The Bergamot Station Arts Center
The Bergamot Station Arts Center is yet another planned development project. Santa Monica has one of the premier arts centers in Southern California. It has character, style, and has passionate art gallery and theatre operators. It’s worth preserving!
So, as usual, that means City staff has tried to find a way to destroy that uniqueness and add a hotel, offices & retail to the complex. The Gallery owners know that the pending redevelopment of the Bergamot Arts Center will lead to their demise. Rents and CAM charges have risen throughout the complex. A 6 story Hotel will be added to the property. We know that this treasure will need to evolve but the key is to preserve the key elements of Bergamot as the center adapts to the current retail and arts related realities.
As always we haven’t thought through the plans or ramifications to the Gallery owners, the atmosphere of the Center or the future impact on residents. A lot of this translates into something that many residents discuss all the time.
It's called infrastructure. That must come first. In film terms we do a great job in Santa Monica with construction production...we forget about proper pre- and post-production. Parking is integral to the success of the galleries as is a diversification of the offerings at Bergamot. Additional live theatre could supplement the works of City Garage, the addition of a public showcase for dance, and more restaurants will help to add vitality to the center. The creation of arts and crafts would also help add to the interest at Bergamot and enable more resident visits to this great center. There are plans to add a museum to the center and this should be one with a wide interest level. The Eastman Museum of Photography is one that comes to mind.
The residents aren't looking for another major development. Forty Two percent of our residents are engaged in the Arts in their professional lives. I don't want the arts to be more hidden in Santa Monica. We need to find ways to have increased exposure for the arts in our town, not less. It feels like the residents constantly play whack-a-mole with developments. Let's add green space and more varied art experiences to our town and preserve and protect Bergamot.
As a Santa Monica Arts Commissioner I have discussed the issues at Bergamot many times. I have also written proposals on how to increase the display of public art in Santa Monica. Here is one of my op-Eds on connecting Bergamot with Olympic Blvd and an increased connection with our city's diverse art heritage.
Thousands of cars inch along Santa Monica’s Olympic Blvd each day. Lanes separated by a center median that was, at one time, Red Car train tracks, have a heavy traffic load that for hours allows cars to crawl in and out of our city. The 18th Street Art Center, Crossroads School, Tacos Por Favor, The Arts at Bergamot, The Water Garden, Memorial Park, New Roads School, The Pen Factory, Gandara Park, Snyder Diamond, and the Metro Repair Yard are among the anchors to this boulevard. Cars, cars, everywhere, yet you rarely see a pedestrian walking down Olympic. It often seems that the 1982 song “Walking in LA” by Missing Persons should be playing as permanent background music on this thoroughfare.
It’s indicative of Olympic’s industrial past that very few residents ever consider walking along this street. Its environment has changed, as should our aspirations for this vital boulevard in Santa Monica. Rather than another spoke on our giant wheel of tourism, Olympic is for us. Schools, parks, and businesses exist for residents. Places to play, learn and socialize all co-exist on Olympic, linked together, with only a few omissions. Even though Olympic borders our Arts District, there is no real connection between the street and the adjacent arts scene. There is also no attempt to tie our parks together with a walking path that would promote our residents’ wellness.
Santa Monica has two such center medians that were both vital train connectors to that once faraway destination of Los Angeles, San Vicente, and Olympic. Both have the same South African Coral Trees, yet only one can boast of multitudes of runners and walkers. It’s time for that to change. Let’s imagine the Olympic Boulevard center median with a walkway of decomposed granite or wood chips stretching for 1.9 miles from Centinela to 11th Street. Vibrant public art created by local artists would line the median, adding life to the street while reinforcing the arts enclaves at Bergamot and the 18th Street Art Center. Taking this new Art Trail through Bergamot by adding a short extender, would allow walkers to stroll through a rich collection of galleries and return to the trail via Stewart. Walkers would be able to “find” the relatively hidden public art at the former Agensys building and explore a thriving arts scene, a partnership that the Santa Monica Arts Commission is striving to create with the art galleries and theatre that already exist at Bergamot.
The benefits to “us” are tremendous. Seniors would have an inspirational, safe walking trail through our city. Students would traverse the path on their way to SMC from the Memorial Park EXPO station, and residents of the Pico and Mid City Neighborhoods would have a wonderful greenway lined with public art they could view close up. You might characterize this new Art Trail or Santa Monica’s own outdoor Art Museum. With an emphasis on local permanent and rotating art exhibits, this route would be enjoyable, educational and a way of instilling pride in the artworks created by our community’s talented artists. Samohi Hall of Fame Member and world-class artist, Laddie John Dill, only has one of his extraordinary pieces in Santa Monica and that 14-foot high metal sculpture is now in storage. It sat for years at 100 Wilshire. Why shouldn’t we be able to view Laddie’s work on Olympic Blvd as part of our new Art Trail?
Santa Monica Community & Cultural Services Division oversees our City parks (we have too few) and our City’s cultural arts (a paucity of displayed public art). The same department could create a city park from the Olympic center median and line it with exceptional artistic displays to enrich the visual experience of both drivers and pedestrians. Yes, we’ll need improvements to street lighting and other small changes. The obstacles, though, are relatively few and the rewards great. The Santa Monica Art Foundation, Recreation & Parks Commission and Arts Commission will have their work cut out for them, but that’s what “juices” our volunteer Commissioners. I know because I’ve been a volunteer Commissioner in Santa Monica for the past 15 years.
How do we jumpstart this project? It’s relatively easy. I’ll give you one example. A pending development agreement includes a new museum on Ocean Avenue in the middle of our chaotic downtown. Transform that “community benefit”, which is now pegged for a 50,000 sq. foot building, and use the same amount of developer investment to create our city’s new Olympic Art Trail. Bergamot and the Ocean Avenue development are controlled by the same developer. It’s a win-win situation. We get an open-sky outdoor museum on Olympic, and we exchange stucco and concrete for green space in the potentially overbuilt parcel on Ocean Avenue. It’s high time that our town is recognized as a city of the arts, not just a city for tourists.
By Phil Brock for SMart (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow)