On Borrowed Time
The California Register of Historical Resources Committee will consider Friday whether or not to stop the demolition of Lincoln Place, a low-income housing development built after World War II in Venice. If the state committee does not designate the 55-year-old project a historical resource, Lincoln Places 170 seniors and disabled tenants, many of whom have lived there for decades, will most likely be forced to move.Lincoln Place may be low-income housing, but its far from your average run-of-the mill project. In the years after the war, America faced a desperate housing crisis. Many returning GIs were forced to sleep in shelters, on the streets and, in some truly unfortunate cases, with their in-laws. In Los Angeles, many camped out on the steps of City Hall and demanded housing. The Truman administration responded with calls for a massive building program. With the country still hurting from the war, Congress refused to pay the full tab for public housing units, but did fund a private building boom of low-income multi-family dwellings through Federal Housing Authority (FHA)insured mortgages. The veterans were housed; in-laws, of course, were optional.Lincoln Place Garden Apartments in Venice was the largest of those housing complexes built in California. Ralph Vaughn, a prominent African-American architect, designed the 52 original buildings containing 795 units. He found inspiration in modern design principles and the Garden City movement, creating beauty and harmony that met the FHAs strict regulations. Each building has a distinct entranceway, a different geometric pattern of wood and glass, and no footprint repeats, so you can look down your street and know exactly where you live. It is nothing like the popular cookie-cutter developments where even residents get lost. There are wide-open green spaces and meandering lawns.An aerial shot of Venice shows a grid of housing interrupted by Lincoln Places amorphous 38-acre plot, like a bowl of alphabet soup filled with the letter U. The apartments are spacious, have cross ventilation and private patios, boast hardwood floors, were designed so that each unit shares only one common wall and, most importantly, are affordable. The FHA offices in Los Angeles would send developers to look at Lincoln Place as a model of what could be created under the stringent budgets and rules. Several preservationist groups are fighting to keep Lincoln Place, including the Los Angeles Conservancy, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the National Organization of Minority Architects. Politicians endorsing the historical listing include Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, 11th District City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. The City Attorneys Office has come forward to support AIMCO, the Denver-based company that owns Lincoln Place, claiming that there is not a shred of evidence that the housing project has any historical significance. In recent years Lincoln Place has been the subject of extensive study and academic research. Many scholars have said losing these buildings would be a loss for the city of Los Angeles and for generations to come. Diane Favro, president of the Society of Architectural Historians and UCLA professor of architecture and urban design, said, With the loss of many modernist environments, it is crucial that we preserve Lincoln Place. The apartments are significant as a physical container of social history; embedded in its physical fabric and the lives of its occupants is an invaluable history of social housing. In its heyday, Lincoln Place was a thriving community, with waitlists to get in. Many of those who remain are in their 80s, and recall chatting at the shared clotheslines, their children playing on the lawns, and the yard sales and car washes. Now Lincoln Place is more desolate. Earlier this year all of the tenants more than 300 families were served eviction notices under the state Ellis Act, which gives property owners the right to force out tenants in 120 days, or one year for the elderly and disabled, if the owners plan to leave the rental business. Today, more than 200 families are gone, leaving 170 elderly and disabled tenants, their units spread out around the vast property. Its unclear exactly what AIMCO has planned for the property. In 2002, the City Planning Department approved a plan to raze the remaining 45 buildings to make room for luxury condos and more than 100 affordable rental units. Now, the company has told the Los Angeles Housing Department it wants out of the rental business altogether.The committee in Sacramento should decide to preserve and celebrate this part of our history, said Jeff Samudio, president emeritus of the Society of Architectural Historians. Our postwar resources are speaking highly of the values that we had as citizens, as our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandparents had in this state, and that this isnt something that we should be embarrassed about.