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Tenants Want Apartments Designated as Landmark to Stop Demolition

July 21, 1988|CHRISTOPHER KRUEGER | Times Staff Writer

Tenants of a Santa Monica apartment building are applying for landmark status as a tactic in their attempt to save the residence from demolition.

Rivington Place, an 18-unit, 1-story building constructed in 1932, is slated for demolition by its owner, Taico Properties, which has sought for 10 years to put a 4-story, 45-unit condominium complex on the Ocean Avenue site.

In a last-ditch effort, residents are attempting to get landmark status for the 1-story structure. They said the building, consisting of 1- and 2-bedroom apartments entered off a landscaped courtyard, deserves preservation because it is one of only a few remaining examples of residential architecture designed by Donald Parkinson.

Known for Civic Architecture

Parkinson, a Santa Monica native, is known for his civic architecture, including the city halls of Los Angeles and Santa Monica, Union Station, and the Los Angeles Coliseum. "The man's imprint is all over this city," tenant Bruce Cameron said. "But to our knowledge, this is the only Parkinson building for multifamily residence still standing."

Cameron, who pays $525 a month for a 2-bedroom apartment, added, "People wander in through here every week because this is such a beautiful structure."

Stephen Jones, attorney for Taico, scoffed at the notion that the structure across from Palisades Park deserves preservation.

"This (dispute) has been going on for 10 years and not until two weeks ago did anyone suggest they had historical value. This is nothing more than gamesmanship," Jones said.

If the tenants are successful in persuading the city Landmarks Commission that Rivington Place merits designation, it could provide the first test case of a city ordinance passed last year giving the commission the power to deny demolition, according to city Associate Planner Amanda Schacter. She said a decision on the application will probably be made in early September.

Yet the tenants acknowledge that their victory could be an empty one. Landmark status, they acknowledge, could allow the building to stand, but not protect them from eviction.

"We will probably be evicted," resident Carl Byron said. "But we will fight from the outside, if necessary, just to preserve the structure."

Jones called the bid for landmark status despite likely eviction "almost a spiteful attempt" by tenants bitter at Taico after losing their long-running battle to block eviction.

Rejected Permit

The Santa Monica Rent Control Board has twice voted to deny Taico a permit to remove the building. Most recently, it voted March 31 to reject a permit request under which Taico had promised to pay the tenants $20,000 each and to give them right of first refusal to move into new units of low-rent housing that the company is planning to build at 5th and Pacific streets.

Joel Levy, general counsel to the board, said the permit was rejected because the City Charter requires on-site replacement housing for tenants dislocated for demolition. The requirement is necessary to avoid "ghettoization"--division of the city into higher and lower income areas, he said.

He called the residents' refusal to accept the $20,000 to move out of Rivington Place a "courageous stand."

Jones said the board's unwillingness to compromise had led Taico to its current position where it is invoking the Ellis Act to evict the tenants. The state law, passed in 1986, allows for the eviction of tenants when a property owner decides to leave the rental business.

Jones said the Ellis Act allows it to demolish the property without approval by the Rent Control Board, but Levy said authors of the act never intended it to be used to circumvent local land-use laws.

Levy said a case pending before the state Court of Appeal, Javidzad vs. Santa Monica, tests whether the act supersedes city controls on removal of buildings. Regardless of the outcome of the landmark bid, the tenants at Rivington Place will not be evicted before the case is resolved, he said.

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