by RIP RENSE
A LANDMARK ON DEATH ROW
Aug. 30, 2006
Teriton Apartments in Santa Monica have historical value? You might
as well ask, does Santa Monica have historical value? Does Los Angeles?
Once upon an increasingly
long time ago, Southern California was substantially made of Teriton
Apartments. That is, modest enclaves of comfortable living quarters arranged
around lyrical courtyards of soft flowerbeds and wandering cats, lined up in
pastel rows on side streets that were not just somebody’s commuting
This was a Southern
California of short lines and uncrowded freeways---hell, of no
freeways---and supermarket checkers who knew your name, whistling Helms
trucks, morning milk bottles, cul-de-sac baseball, turn signals, full stops.
People used to opt
to live in apartments then. These were homes, not hotels. There was no shame
in renting, no embarrassed declaration along the lines of “This is just
temporary” or “I’m saving for a condo” or “My wife cleaned me out.”
preposterously swanky names, like “The Brockton Arms,” “The Versailles,”
or just preposterous, like “The Tiki Lanai.” Some had high style, with
castle turrets and wishing wells, and some were serious, businesslike. All
were affordable. Apartment living was a wonderful option for working people.
Remember $50 a month? Okay, $250?
This was before the late
‘70’s when New Yorkers discovered Los Angeles, moved west like escaped
inmates, and everyone went money-mad. Before Reagan, million-dollar condos,
million-dollar “fixer-upper” houses, before developers began to think only
in terms of dollars and density.
| “San Vicente is three blocks long and
has some apartment buildings on it, and somebody had a wild hair and
said let’s make that an apartment district. Ha ha.”---Rosario Perry.
Today, many of the old buildings endure, but the humane rents and contented
single working tenants are mostly gone. A lot of Lanais and Arms and Manors
are jammed with roommates and immigrant families of ten, and have barred
windows, thundering stereos, and lots of no new paint. Others have
boxed-steel fences and security gates and rents that are no problem if you
deal coke on the side.
Thousands of other
buildings have been razed to make way for rectangular boxes of $800,000
condos that gobble every square inch of available lot space. Where pepper
trees and azaleas were once artfully arranged around stair and walkway, now
there is only concrete. “Gardens” sprout at the edges like crabgrass in
sidewalk cracks. Blocks fill up with blockhouses.
All over town, from
Beverly Hills to Reseda to Pasadena to Westwood, apartment-lined
boulevards are becoming death rows of old Southern California. Whole streets
of venerable edifices suddenly find themselves cordoned off by temporary
chain-link fencing and “notification of pending development” signs. Realtors
pronounce time of death, bulldozers remove the corpses. A few escape by
dressing up in skylights and double-paned windows and posing as condos, but
they won’t get away with it for long.
Some of the old places,
like the Teriton, have held out. Thanks to rent control, there are pockets
that retain the old sense of neighborhood, and tenants who regard their
one-bedroom upper with tiled kitchen and jacaranda tree outside the window
as. . .home. It has reached a point where these areas are referred to, jaw-droppingly
enough, as “historical apartment districts.” One such place is the west end
of San Vicente Bouelvard in Santa Monica, the coral-tree-bisected byway
where the Teriton unobtrusively nestles.
You’d drive right past
the Teriton without noticing. It’s on the first curve as you enter San
Vicente heading east from Ocean Avenue, and it’s gone in two beige seconds.
It was not built to be noticed, when architect Sanford White designed it in
1949. It was built to gracefully and organically fit into and complement its
grassy, florid environment, rather like White’s other various other Los
Angeles area buildings. No, the San Vicente Courtyard Apartment District, as
it is listed in the Santa Monica Historical Resource Inventory, is not so
much an “apartment district” as it is a botanical garden that happens to
Ever watch a few
backhoes wreck a building? It’s amazing how easily accomplished this is.
A structure that for 40 or 50 years hosted marriages, melodramas, musicians,
babies, deaths, triumphs, breakdowns, epiphanies is in a matter of a few
hours reduced to chunk and splinter, scooped into trucks, hauled away.
Bulwark walls are stripped indecently to skeletons. Bedrooms fold over on to
crushed kitchens, toilets tumble in porcelain jumble, front doors lose the
worlds they long introduced, windows frame only ground.
Rabbi Hertzel Illulian’s
non-profit religious organization, Or Haim Hashalom, wants to do this to the
Teriton---and in its place install a complex to allegedly contain a “refugee
center,” (details of which the Rabbi does not reveal), expensive “life
lease” condos, (details of which the Rabbi does not reveal), a temple
(details of which the Rabbi does not reveal.)
Many Teriton residents
suspect this is a ploy to develop the incredibly lucrative property,
tax-free, but even if it is not, it is hard to figure how this religious
center would fit into the San Vicente Historic Apartment
District---aesthetically, architecturally, functionally, or ethically. This
is, after all, a neighborhood of mixed race, religion, and ethnicity.
Installing housing available only to one ethnic or religious group, whatever
the pretext, does not feel exactly integrated into the immediate community.
So to speak..
One can only wonder, as
many have, why did the Rabbi select this $ 11-million-piece of property,
where people would have to lose their homes of years, decades? Why not a
larger, less expensive property, with less restrictions on the number of
units to be built? No evictions? No fighting the city and residents pushing
for landmark status for their home?
That’s what is happening
with the Teriton. Residents and neighbors want to have it declared a
“The Teriton,” said
Louis Scaduto, “is a gem. It is one of the few remaining post-war modem
courtyard intact structures boding the unique tenets of the international
style. If this building is gone, part of the richness of Santa Monica’s
architectural heritage will disappear.”
Scaduto knows of what he
speaks. He is an architect, born and raised in Santa Monica. He was on a
waiting list for five years---five years!---just to move into the Teriton,
where he has lived since 1997 (doubling his rent in the process.)
“The Teriton reflects a
moment in time when the International Style attempted to equalize varying
cultural, social and economic backgrounds in an architectural language,” he
said. “From the air, the Teriton shows a remarkable similarity to the 1925
Bahaus ‘pinwheel building composition.’ We believe Sanford Kent was clearly
influenced by Water Gropius, particularly his home in Lincoln, Mass., built
in 1938, and Le Corbusier’s Quartiers Modernes, sharing similar short
grouping of ribbon windows with steel post supports, and the distinctive
upper level terrace roof gardens.”
Rosario Perry, attorney/CEO/CFO for Or Haim Hashalom, put things in less
erudite language. He calls the buidling's possible landmark status a “sham”
and a “ruse” and he lashed out at one resident, whom he identified as “an
architect,” for “abusing the system” because he is paying comparatively low
landmark design,” said Perry, “is just being used by some tenants in the
building who are opponents of the development to stop us from doing our
project. It’s a ruse. But it’s politics. But it’s something we need to say.
That’s my two cents on that. It’s just a sham that some people are trying to
use the city to do it.”
Yet such efforts date
back decades.Paul Gleye, architectural consultant to the City of Santa
Monica, wrote this in his 1983 report to the city:
“San Vicente Boulevard
retains a relatively recent but unique ensemble of Southern California
apartment courts. These courts, larger scale descendants of the bungalow
style court and small apartment court of the 20th century, were designed in
many styles, but in concept and plan they are a southern California
Here is Perry’s
considered opinion of the matter:
“San Vicente is three
blocks long and has some apartment buildings on it, and somebody had a wild
hair and said let’s make that an apartment district. Ha ha.”
|“I love living in an older
building. I love having an almost fully tiled bathroom. I love the
soap dish in the kitchen. I love the linoleum floor in the kitchen
that reminds me of my childhood."---Christie Savage.
Perry and Or Haim
Hashalom reportedly are invoking a California state law (AB 133) to exempt
the Teriton from landmark status. The bill was passed after the ’89
earthquake in San Francisco, to provide for the demolition of badly damaged
Teriton resident Christie Savage said that it is being improperly applied, as
it was designed for buildings that already serve a religious
Apartments have merit architecturally and historically and should be
preserved, “said Savage, who has lived in the building for 32 years(!)
“I moved here in 1974,
before rent control,” she added. “He (Perry) spoke about tenants doing this
(fighting for landmark status) merely to keep their rent control apartment.
I moved here before rent control. I’m not here now because of rent
control. I’m here because of the quality of the building. And I resent his
implication that I’m doing this solely for monetary reasons.”
So if not low rent, why
is Savage so attached to the place? Answer: a word that Perry, during two
long phone interviews with The Rip Post, never used even once. . .
“This is going to sound
silly,” she said. “I love the location. I love living in an older building.
I love having an almost fully tiled bathroom. I love the soap dish in the
kitchen. I love the linoleum floor in the kitchen that reminds me of my
childhood. I love having a front door and back door and porch. These are
things that you don’t get in a new building. Although if I move, I will move
to a newer building, because if I live in something of this vintage, it’s
probably going to get knocked down.”
As I said, whole streets
have become death rows for an older and better Southern California.
Of course, you don’t
need to invoke Sanford White or Bauhaus to establish historical and
architectural significance here. It is the Teriton’s very grace, clean
lines, subtlety, and aesthetic fit that make it all the more precious in
this neighborhood-killing era of monstrous, garish condo boxes. It is the
Teriton’s increasing rarity, its importance as a fast-vanishing piece of a
gentler time that seals its historical importance. It is its function as a
still-vibrant habitat for those who love the idea of modest apartments as
homes that secures its significance in a time of WWII-era houses converted
into gaudy, bloated 21st century palaces.
These factors should, in
the end, turn Perry’s charges that Teriton residents are engaging in a
“sham” and “ruse” right back on him, Rabbi Illulian, and Or Haim Hashalom.
Otherwise, you might as
well just go ahead and tear down the rest of old Santa Monica.
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