Pacific Palisades Business Block Building Examined

By Michael Edlen
Special to the Palisades News

This is the first in a series of articles about historically significant sites in Pacific Palisades. Founded in 1922, the town has a rich heritage, as well as a strong tradition of individual activism and protective community organizations. It has been interesting to observe the periodic surfacing of this tradition during times of need through the decades. Portions of this series will draw on Betty Lou and Randy Youngs’ now-classic book, Pacific Palisades: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea.

The Pacific Palisades Business Block building was designed by architect Clifton Nourse and dedicated in 1924. It is nearly 30,000 square feet and includes 35,000 square feet of land, bounded by Sunset, Swarthmore and Antioch. This Spanish Colonial Revival-style structure has long benefited from the large adjacent parking lot below Via de la Paz as well as a deep setback in front of most of the building.

One can notice from 1925 photos that there was a little park on Swarthmore before a service station was built there years later, and eventually replaced by the Village Green in 1973.

The Business Block building, completed in 1924, still stands between Antioch, Swarthmore and Sunset. Photo courtesy Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives

The Business Block building, completed in 1924, still stands between Antioch, Swarthmore and Sunset. Photo courtesy Santa Monica Public Library Image Archives

The Business Block building (named because it contained the town’s early businesses) now includes the Bank of America, Starbucks, Café Vida and several other shops and restaurants.

In 1935, the Palisades Drug Store was probably the first Palisades business to be granted a package liquor permit. Other local license applicants had been turned down for years due to vocal opposition by people arguing that even though Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the sale of liquor would violate the deed restrictions and commitments of the founders of the community. Since it was located in the Business Block, however, the Drug Store did not fall under the jurisdiction of the surrounding areas deed restrictions.

The Business Block building was sold to the Santa Monica Land and Water Company in 1936. The controlling stockholders were Robert and Dorothy Loomis and Frederick Lee.

In 1981, anticipating very costly work to meet California’s new seismic code, the Loomises tried to gain legal protection and tax credits by being nominated for the Na- tional Register of Historic Places. That effort failed because of past alterations made to the building, and a similar application to the City Cultural Heritage Board was also denied.

The Loomises put the Business Block building up for sale when the estimated renovation costs were too great, considering the size of the building. A developer opened escrow around 1982, announcing plans to make much better use of the land, includ- ing four levels of underground parking, a theater, restaurants, shops and a smaller version of a major department store. The artist’s rendering of the proposed three-story glass and concrete structure upset many Palisadians, and aroused a wave of discontent and opposition. The concern over losing the community’s most visible landmark led to petitions, “Don’t Mall the Palisades” slogan, and pleas from both the older and newer community residents.

A judge upheld the buyer’s contention that they could remove the building, due to the excessive costs earthquake retrofitting compliance would require, even though Security Pacific Bank (now the BofA) and other long-term tenants had filed legal action about cancellations of long-term leases. Nonetheless, the original sale never closed, and Topa Palisades Associates bought the property in 1983. They entered into a purchase agreement with the intent of paying what it would cost to save the building or in the worst case to replace it with a design more suitable with its location than the earlier buyer had planned.

As can be seen all around the sides of the building, the costly retrofitting was completed, and today Topa Management continues to manage the leasing and maintenance of the Business Block building.

Michael Edlen has been following the history of the Palisades for decades and tracks market trends and statistics in an effort to educate his clients. He has worked with over 1,300 clients and had more than $1.5 billion in home sales. He can be reached at (310) 230-7373 or michael@michaeledlen.com.

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