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Philanthropic Group May Help to Reopen Marion Davies Estate

The Annenberg Foundation will fund an assessment of the Pacific Coast Highway site and could agree to help Santa Monica improve it.

June 01, 2004|Julie Tamaki | Times Staff Writer

The effort by Santa Monica to remake the old Marion Davies estate on Pacific Coast Highway may have found a new ally with deep pockets: the Annenberg Foundation.

The foundation has agreed to underwrite an assessment of the actress' former home -- also known by its address, 415 Pacific Coast Highway -- to gauge its condition and determine how much it would cost to reopen it to the public, said Leonard Aube, the organization's managing director.

Built in the 1920s by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst for Davies, the property was once the site of lavish Hollywood parties and later the private Sand and Sea Club, before its closure in 1994 because of damage from the Northridge earthquake.

A gift by the foundation could eliminate the need for the city to partner with private developers to redo the site -- an approach Santa Monica had been considering to raise the millions necessary to cover the cost of an overhaul. Involving private developers, however, had raised concerns among some fans of the site, including Wallis Annenberg.

The vice president and trustee of the foundation started by her late father, publishing magnate Walter Annenberg, took a renewed interest in the property after reading an article about the city's efforts to remake the site -- possibly as a beach park -- and how those plans were running short of funds.

"She's not only interested in a lovely community and public spaces, but when she heard the site could fall to an approach where it might be largely turned over to a commercial enterprise, I think the philanthropist spirit rose within her," Aube said. "She has fond memories of visiting the Sand and Sea Club."

If the foundation completes its work this month and decides to make a donation, the Santa Monica City Council could take up the issue in July, said Barbara Stinchfield, the city's director of community and cultural services.

Added Santa Monica Mayor Richard Bloom: "If it comes to fruition, it constitutes an act of extraordinary generosity. It will help us preserve priceless historic coastal access for the benefit of the community."

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