October 30, 2017

How One Tiny Shotgun House Survived Two Demolition Threats and Three Moves

  • By: Lauren Walser
Exterior of PReservation Resuorce Center

photo by: Preservation Resource Center

Santa Monica residents fought to save a 19th-century shotgun house; today it is home to the city's Preservation Resource Center.

For such a small building, the 11-foot-wide, three-room shotgun house in Santa Monica, California’s Ocean Park neighborhood has a big story.

The Queen Anne structure, with its simple board and batten construction and gingerbread brackets securing the porch posts, was built circa 1898, and originally sat two blocks south of its current location. Back then, Ocean Park was teeming with these small shotgun houses, built mostly for vacationers who were looking for a lodging option that was somewhere between an expensive resort and a tent on the beach. But as the neighborhood grew, and more permanent residents settled down there, many of these small houses were demolished or enlarged beyond recognition. The tiny shotgun house on 2nd Street was the last remaining structure of its kind.

But in 1998, its owner put forth plans to demolish the house and replace it with something bigger. Members of the nearby Church in Ocean Park and the Ocean Park Community Organization learned of the threat to the house and rallied to secure local landmark status for it. But the city’s Landmark Commission included a provision in the landmark status that still permitted demolition so long as the house was carefully photographed first. Nevertheless, the demolition plans were called off, and the house’s future seemed secure.

The house in 2000

photo by: Tom Zimmerman/SMPL Archives

The house, pictured in 2000.

Then one morning in 2002, shortly after the house changed owners, wrecking crews showed up at the house, and workers began removing its back room and tearing off most of its windows.

Once again, people in the neighborhood sprang to action. A group including the Church in Ocean Park, the Ocean Park Community Organization, and the newly created Santa Monica Conservancy formed an emergency coalition and worked with the city to halt demolition. They purchased the house for $1 and worked out a plan to relocate the house to a new, secure location.

“The house was in a neighborhood that really cherishes its history,” says Carol Lemlein, president of the board of directors of the Santa Monica Conservancy. “We were fortunate enough to have a number of people who were very friendly to preservation in the area.”

First move in 2002

photo by: Rick Laudati

The house, pulling into its first storage location at the Santa Monica Airport.

The house was loaded onto a flatbed truck and moved to a small lot at the nearby Santa Monica Airport. It sat there among cars and small airplanes for three years, until the airport cleared the space for a new park. The house was once again placed on a flatbed truck and this time moved to a city storage yard.

In 2007, after the Ocean Park Community Organization dissolved, the city of Santa Monica took over ownership. Community members and city staff worked together to find a permanent location for the house.

The house finally found its permanent home in 2014, on a city-owned lot across from the Ocean Park branch of the Santa Monica Public Library. It was, yet again, transported via flatbed truck and placed atop its newly poured foundation.

The Santa Monica Conservancy submitted a proposal to the city and won the right to rehabilitate the house and turn it into the Preservation Resource Center—a place for people to learn about local history and get practical preservation advice.

The conservancy led an ambitious fundraising campaign, receiving funding and in-kind donations from community members and local businesses, and from organizations like the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which awarded a grant for the rehabilitation efforts.

Then, with help from consultants at Pasadena, California-based Historic Resources Group, the conservancy members drew up a careful plan to keep the significant historical elements of the house while adapting it for a new use.

They removed non-historic features, restored the front porch to its earliest-known appearance, and replaced missing ornamentation along the exterior. They added insulation and replaced missing windows with re-creations of the originals, modeled after the one surviving 19th-century window. They repainted the house based on a paint analysis conducted by Historic Resources Group.

Interior, with wall closed

photo by: Preservation Resource Center

An interior wall was placed on a hinge to make the interior more flexible.

Interior, with wall open

photo by: Preservation Resource Center

With the door open, up to 25 people can comfortably gather in the space for meetings and other events.

The biggest challenge was making the 11-foot-wide space accommodating to large groups. To maximize the small interior, the conservancy placed one of the walls on a hinge, so that it could open up the space to fit groups up to 25 people.

In January of 2016, the Preservation Resource Center officially opened its doors, offering resources to property owners interested in pursuing landmark status for their historic resources, as well as advice on other preservation concerns. There are trained docents on site, as well as interpretive signage throughout the house about local history, the house’s rehabilitation, and basic preservation principles.

But the best demonstration of historic preservation in action, Lemlein says, is the shotgun house itself, which offers visitors an up-close look at a successfully rehabilitated historic structure.

“We wanted to demonstrate that we walk the talk,” she says.

The Preservation Resource Center, at 2520 2nd Street in Santa Monica, is open to the public Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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