance of the Civic Auditorium as part of the community fabric.  Furthermore, it is a tool for ensuring appropriate maintenance and modification in the future.  Additionally, the Civic Auditorium appears eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If designated, the City would then be able to apply for preservation grants to help maintain the Civic Auditorium, representing a new source of funding for the structure that would not otherwise be available.

CITY COUNCIL ACTION

Municipal Code Sections 9.36.180 (c) and 9.36.180 (e) prescribe that an appeal hearing must occur within 45 days of the appeal filing and a decision rendered within 30 days of the hearing.   Council Member Katz submitted a letter to waive this timeline in order to allow the hearing to be held on April 9, 2002.

Under the provisions of the Landmarks Ordinance, the City Council may grant the appeal or uphold the decision of the Landmarks Commission in whole or in part and designate the Civic Auditorium located at 1855 Main Street as a Landmark based upon the Landmarks Ordinance criteria contained in Section 9.36.100. 

PUBLIC NOTIFICATION

Notice of this public hearing was published in the California Section of the Los Angeles Times and mailed to all owners and residential and commercial tenants of property located within a 300 foot radius of the project at least 10 days prior to the hearing.  A copy of the notice is contained in Attachment F.

 

BUDGET/FINANCIAL IMPACT

The recommendation presented in this report does not have any immediate budget or fiscal impact.  Future work on the Civic Auditorium would require design input from preservation architects and other experts who might not otherwise be involved in the project.  However, the City’s policy generally is to hire qualified design professionals for major City projects.  Architects hired for a Civic Auditorium renovation would be charged with creating a meaningful and innovative public space regardless of the landmark designation status, so the additional financial impact incurred in designing modifications that are appropriate for a landmark property may not be significant. 

 

RECOMMENDATION

It is respectfully recommended that City Council uphold the decision of the Landmarks Commission to designate the Civic Auditorium at 1855 Main Street as a City Landmark with the following findings:

 

FINDINGS

 

(1)   It exemplifies, symbolizes, or manifests elements of the cultural, social, economic, political, or architectural history of the City.

 

This building was constructed in 1958 in response to the development of the Santa Monica Civic Center.  It was the third of three major 20th century Civic Center structures, beginning with the Art Deco style City Hall, designed by Los Angeles architect Donald Parkinson and completed in 1938 and the Los Angeles County Courthouse, which was added in 1951. It remains an excellent example of the International Style (Modern), a style that dominated the architectural face of the globe from the first decade of the 20th century until 1972.  It is the only surviving institutional design in the City of Santa Monica.  The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium replaced a classically inspired facility that had been located at Lick Pier, known as the Ocean Park Municipal Auditorium.  In this way, its construction also served to strengthen the function of the Civic Center as a primary hub of activity. Therefore, this resource satisfies this criterion.  

 

 

(2)            It has aesthetic or artistic interest or value, or other noteworthy interest or value.

 

The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium is an excellent example of the mid-century International Style, and the only such example of the work of master architect Welton Becket in the City.  Furthermore, it is significant for the unique engineering design of its hydraulic floor, the largest in the nation at the time.  This was a landmark use of hydraulic technology for adapting an assembly space to accommodate a vast variety of stage performances, athletic events, and exhibitions.  It proved to be the forerunner to the retractable domes and flexible seating of contemporary stadiums (Alan Lieb, 2001).  Finally, its acoustical design by world-renowned acoustical engineer, UCLA Chancellor Vern O. Knudsen, was described as, “the most perfect and…(deserving)…a rating higher than that of the Royal Festival Hall in London” (Becket, 2001, and Progressive Architecture, May 1959). Thus, as a truly remarkable resource, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium meets this criterion.

 

(3)            It is identified with historic personages or with important events in local, state or national history.

 

The Civic Auditorium is associated with its architect, Welton Becket, as well as its acoustical engineer Vern O. Knudsen, both internationally prominent professionals in the design of major institutions.  Becket’s work is found throughout the world with notable Commissions in Cairo, Havana, Manila, Honolulu, Tokyo, Boston, Philadelphia, Kansas City and Dallas, and includes numerous civic designs.  Vern O. Knudsen, a professor and Chancellor of UCLA, was the world’s leading authority on architectural acoustics, and a master designer of acoustically significant facilities.  His principles in architectural acoustics became the foundation for the design of contemporary soundstages.  Additionally, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium is associated with countless events and public performances, like no other facility in the City.  These performances have represented the diversity for which Santa Monica has become renown.  A few prominent examples include an array of musicians from Andre Previn and Dave Brubeck in 1959 to Pete Seeger, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan in the 1960’s, to Elton John, Ray Charles, Arlo Guthrie, the Beach Boys and the Carpenters in the 1970’s.  The number of performances eventually reached a level of nearly 60 concerts annually in the peak years of the 1970s.  The auditorium also hosted several prominent comedians in the early years of their careers, such as Bill Cosby, Jonathan Winters and Bob Hope, as well as a 1967 performance by Beatnik poet Allen Ginsburg.   Therefore, this resource meets this criterion.

 

(4)            It embodies distinguishing architectural characteristics valuable to a study of a period, style, method of construction, or the use of indigenous materials or craftsmanship, or is a unique or rare example of an architectural design, detail, or historical type to such a study.

 

The Civic Auditorium is an excellent example of the mid-century International Style in the City of Santa Monica.   The style was a response to the industrialization of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  It advocated the use of the “machine”, rather than historical precedents for building and product designs, as well as the use of contemporary materials such as steel, concrete and glass for their construction.  The Civic Auditorium retains many significant character-defining elements of this style, including, a grand canopy, supported by parabolic pylons, a glass curtain wall, and brise-soleil. 

 

The Civic Auditorium also retains a number of significant interior features that are integral to the overall concept of the Civic Auditorium’s architecture.   Conceived as a space for a variety of activities, Welton Beckett designed the Civic Auditorium for functionality and flexibility.  Some intact features that are part of the public space include the original adjustable auditorium main hall hydraulic floor, touted as revolutionary for its time, the innovative acoustical design and the soundproof sliding doors to the east conference rooms.  Additionally, although some alterations have been made, interior elements such as the wood paneling in the lobby, the auditorium entry doors, the volume and configuration of the lobby (both the first and second floors including the height and semi-circular shape of the lobby, the upper lobby’s shape being reflective of the lower lobby, and the columns), all contributing to the overall light, open and modernistic feeling), the volume and configuration of the auditorium main hall, the metal acoustical panels and wall sconces in the auditorium main hall, and the two floating staircases in the lobby, all attributes of the building’s integral design, remain intact and continue to be valuable to a study of this unique architectural style and method of construction.

 

The Civic Auditorium also includes some character-defining features in the backstage area that are not part of the public space, and thus not part of the landmark designation. These include the orchestra pit hydraulic lift mechanism, stage area and proscenium opening, stage rigging and historic signage along the east wall at the rear of the stage.

 

As a resource that still retains a comprehensive integrity of its original architectural design, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium satisfies this criterion.

 

(5)            It is a significant or a representative example of the work or product of a notable builder, designer, or architect.

 

The Civic Auditorium is the only surviving institutional design of master architect and Santa Monica resident Welton Becket in the City of Santa Monica. Becket is significant not only as a leading local designer, but, internationally.  His work is found throughout the world with notable commissions in Cairo, Havana, Manila, Honolulu, Tokyo, Boston, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Dallas, and includes numerous civic designs.

 

The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium is also significant for its association with internationally renowned acoustical engineer Vern O. Knudsen.  Knudsen, a professor and Chancellor of UCLA, was the world's leading authority on architectural acoustics, and a master designer of acoustically significant facilities. An ardent researcher and author on architectural acoustics, Knudsen wrote two seminal books and over one hundred articles, which appeared in scientific and technical journals.  As a consultant he was responsible for the acoustical design of over five hundred structures.  His principles in architectural acoustics became the foundation for the design of contemporary soundstages.  The acoustical panels developed for the Civic Auditorium by Knudsen are still highly functional and have required minimal maintenance over the last 43 years.  Therefore, the Civic Auditorium meets this designation criterion.

 

(6)            It has a unique location, a singular physical characteristic, or is an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood, community or the City.

 

The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium has a unique location within the Civic Center, at the bend of Main Street. Its grand scale, and unique design with futuristic pylons, commands attention as one travels south along Main Street.  Pigmy Date Palm trees frame the north entry to the building.  The Civic Auditorium is also a familiar and integral part of the Civic Center complex.  The Civic Auditorium is, thus, an important visual monument in the City of Santa Monica. Therefore, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium satisfies this criterion.

 

 

 

Prepared by:              Suzanne Frick, Director

Jay M. Trevino, AICP, Planning Manager

Amanda Schachter, Principal Planner

Kimberly Christensen, AICP, Senior Planner

Elizabeth Bar-El, AICP, Associate Planner

City Planning Division

Planning and Community Development Department

 

 

Attachments:

 

A.     Appeal Application and Timeline Waiver

B.     Landmarks Commission Staff Reports dated October 8, 2001 and November 12, 2001

C.    Landmarks Commission Minutes dated October 8, 2001 and November 12, 2001

D.    City Landmark Evaluation Report, dated September 28, 2001

E.     PCR Memorandum dated November 5, 2001 (addendum to evaluation report)

F.     Public Notice

G.    Landmarks Commission Statement of Findings and Determination

H.     Letters Received Regarding the Application

I.         Landmarks Designation Application

 

 

 

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