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Annenberg Foundation Gives City $21 Million to Refurbish Beach Club

By Cindy Frazier

December 16 -- Four years from now, a historic Santa Monica beach club could be reopened to the public.

The Annenberg Foundation has agreed to spend $21 million to refurbish a dilapidated "Gold Coast" beachfront property at 415 Pacific Coast Highway formerly owned by Marion Davies.

Just hours before the City Council unanimously approved a contract to proceed with long-dormant plans to build a public recreational and educational facility, Wallis Annenberg -- who heads the foundation's Los Angeles office -- agreed to fund the project.

The grant is "unprecedented" in the city, according to officials.

"This is an especially exciting project because this property will offer residents and families extraordinary access to a lovely stretch of beachfront property and will contribute to the quality of life in the area by providing a wide range of recreational opportunities," said Wallis Annenberg.

"The project will also help restore and preserve a spot that has a unique place in California history," she said.

Plans for 415 PCH by the firm of Moule & Polyzoides

Founded in the 1950s by publishing mogul Walter Annenberg, the foundation has made donations to other civic ventures, including the restoration of a historic post office in Beverly Hills for public uses.

The property - commonly referred to as 415 PCH -- was operated for many years as a private beach club. The former beach house of Davies, a 1920s-era film star who was associated with publisher William Randolph Hearst, was taken over by the city about ten years ago, and has languished ever since.

The property is owned by the state, which has granted the city an operating agreement for the site until the end of 2006. The city, which operates the Santa Monica State Beach, may be granted a contract to continue to operate the 415 PCH site for 50 years, with another 50-year extension.

Newly elected Council member Bobby Shriver, chairman of the state Park and Recreation Commission, was credited with assisting the project.

"Bobby Shriver has had tremendous support for this," said Paul Romero, chief deputy director of the California Parks Department, who attended the council meeting.

Shriver, in his first full meeting on the council, said he has known the Annenberg family for years and is delighted that they have taken an interest in the Santa Monica site.

Shriver, whose sister, Maria, is married to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, noted that the project has received the support of the "administration" in Sacramento.

The property, severely damaged in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, has been shuttered and fenced off for many years.

City officials had embarked on a revitalization project in the mid-1990s which called for the project to be operated as a part of the state parks department. But funding issues had stalled the project.

In January, the city applied for Annenberg funds to restore the site, which still contains several architecturally significant components: a guest house and swimming pool designed by noted architect Julia Morgan.

The 1999 plan retains the guest house and pool, and calls for a banquet center, a promenade and public recreational components.

Final plans for the refurbishment project have not been drawn up, and public workshops, or "charettes," will be conducted to determine the details of the project, City officials said.

Construction is expected to begin in 2006 and take two years to complete, said Barbara Stinchfield, director of the City's Community and Cultural Affairs Department.

Related Story:

"Foundation Brings Hope to Stalled Beach Club," May 27, 2004

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