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Movement to Save The Civic Picks Up Steam

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By Jorge Casuso

August 3, 2023 -- A grassroots movement to save the Civic Auditorium is picking up steam as two of Santa Monica's most prominent groups on Thursday announced they will assume leading roles in the effort.

The Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) is forming a steering committee and searching for a partner for the cash-strapped City that can restore the iconic building to its former use.

Meanwhile, the Santa Monica Conservancy called on the City and parties interested in buying or leasing the local landmark to "come forward and engage in a conversation about the status of this nationally significant building."

The calls come as efforts mount to pressure the City Council into halting closed-door negotiations to sell the property it designated last October as "surplus land."

At its July 25 meeting, the Council terminated negotiations with the City's affordable housing provider, Community Corp, leaving the School District as the lone potential buyer ("Council Ends Negotiations to Sell Civic Auditorium for Affordable Housing," July 27, 2023).

"We think selling off publicly owned spaces, without public input, is undemocratic, short-sighted and unacceptable," SMCLC wrote in a letter emailed to supporters Thursday.

"A progressive city should not shut its residents out of discussions deciding the fate of public land, especially an important, beloved, historic landmark like our Civic Auditorium."

The letter announced that Santa Monica and Westside residents are forming a Steering Committee to "stop the City Council from liquidating something that belongs to ALL OF US."

The committee also will "look for an entity with whom the City can partner to restore The Civic to its intended purpose as a venue for the performing arts, music, and other community events."

A study the School District is preparing to "determine the feasibility of its buying or leasing the Civic" will be made public August 11, and the Council will vote in September on whether to move forward with negotiations, the Coalition said.

The School District "apparently intends to use the space for a gym," the letter said. "We will analyze it, report back to you, and give you opportunities to volunteer to help the Steering Committee."

Meanwhile, the Conservancy said it has remained vigilant and will continue “to press for more details about any and all proposals so that we can confirm for the community that historic preservation goals are being met.”

Conservancy officials said they expect that retaining permanent Landmark status will be a condition of any sale or lease and that all work at the property will comply with federal standards for historic preservation.

"The Conservancy’s overarching priority is to encourage the City to find a viable use and rehabilitation strategy as soon as possible that will ensure the building’s integrity and status as a valued Santa Monica Historic Landmark," the Conservancy wrote in a letter to supporters Thursday.

"The Civic Auditorium is an excellent example of mid-20th century International Style by world-famous master architect and Santa Monica resident Welton Becket," the letter said.

"The history of activities at the Civic is woven into our community’s memories and it stands today as a resource eligible for national recognition."

Unlike SMCLC, the Conservancy, did not commit to restoring the auditorium -- which once hosted legendary rock concerts and the Academy Awards -- to its former use as a cultural venue.

The Secretary of the Interior Standards for Historic Preservation, the letter noted, "allow flexibility to accommodate new functional requirements while protecting key architectural elements, balancing preservation and change."

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