Zephyr Rally Cry

While the dirty, filthy paradise of Dogtown and the monumental Pacific Ocean Park Pier may have vanished from the landscape faster than we can say gentrification, one last relic of the surf/skate revolution still stands in the city whose motto is populus felix in urbe felici ("fortunate people in a fortunate land," which we've interpreted as "really rich people, really lucky to afford sweet real estate").

For now, Horizons West Surf Shop sits in the shell of the original Zephyr Productions building that was opened in 1971 by the surf/skate holy trinity of Jeff Ho, Skip Engblom and Craig Stecyk.

Horizons is at the grossly historic corner of Bay and Main St. in the southwestern Santa Monica mecca where Tony Alva, Jay Adams, Stacy Peralta and Co., changed the world as we know it, one empty swimming pool at a time.

The Zephyr building's longtime owners have proposed a "mixed condo project" for the establishment, which they say promises to commemorate the building's historic past, but would effectively level the world's most momentous surf shack in exchange for dining nooks and parking spots for the few who can afford them.

Obviously, this does not sit well with Z-Boy's disciples.

Because of the stir this construction plan has caused in the Venice/Santa Monica community, 2011 Main St. now finds itself on the agenda of the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission whose job it is to decide whether or not the building deserves landmark status.

We, along with thousands of others, want to save the shack, so EXPN.com sent Mary Buckheit to chat with Santa Monica Landmark Commissioner Nina Fresco, whose hands hold a chunk of fate for the last shred of Zephyr standing. Believe it or not, the following is the condensed version of everything that's going on in Dogtown right now.

Educate yourself, kids. There's still time to make something happen.

EXPN: You have a big decision in front of you, Commissioner. Concerning the Jeff Ho/Zephyr Productions site, what will the committee be ruling on at your April meeting?
NF: Our committee's job is to decide whether or not something is a landmark. A building becomes a landmark if it meets one of the six criteria (cultural, architectural or artistic significance, historic personages, sense of location or significant architect). In the case of Horizons West, that corner parcel would be designated as a cultural landmark.

EXPN: What would becoming a cultural landmark mean for the space? Would the building remain as we know it today?

NF: No. If it becomes a landmark based on cultural significance, that means we're not trying to preserve great architecture, but a sense of time and place instead. Landmarking would be useless and unproductive if we didn't allow building structures to adapt to modern usage. Landmarks can be changed, but we make sure that the historic integrity of a place remains.

EXPN: Can you give me an example of an existing cultural landmark in Santa Monica?
NF: There's one other cultural landmark—the CME Church. The building has been significantly altered, but it doesn't change what happened there. It's now called the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, but it was originally called the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church. It's had a great deal of significance in Santa Monica's African-American community since the turn of the century.

EXPN: Do you think government officials grasp the cultural significance the Z-Boys had on skateboarding?
NF: Landmark commissioners are volunteers from the community who raise their hands and say, I want to be appointed to do this job because it's important to me and to my community. We're not government officials. We're community members that sort of straddle that government line.

EXPN: What jurisdiction does the commission have over this debate?
NF: It became a debate that the Landmarks Commission had nothing to do with—it wasn't in our jurisdiction. Everybody agrees something important happened there. As a landmarks commissioner, I have to put my faith in the system. If the building meets the criteria, then we should landmark it. If it doesn't, we shouldn't. We're trying to get more publicity value from the film and the documentary, but we're trying to see where everybody stands.

It became controversial because the developer (Juli Doar, granddaughter of long-time building owner Lewis Herrmann) wants to build her dream. Her family has owned the building for 60 years, she knows the people involved with the shop, is aware of what took place there and believes it would be a shame to lose track of those events, so she offered to commission a work of art or monument to mark the place, without keeping the building.

EXPN: Why is the developer opposed to a landmark designation?
NF: She's not opposed to it, but some people are strongly opposed to it. A designation usually includes the whole parcel. People say, "It's just a crappy old building. Now that poor person is stuck with it." Landmarking isn't about stopping time and freezing somebody's property, it's about recognizing significance to a community. Whatever changes she desired would come before the commission to ensure they don't alter its historical integrity.

EXPN: Have you seen the documentary?
NF: Yes, a number of times.

EXPN: Stacy Peralta was recently on ESPN Radio 710 L.A., where he told the hosts of The Big Show that no member of local government has ever approached him about the films. He said:

"There has never been one human being—out of the Venice or Santa Monica City Councils—that has ever gotten in touch with me and said, 'You know, we saw the film, and thanks a lot, we think it's cool, it's part of our history.' That has never, ever happened!"

What do you think about his statement?
NF: I can't speak for other commissioners, but I can say they are very conscientious people, and I know for a fact that at least two others have seen the film.

EXPN: Peralta went on to say he doubts the Z-Boys homebase can be salvaged. When asked if it's realistic to think this corner of history can be preserved, he remarked:

"Not when you're dealing with affluent people. This is all about money. This is about making the city shine for the rich and super rich. The Zephyr shop represents a rogue activity—rogue people, in their minds. They don't want to be associated with people like that. Don't get me wrong, I support this 100 percent and my attitude is not to surrender, but it just hurts too much."
Is all this effort and debate for naught?
NF: People aren't really aware of historic preservation and landmarking as a tool, and Horizons West is a great example of the process working. Because it's being threatened, its significance has come to light because people care about what's at stake. It's great to see young people, especially, speaking out on this issue.

EXPN: Are you overwhelmed by the public's efforts to save Zephyr?
NF: I love it. We're not trying to preserve Santa Monica's history just because we like it. Anything we can do to educate people about what happened in this community is really important, and it's become clear that the shop is what's most important to a lot of people.

EXPN: What do you think will come from the community uprising?
NF: There's been interest from literally thousands of people. You guys have built up a critical mass. That carries a lot of weight, which can be used to organize, raise money and do what you think would best commemorate the skateboard movement that took place there. But I can't commit to what I think is and isn't a landmark until we have our public hearing.

EXPN: What happens after the Landmark Commission makes its decision?
NF: The property owner can appeal our decision to the City Council if they don't find it acceptable. City council has the power to override or uphold our decision. Whatever they decide is final.

EXPN: Is there still time to send input to the commission?
NF: Yes. If anybody has information the commission should consider—anything that helps us make this decision—send it in and we will read it. You can email it to Jing Yeo.

EXPN: How soon could the building change face?

NF: Santa Monica is famous for being really slow. It could take them two years to get through their approvals and actually break ground.

EXPN: Do you feel this is a waste of time and effort or do you believe the commission can help commemorate something that's important to skateboarding?
NF: There has never been any question that what the Z-Boys did was immensely important, and it all happened in Santa Monica. The question now is whether this building represents that movement. Sure, it's a dog of a building, but what better to remember Dogtown by? People don't care about landmarks to Senator Johns and Colonel Bakers (railroad men from Nevada), but they've proved they care about this. I live in this community and know that something special happened here. The youth is proud of what happened here and so am I. Not that I'm old, but, you know, I saw the movies.

Mary Buckheit is a Page 2 Columnist and regular contributor to EXPN.com. Nina Fresco is a righteous babe and Santa Monica Landmarks Commissioner. The official standards and guidelines of landmarking can be found here.