Rich With History

A Challenging Transformation

Turning a long dormant and damaged site into a beachfront recreation and historic mecca was a significant challenge for the design team. Unique in many ways, the site did provide a rare combination of a dramatic natural setting, significant cultural and architectural assets, and a signature public realm of regional importance.

In keeping with the city’s commitment to be greener, design of the beachside facility also required many sustainable measures to reduce its environmental impact.

Inside and out, the new Community Beach House exemplifies the city’s policy to protect, preserve, and restore the natural environment. Contaminants found in the soil, as well as in the historic guest house and swimming pool, were removed, leaving a clean slate for the project’s toxic-free development.

Other hazardous materials included lead-based paint, asbestos insulation and wooden piles containing toxic preservatives. Even with these materials, about 98 percent of construction waste was diverted from landfills.

There was a myriad of difficulties associated with renovating an historic property: structural stability, toxicity and unforeseen conditions, such as asbestos, mold and water intrusion. For these reasons, proper due diligence, coupled with comprehensive design analysis, was vital to ensure that the site was suitable for the new uses.

Besides remediation and historic preservation, other challenges included selecting softscapes and hardscapes that would survive the harsh beach elements, gaining the community’s consensus on the plans, meeting the strict city lighting requirements (such as no-bleed lighting), and working with the California Coastal Commission on utility upgrades.

Tying The Eclectic Site Together

The site plan’s primary organizing device is a concrete wall that serves as a backbone to the eclectic elements of the project, and as a sound buffer to the adjacent Pacific Coast Highway. The wall is subtly stained with green stripes to suggest beach awnings. Vines, hedges and evergreen trees have been planted along solid building walls for softening, and as a deterrent to potential vandalism.

The historic wood-clad bulkhead on the wood fences has also been restored. The new buildings and landscape elements of the project are designed to create a public gateway to the beach, an icon for the site’s history and a framework for many of the community uses, and to underscore the site’s status as a notable landmark for the city, the region and California.

Echoing the past, the 1921 mean high-tide line, which has moved seaward dramatically, has become a beach walk to bring visitors onto and across the site. The path follows this old surf line along the 750-foot breadth of the site.

The walk itself is constructed with panels of recycled plastic lumber, and follows the historic tide line, acting as a promenade and connecting the parking lots to the building entrances. Visual connections have been restored between the guest house and the pool, and beyond the site to the mountains, the bluffs, the Santa Monica Pier and the ocean. Expanded decks alongside a café provide gathering areas for both formal and informal events.

Midway along the boardwalk — at the center line where the Davies mansion once stood — a second boardwalk facilitates accessibility across the deep beach to the water’s edge.

Continuing north, the boardwalk passes beach-volleyball courts that maintain the game’s presence on the site where the game was invented.

On the inland side of the boardwalk, north of the pool, is a series of ground-level terraces framed with landscaping. Areas include a children’s play spot with a water feature, and other spaces shaded by palm and melaleuca trees.

Planting in the beach areas has been limited to palms and native beach grasses that thrive without additional water. Tall palms planted at the Pacific Coast Highway entrances tie the site to the city park above the beach house, and provide optimal visibility of the facility from the roadway.

The pool deck — surrounding the historic Julia Morgan-designed pool — includes the original marble pool coping and restored concrete paving with marble insets.

Flower gardens on the lower levels surround an assembly by the project artist, Seattle-based Roy McMakin. Art and interpretive features have also been integrated into the public areas to enrich the visitor experience of the historic site, the beach and the glamour of the bygone era. Plant materials recall the lush flowering plants from the historic Gold Coast period. First-level plantings are low to the ground to maintain the historic character of the space as an open, paved patio.

Combining Style With Sustainability

The Beach House has received a LEED Gold Rating from the U.S. Green Building Council — no easy feat, especially since the site underwent significant remediation.

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