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Playhouse: Efforts to Retrofit the Building

November 24, 1994

Although I now live in Maryland, I am deeply interested in the continued welfare and progress in my chosen "hometown" of Santa Monica. I feel qualified by my interest and experience as a former Landmarks Commissioner to comment regarding a matter I understand is now in the hands of Santa Monica officials for consideration: earthquake retrofitting, restoration, and future operation and maintenance of the Miles Playhouse and selection of a nonprofit organization to carry out the project.

The Miles Playhouse lay in a heap of rubble the day after the January earthquake. I, and other Landmarks Commissioners, had been reviewing the prospects for earthquake reinforcement of the building for quite some time. The catastrophic destruction, instead of discouraging us, only intensified our concern that its retrofitting and restoration be started as soon as possible.

It is not necessary to detail the historic significance of the Miles Playhouse to the community. This designated Santa Monica Landmark has already been documented by others more highly qualified than I. Considering the cost and effort required to retrofit it to earthquake standards, restore and preserve it, as well as maintain and operate the structure in the future for the greatest benefit of the community, it appears almost axiomatic that the undertaking would require a concerted effort by a dedicated and fully self-supporting effective community organization.

For almost 20 years, the Santa Monica Historical Society has performed its important goals as established through the Santa Monica Centennial Committee on its inception. It has persevered to preserve local history, to encourage others in the community, particularly students, to be proud of their heritage and participate in preserving Santa Monica's few remaining historic structures, to research the history and make available to the community at large, historians and others researching the area's cultural heritage, its collections of multicultural memorabilia, artifacts, oral history, documents and other resource materials.

The society has managed to provide a dignified, articulate and relevant historical museum and cultural resource center appealing to all ages and diverse ethnic and interest groups in the community in whatever location it had at the time. This, in spite of difficult economic times and many moves from one location to another in its quest to find a permanent home for its vast collections.

At the present time, the Santa Monica Museum of History and Cultural Resource Center is located at 1539 Euclid St. The number and variety of visitors to the museum, and their unsolicited comments, indicate that this venture has been successful despite constraints of space and lack of an appropriate ambience (not a historic structure). While not profitable in the sense of a commercial venture, the growing membership of the society has continued to support the museum and its other activities promoting Santa Monica's history throughout the community without relying on public city funds.

I am not on-site or sufficiently familiar with the floor plans to detail exactly how the building might most effectively be used. However, it seems to me that we have two needs in our community for which the fulfillment of each might be found by fitting them together like the missing pieces of a puzzle.

First, we have a designated Santa Monica Landmark in urgent need of funding to cover expenses of retrofitting and restoration. This work must be started soon to prevent further deterioration of the structure. It will require the concentrated effort of a strong volunteer group to finance, operate and maintain the structure for the future.

Second, we have a historical society that critically needs as soon as possible a permanent location for its museum and collections of historical artifacts, memorabilia, documents and resource materials. The most appropriate location would be in a structure of historical significance to the community.

The Santa Monica Historical Society has already proven its ability to forge a cohesive and effective membership willing--and able--to provide the organizational and financial support needed for this project. The society, of which I am still a member, is aware of--and qualified to apply for--various grants and funds available to a nonprofit organization for preserving such a landmark as the Miles Playhouse. In addition, the society has the capability of mounting a communitywide fund-raising campaign and access to private funds to carry out this endeavor.

The pieces of the puzzle seem to me to be a perfect fit. One could quibble and nit-pick for years. I am sure that such activity is now going on in the community. Many organizations want the Miles Playhouse for their pet project. However, it would be a travesty to rely on an unproven organization without a track record of raising sufficient resources or marshaling the necessary volunteer support to undertake such a monumental venture.

I urge every civic-minded resident of Santa Monica to look carefully at the solution to the two community needs which I propose. I believe that after serious consideration the entire community will come together to support the Santa Monica Historical Society in restoring the Miles Playhouse.

GERI M. LITVAK, Ft. Meade, Md.

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