Members of an aging Santa Monica beach club that is facing the wrecker's ball are trying to kick some sand in the faces of prospective developers.
Supporters of the Sand and Sea Club, calling themselves the Santa Monica Beach Preservation Assn., have quietly submitted a formal proposal that calls on the city to drop plans for leasing the site to a private hotel developer.
In return, the nonprofit group has pledged to produce higher revenues for the city and the state, to provide beachgoers with better access to the club, and to open the facility at 415 Pacific Coast Highway to more community activities.
"My people believe that this club is one of the few remaining examples of a way of life that should be preserved for future generations," said Charles Greenberg, the club's attorney. "We hope the city will consider this."
The last-ditch effort to preserve the club, a semi-private facility that for several years has faced an uncertain future, came as 10 developers were submitting proposals for a luxury hotel on the state-owned beach site. The City of Santa Monica, which manages the property, is reviewing the proposals.
Asst. City Manager Lynne Barrette said officials will give equal consideration to every proposition on the table, including the bid to maintain the property as a beach club. But the club's operator, who is one of the bidders for the hotel, said he doubts that the club members will prevail.
"I feel sorry for the fact that this era is gone," said Douglas Badt, the operator of the club for more than 25 years. "But I recognize the city and the state's obligation to operate this property as a public facility."
Greenberg estimated that as many as 200 of the club's 2,000 members are actively involved in the effort to save the facility, an attractive cluster of buildings centered around a swimming pool. He refused to disclose the specifics of the group's proposal, since it is under review by the city, but said the plans show that the club can be run in a non-discriminatory manner.
Greenberg said club members can also meet the city's proposal for a minimum of $500,000 a year in rent, more than four times the $120,000 a year currently paid by the club. Greenberg said the payment could be increased by eliminating Badt's profit and starting new money-making ventures.
Rick Gold said club supporters will also try to convince city and state officials that the fallout from developing the beach site would be too severe.
"One of the things that is of paramount concern to us is what development will do to the shoreline," Gold said. "I don't think that Pacific Coast Highway can handle the additional traffic and disruption from construction."
The Sand and Sea Club is located on Santa Monica's legendary Gold Coast, a strip of property popular with motion picture moguls in the 1920s and '30s. The five-acre parcel, which includes cabanas, a swimming pool, paddle tennis courts and a dining room, was once the estate of actress Marion Davies.
Bought in 1956
The state purchased the Sand and Sea in 1956. Under an agreement with public officials, Badt has operated it as a beach club since 1962. Members pay annual dues of $1,600 per family, and the facility is occasionally rented to outside organizations. More than 300 people are on a waiting list to get into the club, even though openings only occur once every two or three years.
"The club is still popular," said Badt, who is currently operating on a month-to-month lease with the city. "People enjoy themselves here on a good day, whether this sword of Damocles is hanging over their heads or not."
State officials are the ones holding the sword. They have threatened to close the club for years, complaining that it is improper for a private facility such as the Sand and Sea to be operated on state-owned beach land.
Decision Within a Year
The fate of the club should be known within about a year, and Barrette said that city officials may be ready to discuss specific proposals within a week.
In addition to providing better public access to the site, Barrette said applicants are expected to prove that they can produce the $500,000 per year in revenues needed for beach improvements and maintenance. They must also "apply the highest standards of architectural design." Barrette said that officials will not permit anyone to build offices or housing on the site.
Badt said he is convinced that Sand and Sea Club members cannot meet the city's revenue requirement without raising dues, which defeats the purpose of making the club more accessible. "The club is already seen as an elitist place," Badt said. "If they increase the fees it will appear even more elitist. And that's exactly what the city and the state don't want."
But Greenberg said that Badt and other prospective beachfront hotel developers are underestimating the members' resolve to make their plans work. The group will hold a $50-a-person fund-raiser Aug. 1. Supporters are also soliciting $100 contributions for a "Save the Club" fund.
If nothing else, Gold said the Sand and Sea Club should be preserved for the sake of tradition. "I have been involved with this place for 25 years" he said. "I met my wife there and now my children are experiencing the same things I experienced. There's a continuity there."