Santa Fe Art Colony Tenants Association Releases Statement Regarding Los Angeles Conservancy Nomination to Designate Property as Historic-Cultural Monument


Contact: Jennifer Cuevas

Los Angeles, CA. (June 28, 2019) – The Santa Fe Art Colony (SFAC) Tenants Association is pleased to learn that the Los Angeles Conservancy has nominated the Santa Fe Art Colony for Historic- Cultural Monument (HCM) designation. The application’s “Statement of Significance” cites the 1916 property’s importance with regard to its architecture as well as to its two major historic uses, and the buildings have now received “interim protection” from further development. The review process will be initiated by the Cultural Heritage Commission at a hearing on July 18, 2019.

“The nomination declares the property to be significant — first, because of its connection with the rise of manufacturing in LA; and second, because it became the Santa Fe Art Colony, which was the first publicly subsidized artists’ community in LA. It is also the earliest important work of a distinguished architect, John Montgomery Cooper,” said SFAC Tenants Association President Sylvia Tidwell. “The current residents were surprised to learn of the architect’s stature. Over the years, it was typical for our artists to remark on the beauty of the property’s showpiece ‘tapestry brick’ building, but none of us knew that the architect went on to build an important career.”

The Tenants Association is happy that the HCM nomination acknowledges the architecture’s quality. Beyond that, the nomination is a step forward in their fight to save the Santa Fe Art Colony, which is now facing extinction. Longtime rent restrictions are about to expire, and a new owner, Florida-based developer Fifteen Group, has announced plans to double the rents on November 1, 2019, effectively evicting the artists. The Tenants Association has made a purchase offer — its right under California’s Affordable Housing Preservation Law — to keep rents affordable and preserve this historic cultural institution for current and future artists.

Unfortunately, Fifteen Group has not engaged in a negotiation with the Tenants Association regarding the purchase offer. Instead, it is pursuing plans to increase density by adding luxury residential units. The HCM nomination’s interim protection from further development will aid the Tenants Association in its quest to save this long-standing artists’ community from the gentrifying forces that have decimated the rest of the Arts District’s once-thriving community of fine artists.

The Santa Fe Art Colony was established with public funding in 1986 to develop the creative life of the city. SFAC is the City’s only rent-restricted Artist-in-Residence property and the largest publicly sponsored artists’ community in California. For over 30 years, its residents have played a critical role in shaping the city’s cultural landscape and contributing to the renaissance of downtown, now a primary driver of the city’s economy.

The original 1916 structures were built by Charles B. Van Vorst, a furniture and mattress manufacturer who established the upscale C. B. Van Vorst Furniture Manufacturing Company plant on Santa Fe Avenue, south of downtown. The factory was built on a three-acre plot where the famous Vernon boxing arena had recently burned to the ground. The project was the first major work of notable architect John Montgomery Cooper, who went on to design dozens of commercial buildings in the Los Angeles area during the 1920s and 1930s; four of them have gained historical designation, including downtown’s Grether & Grether Building and the Art Deco Roxie Theatre on Broadway. 

The Santa Fe Art Colony/C. B. Van Vorst Company complex was also assessed by SurveyLA, a partnership of the Getty Trust and the City of LA to identify potentially historic properties. The 2016 SurveyLA report called SFAC architecturally and historically significant and eligible for National Register of Historic Places, California Register of Historical Resources, and Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument designation.