Sunday, October 30, 2011

Junipers: Santa Monica City Hall

I have long been an admirer of Santa Monica City Hall. This Landmarked building was built in 1938- 1939. It is described as Deco Moderne, a cross between Art Deco and Art Moderne and seems to me to be an archetypal town hall. An elegant geometric white structure, detailed with rich terracotta tiles, its facade is wonderfully contrasted with the dark green, exotically sculptured shapes of Juniper trees on either side of the entrance. Two more Junipers act as sentries when you enter the grounds. The whole effect is both grand and iconic.

Here it is: but alas not for long!

Now, apart from being so decorative, these evergreen Junipers are drought-tolerant and having been there since the late 40's could carry on helping the environment for another 100 years. So what does the City Council do? agree to get rid of them!

This is all to do with a wondrous new plan, a redesign of the landscaping to complement and connect to the planned new Palisades Garden Walk. I am extremely puzzled: are we not in a financial crisis, are there not countless unemployed and homeless people? Is this the time to redesign a beautiful, stately design? And with what? a nondescript, bit of urban design- regardless of being by James Corner, a designer of repute. The layout has no stature, no character:

Yes, they have included more trees- pollarded Western Sycamores- and a boring water feature replaces the Memorial Rose Garden. The Rose Garden may not have been stunning but at least it was made up of living flowers, rather than a series of familiar spurts of water.

However, the design has finally been approved by the City, after an appeal regarding stipulations by the Landmarks Commission, which were overthrown. I attended this meeting on October 25th, trying with other Treesavers to save the Junipers. The Landmarks Commission had wanted to retain the planters which housed the Junipers and also the original red brickwork of the steps, which continued as a pattern round the paving, connecting the building to the courtyard:

James Conner, however, wanted to remove the handrail on the ramp on the Southern approach. This entailed extending the ramp to a shallower gradient. To maintain the symmetry, he wanted to repeat this on the North side - this meant removing the Junipers. The brickwork he regarded as incompatible with the new materials- therefore it, too, must go.... A rather odd solution to the patterns of bricks on the courtyard was to score demarcation lines where they had been! One Councilmember, Kevin McKeown, made a stand for both the Junipers and the brickwork- but receiving no back-up joined in voting to accept the plans...

The four Junipers against the facade cannot be transplanted as they are too interwoven with the fabric of the building, but the plan is to relocate the other two.

What a tragedy- to lose six magnificent, valuable trees and a wonderful, iconic landscape...and what a waste of money...

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