With a December demolition deadline threatening Santa Monica's oldest standing building, the City Council has decided to move the Rapp Saloon to city-owned property if that is what it will take to save it.
Although city leaders said they would rather see the building remain at its current location, they have directed city staff to consider two other sites.
The property owners, who want to sell the 15,000-square-foot parcel, say they have been hamstrung by the city's law governing historical landmarks.
The 900-square-foot Rapp Saloon on 2nd Street, between Broadway and Santa Monica Boulevard, was built in 1875. Used briefly in the late 1880s as City Hall, the masonry building has been vacant for 10 years.
The Lewis Shell Trust, which owns the property, applied for a demolition permit June 19, 1984, to either raze the structure or have it removed to another location to develop the property.
Because the building is a designated city landmark, the owners had to wait a year to obtain a permit. They have until Dec. 18 to demolish it or remove it.
If the building is not removed or demolished by Dec. 18, the law requires the owners to wait another year before taking any other action, according to Rosario Perry, attorney for the Shell Trust.
Perry said the landmark law is inflexible. He said that the Shell family has been trying for seven years to sell the property "without success because of the unsettled question of what to do with the building."
"We cannot sell the property with the building on it," Perry said. "The only bona fide offers we have received involved removal or demolition of the building.
"At the same time, the city has not been cooperative in reaching a deal with the owners to allow potential new owners a density bonus if they maintain the building on the property.
"We are in the position of having to force the city into action by threatening to demolish the building--and neither the Shells nor I want to raze the structure."
The City Council on Tuesday authorized city staff to develop a plan to move the building to city property, either immediately north of City Hall on Maint Street or to a parking lot across the street from the building's current location.
Mayor Christine E. Reed said, however, that the city would like the building to remain on the site. "Obviously," she said, "preservation groups prefer that historically significant buildings stay where they are.
"If that is not possible in this case, our main concern is that the building be saved, even if it means moving the structure to another site."
Reed said that she is in favor of a density bonus for any new owner who would leave the building on the property. Current zoning allows construction of a three-story building on the site; Reed said that she would be willing to allow a four-story building there.
"I have had a lot of calls from developers saying they would be willing to incorporate the building into their development of the site," Reed said. "I hope that they can get together with the owners before the deadline."
Perry said that the owners would be more than willing to put off demolishing the building if the city would be more cooperative in trying to settle the issue.
"We are not the bad guys in this situation," Perry said. "The city bureaucracy set up to save historical structures is being used by the city to delay any action--and (it is) forcing us to look like the bad guys."
Stanley E. Scholl, general services director, said that his office is preparing plans to move the building on schedule in December if it becomes necessary.