Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ficus Trees not Landmarked:

Well, the Ficus Trees of 2nd and 4th Streets (see Treesavers/ Ficus Posts) finally came up before the Landmarks Commission last Monday: the trees were not saved but a hero was resurrected - Santa Monica’s own 1960's “Jackie”, Jacqueline Girion.

To qualify for a “Landmark” the subject has to fulfill one of 6 designated criteria. We –Treesavers- believed the trees fulfilled 4 criteria. How could you deny that these two avenues with their dense canopies providing endless environmental benefits, which in turn are proven to provide many monetary benefits, are not of “noteworthy interest or value”? How could you deny that these beautiful, majestic trees, giving the streets their only unity, have “aesthetic or artistic interest”? How could you deny that, being the only Ficus’ in the Commercial Center and Historic District, they have a “unique location” or that, giving the streets identity, they are “an established and familiar visual feature of a neighborhood, community or the City”?

Two other criteria cover Social History and being ”identified with historic personages or with important events in local, state or national history”.
At the previous Hearing the Commission had already- unbelievably! - indicated that Environmental Benefits were NOT of value but had expressed interest in the history we had unearthed. This was that in 1961 a woman named Jacqueline Girion had collaborated with the Chamber of Commerce and businessmen, setting up an all-women City Beautiful Committee to initiate Tree Planting in the commercial sector. So we concentrated on this. Intense work by members of our research group produced fascinating results. The first “coup” to excite us was finding Girion’s sons (she died ten years ago), followed by many articles being discovered in archive newspapers.

Having initially just been involved in the aesthetic/ environmental aspects, we were all drawn into this social history. Here was this “housewife” doing her charity work- as had a long history of Santa Monican women- but with the emergence of feminism actually having a voice- and a voice that men listened to. She could be called an early environmental activist.
This wonderful woman had the vision to initiate street planting on 2nd and 4th Streets realizing that trees would draw shoppers to the area and benefit business- as since proven by research: see Link to Kathleen Wolf (Washington University).

Our research culminated in two of Girion’s five sons attending the Hearing. They spoke very movingly about their mother. The seven members of the Commission expressed interest but the one person to have the integrity to see the historical significance of Jacqueline Girion was the only Architectural Historian, Ruthann Lehrer. The other six members voted for the trees not to be Landmarked. We feel we have won a victory- we have proved the Ficus are Landmark-worthy; there is still hope.

“Trees become more beautiful when the contrast is the cold, solid buildings that make up a business district”. Jacqueline Girion 1961

Kathleen Wolf

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