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Lincoln Place Apartments: The Ethos of the Venice Community

Our work on Departures Venice recently brought us to the Lincoln Place Apartments in Venice, where, in addition to a great history lesson, we also got an object lesson in the old saying "forgive but don't forget."

Much like the El Pueblo Del Rio Housing project in Watts, the Lincoln Place Apartments were built to serve two purposes - address a post-WWII housing shortage, and provide homes for thousands of Americans who had moved to California from the South in search of their own patch of the American Dream.

Both places were both built by prominent African-American architects, Pueblo by Paul Williams and Lincoln Place by Ralph Vaughn. Their designs are infused with the optimisms of their times - large shared spaces, common green areas, and community centers - all of it intended to foster working class communities that participated fully in an upbeat, forward-looking America envisioned as a place of equality and shared responsibility.

Today, El Pueblo Del Rio, is managed by the city's housing authority, which has eliminated or sub-divided most (if not quite all) of its common spaces and community areas, thereby fostering an atmosphere of fear and paranoia that permeates the lives of its residents. This desolate, eerie landscape clearly negates the original intent of its designers.

Ironically, Lincoln Place is also currently an empty, barren landscape, but for altogether different reasons. In 1988, the housing project changed ownership and a systematic process of eviction began. Lincoln Place sits on one of the most valuable real estate plots in California, and its new owners hoped to maximize their profit by turning the site into luxury condominiums.

What the new owners didn't account for was the "locals only" spirit of Venice - a spirit that doesn't go out or down without a fight. Although one-third of the housing project has been demolished, and while virtually all of its residents have been evicted from their homes (only 11 residents live in the premises), Lincoln Place has been the site of 10 years of community tenant organizing and protests (including a tent city) that have finally paid off. Lincoln Place was recently denoted a Historical Architectural Landmark and its new owners, with the cooperation of tenants and community activists, are envisioning a re-birth of Lincoln Place.

Telling the story of how Lincoln Place was saved - this at a moment in when Venice seems to be struggling to find its identity - is a powerful way to celebrate the ethos of this amazing community. That's why we came here for Departures. But the newfound amity between tenants and landlords taught us another lesson: sometimes you have to forgive in order to move forward. But never forget the history that got you there.

 

 

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