Efforts to prevent the demolition of Lincoln Place Apartments, an 8-square-block post-WWII garden apartment complex in Venice, got a boost late Friday afternoon, August 5, when the California State Historical Resources Commission in Sacramento unanimously determined that mid-century affordable housing development qualifies for listing on the California Register of Historical Resources based on objective criteria.
The Commission determined that Lincoln Place met California Register criteria as an excellent enduring example of both the “garden apartment” property type and of Modernist architecture. It also found Lincoln Place to be a major and intact example of the low and moderate income rental housing built in Los Angeles after World War II in response to the severe housing shortage caused by returning GIs and their young families.
The Commissioners praised the complex’s exceptional site plan, the livability of its spaces and the employment of modernist elements to make each building and its surrounding courtyards visually unique. Designers of the historic complex were notable African-American architect Ralph Vaughn and his partner Heth Wharton.
Efforts by owner AIMCO (Apartment Management and Investment Company) to delay the Commission’s action were put to an end by Friday’s hearing. Lincoln Place had been on the May Commission calendar, but the matter was continued based on AIMCO’s claims that the Register nomination was incomplete.
According to a lawyer working with conservationist Amanda Seward, who nominated Lincoln Place for the designation, in the weeks prior to Friday’s hearing and up until the morning of the hearing itself, AIMCO’s lawyers made repeated requests for continuances on a multitude of grounds. “None of AIMCO’s increasingly desperate claims to postpone the hearing had any merit,” said attorney Susan Brandt-Hawley. “They were transparent attempts to avoid the historic listing, and fortunately the state’s attorneys saw through that and the hearing went forward.”
“AIMCO tried to avoid giving the Commission the opportunity to consider the merits of the nomination of Lincoln Place to the Register,” said nominator Amanda Seward. “But once the Commission got through all of AIMCO’s contrived procedural objections, the Commissioners had no hesitation when it came to making a decision in favor of listing. They were each wonderfully prepared on the facts supporting qualification for the Register.”
The register listing, along with a mid-July decision from the state court of appeals, halts AIMCO’s plans for demolition and redevelopment — at least for the immediate future.
In its decision, the state appellate court held that the City of Los Angeles illegally issued demolition permits for seven buildings at Lincoln Place in 2003, and can not consider any further demolition of the remaining 45 buildings without significant additional environmental review.
Lincoln Place Tenants Association members and conservation advocates alike believe the apartment complex’s listing on the California Register leaves no question that Lincoln Place must now be treated as a significant historical resource under state law and local ordinances – and that demolition therefore will not be allowed unless an Environmental Impact Report process finds that there are no feasible alternatives.
In a joint statement to the press, LPTA and Seward claimed that in the lead-up to the state hearing, AIMCO, “put pressure on Seward by filing evictions on the tenants of Lincoln Place, then offering to stop them if Seward would withdraw the nomination.” Phone calls to AIMCO representatives were not returned by press time.
Said Seward, “Now that the historic importance of Lincoln Place is settled, it’s time for AIMCO to accept the designation and do the right thing–withdraw the evictions and work amicably with the community to craft a preservation plan.”
AIMCO leadership has kept a low profile in the last several months, after a public relations push earlier this year when offering tenant relocation packages to Lincoln Place tenants, but Patti Schwayder, an AIMCO executive, told the Los Angeles Times yesterday, that the remaining Lincoln Place residents should not be so quick to celebrate. “They all have to be out of there by next March,” she said, apparently disagreeing that the Commission’s decision would put a stop to AIMCO’s current redevelopment plans.
But tenant eviction attorney Elena Popp of the Eviction Defense Network had this to say, “The tenants are elated by the determination because they cherish Lincoln Place. However, beyond that, we have our own substantive defenses against the evictions and are confident of prevailing in the courts.”
Support for the historic designation of Lincoln Place came from Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; Councilman Bill Rosendahl; US Senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer; US Congresswoman Jane Harman; State Senator Debra Bowen and the late Assemblyman Mike Gordon; the National Trust for Historic Preservation; the California Preservation Foundation; the Los Angeles Conservancy; the American Institute of Architects (AIA) LA Chapter; Diane Favro, President of the Society of Architectural Historians, Bradford Grant, President of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, and the National Organization of Minority Architects, and other contributors to the fields of architecture and historic conservation.
Note: in a previous article, a typographical error turned 100 evictions into 700. We apologize for the error.