Saving the Past and the Future

SM.a.r.t. (Santa Monica Architect’s for a Responsible Tomorrow) is always scanning the virtual horizon for threats to our urban fabric. We try to align the City into a better position to withstand the inevitable forces that want to destroy its buildings. The significant risks to our existing buildings, in order, are humans (either through neglect often leading to demolition or by the desire to densify, which also leads to destruction), earthquakes, termites (to wooden buildings), fire and more flood (Tsunami) and eventually sea level rise. Fortunately, this coming week we can take two positive steps to protect our City from two of these hazards.

While earthquakes are in second place in the ranking of threats, when they strike the damage is often fatal and always very expensive to repair. The reason for this high expense is that large earthquakes damage so many buildings simultaneously that the construction trades and suppliers cannot keep up with this temporary spike in demand so prices temporarily but inevitably spike. Since the last big quake in 1994, we are statistically overdue for a massive 6+ earthquake in Southern California. So if you are one of the owners of the approximately 11500 single family homes in our City, and if you have not yet upgraded your home’s connection to its foundations, now is your chance to get some financial help doing so.

Houses built–or even reinforced–before 1980 often need strengthening to keep them from sliding off their foundations during a quake. Homes damaged this way are often written off as a total loss and can present grave life-safety danger during an earthquake. Even if such a damaged building “survives” the quake, it may be too dangerous to enter to retrieve possessions and or memorabilia.

The repairs and reinforcement often require adding plywood panels to “cripple walls” (short portions of the wall between the top of the concrete foundation and the home’s raised floor), and new bolts to bind the building’s wood framing tightly to the concrete foundations. While these preventative crawlspace repairs are underway, you can stay in your home.

If you have not reinforced your home’s foundation against earthquakes since 1980, you can qualify for a state grant to help pay for the work. The cost of this type of reinforcement is not huge, but still, significant–the California Housing Authority says they average $5,300, but on the Westside grants may be higher. These grants can go up to about $3000.

State grants are still available, but time is running out quickly: you must register by Tuesday, November 13th to qualify. The awards come from the California Residential Mitigation Program, a joint effort of the California Earthquake Authority and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. The program is called Earthquake Brace & Bolt(EBB), and applicants can register for a grant here:

About a quarter of our City’s population lives in single family homes, so any earthquake risk reduction such as EBB can have a significant urban benefit.

At the other end of the spectrum is the preservation of existing buildings from the number one threat facing our City’s buildings which is demolition by market forces. This coming week, ten properties will be being considered for the 11th Street Bungalow Historic District. The Landmark Commission will have the opportunity to landmark this last remaining cluster of historic bungalows in the City’s original housing tract and decide if they will be preserved in perpetuity.

Located on the east side of 11th Street between Wilshire and Arizona and ranging in age from 1904 to 1925, these half a dozen intact contributors reflect where the growing edge of our now built out City was 100 years ago. These small one-story buildings, surrounded by 2 and three-story apartments and condominiums, reflect four different historical styles: California Bungalow, Hip Roofed Cottage, Craftsman and Spanish Revival. The homes are associated with 3 famous Santa Monica personages: Kenneth Strickfaden (1223 11th Street) a special effects genius whose breakout movie was the first Frankenstein; Joseph Rowe (1223 and 1229 11th Street) a master builder who built several significant Santa Monica homes; and Waldo Cowan (1233 11th street and 1107 and 1109 Arizona) a very engaged entrepreneur who was part of the City’s early Commissions and Boards, car businesses and real estate development. These homes represent how middle-class families lived a century ago. Such important centenarian buildings are disappearing at an alarming rate from more than 400 in 1913 to less than 15 today.

The creation of this potential landmarked district will be discussed by the Landmarks Commission Monday, November 12th at 7 p.m. at City Hall. You are all invited and encouraged to come down to advocate for such a district. SM.a.r.t., of course, hopes that all owners, but particularly those of historic properties bolt them to their footings because they were all built before current earthquake codes had evolved. Such civic participation from the seismic upgrade of single-family homes to the establishment of historic districts of single-family homes is a way to ensure the sustainability and continued existence of our City’s low rise character.

By Dan Jansenson and Mario Fonda-Bonardi AIA for Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow

Sam Tolkin, Architect; Dan Jansenson Building and Safety Commissioner, Architect; Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Chair Planning Commission; Ron Goldman, FAIA; Thane Roberts, AIA; Bob. Taylor, AIA