In honor of the United Nations COP26 Climate Change Conference this week in Scotland, here is a timely wake-up call. We take our trees for granted. We are all guilty of that. Think back to your childhood. Unless you grew up in the middle of a huge metropolis, some of your most vivid and beloved memories likely revolve around the trees you played in, around and under. They were just there, you thought. They existed in your neighborhood before you got to this earth, and they will be there when you are gone, right? NOT CORRECT! If we don’t take our relationship with our trees more seriously, they won’t be here to stretch their graceful branches over the playgrounds of our children of the future.
Why keep old trees instead of planting new ones? It can take a young tree many years to reach its full height and width. A fully grown tree can absorb more than 48 pounds of carbon dioxide per year while also releasing oxygen into the air. In Chicago, for example, trees remove more than 18,000 tons of air pollution every year. Trees are of course a global concern. Each of us can begin to preserve them at the neighborhood level, one tree at a time.
In a very well-researched article for the LA Times published Nov. 1, reporter Tony Barbosa pointed out the differences in global warming, quality of life and health between communities with tree-rich communities and those with more concrete than trees. He says: “Areas with few trees and lots of sidewalks, large buildings and other heat-absorbing surfaces can be 10 degrees warmer than surrounding areas … a canopy coverage of over 40% can cool the air by up to 10 degrees.”
I heard “through the vine” on social media that some tenants of the oldest apartment building in the San Vicente Boulevard Courtyard Apartments Historic District here in Santa Monica are facing the loss of a few dozen old trees that have grown on their property for decades. The current owner of the building has decided to tear down the existing trees in favor of a severe remake. Trees to be removed include a star pine, a silver dollar eucalyptus, an avocado tree, an edible fig tree, a rubber tree, an Italian stone pine and an umbrella tree.
The landlord’s new design would remove the shadows and greenery that give this building its aura of a bygone era and make it one of the most breathtaking natural beauty havens in Santa Monica. This Streamline Moderne architectural gem at 212 San Vicente features a courtyard that echoes the original design of the complex by architect William E. Foster, who also designed the Shangri La Hotel on Ocean Avenue. The Courtyard 212 currently needs cleaning and trimming. However, it is an exceptional place of peace, shade and tranquility inhabited by wild birds and squirrels. The old trees in the inner courtyard offer cooling shade and release oxygen to the environment.
The tenants of 212 are just as much part of a property as the vegetation. Most of them have had their homes in this complex for many years and as its caretakers they have added to its value. This courtyard is an extension of your apartments. The pine in front of it began as a tiny sapling that was placed on a windowsill by Marie, an aging Vaudois actress and the first 212-year-old tenant. When she felt it was done, she planted it where it stands today, higher than the building it is shading. Note that the owner chose to save these jaws. Other tenants planted trees that are now magnificent and in bloom. You have invested your time and passion in the property. The owner invested money. The tenants’ battle for their trees turns into a battle between David and Goliath – passion for dollars.
Jeff Appel is the owner of 212 San Vicente. As the owner / manager of a historic property, the Mills Act gives him a good real estate tax break. Conversely, he is responsible for the preservation of the historical elements of the building and its outdoor facilities, and the monument commission has to approve major changes. On September 13, the commission gave him permission to make updates and repairs to the building itself and postponed the landscape decision to the upcoming Landmarks Commission meeting on Monday, November 8 at 7:00 p.m.
The question at the September meeting seemed to be whether the historical designation of these buildings included the gardens and courtyards of the buildings or whether it only applied to the buildings. Wait what The name of the neighborhood is “The San Vicente Boulevard”. Courtyard Apartments Historic District! “Can you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with just peanut butter? Can you get a historic courtyard house from 1937 without preserving its contemporary courtyard? This concept should apply to all buildings in the historic district. The Ordinance on Construction of the historic district was passed by the city council in January 2016 stating that the “courtyard apartments in the district are of small scale … and in 1956 with an overall plan or plan that includes a landscaped open space.”
Every landowner in the world is a steward of the neighborhood that surrounds their land. 212 is owned by a high profile Santa Monica landlord who owns several properties in the historic San Vicente neighborhood. He has already changed the landscaping on more than one of these lots and it is reported that he intends to “do them all,” according to one local resident.
212 tenants feel that Mr. Appel listens to them more honestly than previous landlords. He could be an example of professionalism and sensitivity to the surroundings of his property and buildings – he could demonstrate a commendable environmental awareness and landmark of Santa Monica by asking his design team to revise his plan for 212 San Vicente to reflect the design Era of the building and incorporating the existing trees rather than demolishing them in favor of the contemporary landscaping he wishes to install.
He’s listened to his tenants’ concerns and has agreed to make some minor changes to his landscaping, highlighting some of the concrete surfaces from his design. However, it shouldn’t take away the historical look of the courtyard. This is part of the original architecture of the building. He says he’s going to plant new trees and that’s fine. However, these new trees will not ripen for years. He should leave the old trees, at least until his new trees are tall enough to provide shade and beauty.
The Santa Monica City website states on its Urban Forest page: “The Santa Monica Urban Forest is a valued resource and a cornerstone of sustainable communities. Larger trees provide significantly greater environmental benefits to the community than smaller ones. ”Older trees are part of the importance of the Historic District.
This is a call to arms for all Santa Monicans! Our city has lost a lot of its treetop in the last ten years. We need to cherish the living history of our city and we need to start respecting and working with our trees, one tree at a time, if we want our planet to survive. Sign the petition – go to @ Save212Trees on Instagram. Write to the Landmarks Commission or call for the meeting. “One step at a time”, you can make a difference!
To give your opinion at the Landmarks Commission meeting on Monday, November 8th. at 7:00 p.m. to express:
Watch the meeting at https://primetime.bluejeans.com/a2m/live-event/fzurvwcx
When the call queue for the agenda item opens, dial 1 408 740 7256, passcode 8172. Call time limit 3 minutes. Or email the commissioners at [email protected]
By guest author Kathryn Boole for SMart.
SMart Santa Monica Architects for a responsible tomorrow
Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA, Ron Goldman FAIA, Architect, Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building and Fire Safety Commission, Samuel Tolkin Architect, Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, Planning Commissioner, Marc Verville MBA, CPA (Inactive), Michael Jolly, AIR-CRE.
For previous articles see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing