Eyes on the Street: The Office Park That Could Have Been a Neighborhood


When opponents of the proposed Bergamot Transit Village project gathered signatures to overturn the City Council’s approval of the mixed commercial and residential plans, they promised the developer would come back with a better plan. The development they fought would have replaced the abandoned Papermate factory across the street from the 26th Street Expo station with nearly 500 new homes and about 400,000 square feet of new commercial space.

Instead, after anti-growth activists killed the project, the owners of the property sold it and it is now being redeveloped as a suburban style office park, called The Pen Factory in homage to its previous use, without any residential component.

It’s arguably one of the biggest lost opportunities in Santa Monica’s recent development history. About 100 of the new 500 homes would have been set aside for low-income residents and half of those would have gone specifically to low-income seniors. The developers had proposed breaking up the four-acre site into small, more human-scaled blocks, and the denser, mixed-use project would have become a neighborhood in-and-of itself in the heart of Santa Monica’s formerly industrial Bergamot area.

The new Pen Factory office park looks like it’s almost ready to open, three years after the Bergamot Transit Village project was killed. While the office park certainly looks spiffier than the old Papermate factory, the changes are largely superficial, since the new building is simply a rehabilitation of the old building.

The southwestern corner of the new Pen Factory sits directly across the street from the Expo light rail station. Photos by Jason Islas/SMN
What the front entrance looked like before the rehabbing.
The Papermate factory was a relic of an era dominated by automobiles. The south side of the property did not have a sidewalk. The proposed Bergamot Transit Village would have added one along Olympic Boulevard. Here is what is currently there.
Here’s what the south side of the property looked like before.
There is plenty of surface parking behind the building.
The Pen Factory as seen from the Expo station across the street.
A view of the former Papermate factory from across Olympic Boulevard in 2014.
Here’s the same view three years later of the refurbished building.

The loss of the nearly 500 potential new homes that would have been built at the property was the highest profile loss, but Santa Monica has seen the loss of at least 1,000 potential new homes as a result of opposition by anti-development activists since 2012.

What’s happening in Santa Monica is a microcosm of the statewide housing shortage that is increasingly driving up the cost of rent and home prices and squeezing low- and middle-income people out of major job centers (like Santa Monica).

With the new Pen Factory opening, it likely will be another generation or two before there will be another opportunity to redevelop that property into something that makes better use of the surrounding facilities, especially the new Expo Line station, and improves the neighborhood by making it more walkable.

Hopefully, by then, Santa Monica will have outgrown its more irrational anti-change impulses.

Jason Islas
Jason Islashttp://santamonicanext.org
Jason Islas is the editor of Santa Monica Next and the director of the Vote Local Campaign. Before joining Next in May 2014, Jason had covered land use, transit, politics and breaking news for The Lookout, the city’s oldest news website, since February 2011.

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