If you're walking or driving on Highland Avenue in Manhattan Beach, you may not notice a cream-colored, Spanish-Colonial style home nestled on the hillside among modern, angular high-rises.

But, the unassuming 1,432 square foot, two-story duplex in the 2800 block Highland Avenue, first built in 1932 by the Daughtery Brothers, is now a city historical landmark—the first home in Manhattan Beach with the designation.

City officials voted in favor of historical distinction for the $1.4 million home and a Mills Act contract with the homeowners at city council meeting March 19, 2019. 

Residents Annette Mejia-Pickens and husband, Chris Pickens, who bought the home in 2012, applied for landmark designation in June 2018—just four months after Manhattan Beach adopted the Mills Act program—to help offset maintenance costs.

As they were granted historical designation, the homeowners qualify for a Mills Act contract, which grants them a reduced property tax rate to fund maintenance.

The 10-year contract between the city and the Pickens’— the first Mills Act deal in the city—will allow the couple to save an estimated $10,338 in property taxes annually, according to city documents.

In exchange, the Pickens’ will invest roughly $64,000 over the course of the next decade to preserve, maintain and restore the home, which includes the upper level where the couple resides and a lower unit they lease to renters. Under the contract, they will not be able to change the structure of the home

“We love the character and style of this home and we really wanted to preserve it,”  Mejia-Pickens said, noting the home is evocative of the 1930s in Manhattan Beach and a rare find in the city. “We are trying to maintain the integrity of the home, keeping the features as true to the Spanish-Colonial Revival era as possible.”

The Manhattan Beach Planning Commission recommended the home for historical distinction last September, given that it meets the necessary criteria of “embodying the distinctive characteristics of a style, type, period or method of construction,” according to a city documents.

“It was built in 1932 by well-known and reputable city builders, the Daugherty Brothers, and is a Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style characteristic of the City’s early history,” officials said.

In their proposal to the planning commission, the Pickens’ detailed the next 10-years of proposed work to include exterior wall repainting, iron work, glass window and tile replacement.

Mejia-Pickens said repairs and renovations to the home, which is framed with solid redwood and built with plaster, can be costly due to the age of the building.

“If a tile goes out, I’m going to have that custom made. I can’t just go to Home Depot and purchase a basic tile,” she explained. “In keeping with the theme of the home, the costs are a lot more because I’m having to have things custom-made or hire someone to do something more specific that they don’t really do every day. Sometimes, it’s a challenge to find even a special contractor to work on an older home.”

While, she said no public tours or showings are planned, she is hoping the home will be a gem in the city, a preserved piece of history.

"We want this to be a showcase home for Manhattan Beach,” Mejia-Pickens mused. 

Councilmember Richard Montgomery said the home is in well-maintained, original condition.

"If you want to preserve our history and see what beach life was like in the 1930s, this is the home to see," he said. 

While the Pickens' is the first application for city historic landmark designation, there are two other properties in the city—on the Strand and 12th Street—that are on the state register but which do not have Mills Act tax relief, according to city staffers.

Community Development Director Anne McIntosh and Associate Planner Angelica Ochoa explained a planning commission meeting Sept. 26, 2018 that these buildings would need to be designated on the city’s register to participate in the Mill’s Act Program, thus making the Pickens' residence the first home to be historically designated by the city itself. 

Mejia-Pickens said she hopes to inspire other homeowners of historical buildings to pursue Mills Act contracts. 

"We'd love for anybody else that would want to apply for this process—the city is taking applications," she added, noting some longtime property owners have lower taxes protected by Proposition 13, which was enacted in 1976.

But, for those who are newer residents like the Pickens', the Mills Act can be an encouraging incentive for homeowners to preserve older buildings, Mejia-Pickens explained. 

"The more that apply, the more Manhattan Beach will keep some of these older homes," she said. 

Neighbors such as Anne and Rudy de Leon, who sent a letter to the planning commission on behalf of the home, also support the Pickens’ residence being named a historic landmark.

“The property is a beautiful Spanish Colonial Revival which lends old world charm to the neighborhood,” the deLeons said in the September 2018 letter. “It would be a wise and visionary decision to preserve this unique property for future generations to enjoy and understand the architecture of the past in this environment of constant change.” 

*Updated March 20, 2019, to reflect council's action of approving the Pickens' application to have their home designated as a historical landmark and to include Councilmember Richard Montgomery's quote. 

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