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Shotgun House Still Without a Home

By Brian Allen
Special to The Lookout

April 25 -- The fate of a landmark “shotgun house” remains in limbo after the Recreation and Parks Commission last week failed to decide whether it should go in the Main Street Community Gardens.

The structure, considered the last of its kind in Santa Monica, has been moved from its original Ocean Park site and is currently being stored in a hangar at the Santa Monica Airport.

The Ocean Park Community Organization (OPCO) -- which made saving the dilapidated structure a central crusade in the late 1990s before the group fell apart -- has failed to raise the necessary funds to restore the house, which must be moved by late summer to pave the way for construction of Airport Park.

But despite the deadline, the commission on Thursday voted to delay any decision after some 50 gardeners converged on its meeting to discuss potential changes to the gardens and block the relocation of the house, which would be used as a storage room or restroom facility.

The potential relocation of the 1880s shotgun house has “really pulled the garden community together,” said longtime gardener Marshall Siskin.

Local gardeners, who have convened in recent weeks to discuss the relocation and other proposed changes to the City’s rules for the garden, said they have no desire to see the shotgun house placed on or near their plots.

“The ‘community’ part of the garden seems to be disappearing,” said gardener Susan McCorey.

Former Mayor James Conn also called for retaining open space.

“The house is worth saving,” said Conn, an Ocean Park resident who served on the council in the 1980s. “But open space is sacred… We should do everything possible to save the space that we have.”

Others worried that relocating the old house could pose health risks.

“Isn’t this shotgun house covered in lead paint?” one gardener asked. “Isn’t it a health hazard? We don’t want it!”

After hearing from about a dozen gardeners, commission members expressed their own reservations about the house, which was given to the City by its disgruntled owner after it was declared a landmark six years ago.

“If it’s such a valuable historic landmark for the city, how dare we use it for a storage shed or a bathroom?” said Commissioner Phil Brock. “I want the house preserved, but not on this site.”

Brock moved that the Shotgun House not be allowed on the garden site or the adjacent parking lot, a motion seconded by Commissioner Neil Carrey, who felt that the gardeners had “spoken loudly” against the proposed move.

However, Commissioners Susan Cloke and Lori Nafshun worried that all options for the potential relocation had not been explored, including a proposal that would preclude the loss of any plots or parking spaces, but would affect trash pick-up at the site.

Another option, offered by local resident Stephen Rumf, was to relocate the 125-year-old house to an empty lot he owns across the street from the Main Street Gardens.

In the end, Brock’s motion failed, with the commission voting instead to fully explore all options for the shotgun house before making a final decision next month.

City staff had proposed the gardens as “the most feasible” site for the shotgun house because it would be highly visible and wouldn’t require removing trees or parking spaces, said staff member Karen Ginsberg.

“Ideally we’d like not to lose any gardens,” Ginsberg said, adding that the relocation of the shotgun house to the gardens “may require shifting.”

The gardeners -- many of whom have tended their gardens for over ten years after spending at least five on a waiting list -- also opposed term limits proposed by staff.

Under the proposal, gardeners, who are currently allowed to use their plots indefinitely if they keep them properly maintained and observe the rules, would be limited to seven-year terms beginning in July 2006.

The terms of the current gardeners would vary -- from seven to nine years determined by a lottery -- to avoid the plots turning over all at once.

Established in 1976, the gardens cover half an acre of prime City land divided into 60 plots. The gardens may need to be reconfigured to accommodate the house.

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