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Building Consensus? Not at Lincoln Place Apartments

Times Staff Writer

Is a neighborhood of Art Deco-inspired apartments in Venice historic? Or is it on the verge of becoming history?

Residents attempting to block demolition of Lincoln Place said Monday that a state Historical Resources Commission ruling will help preserve the sprawling, 54-year-old complex. But the investment firm that owns the 38-acre site disagreed, warning that evictions are on the way.

“This will stop them in their tracks,” resident Laura Burns said of a determination Friday that Lincoln Place is eligible for listing on the California Register of Historic Resources.

Not so, said Patti Schwayder, an executive with Denver-based Apartment Investment and Management Co., a partner in AIMCO-Venezia LLC, which owns Lincoln Place. “I wouldn’t be sipping Champagne if I were them. They all have to be out of there by next March.”

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Stylish and pace-setting at the time of their construction, Lincoln Place’s 795 garden apartments occupied U- and L-shaped buildings that featured bold, geometrically shaped entryways. The units had etched-glass tub enclosures and tile kitchen counters, and were the first of their kind to be pre-wired with built-in TV antennas.

Considered a premier example of postwar Federal Housing Authority planning, Lincoln Park was designed by pioneering black architect Ralph Vaughn, a onetime senior set designer at MGM who had worked with architect Paul Williams on celebrity homes in Beverly Hills. Experts say Vaughn used his studio skills to design varied facades that kept Lincoln Place from having a monotonous, housing-project look.

But seven of its 52 buildings were demolished by a previous owner who had hoped to build condominiums on the site. And legal disputes have entangled Lincoln Place the last two years, including a state Court of Appeal ruling in July that AIMCO officials say buttressed evidence that the apartment complex is not historic.

Preservationists contend that ruling referred to a 1993 report stating that Lincoln Place was ineligible to be considered historic because it was not yet 50 years old. “Now it is over 50 and meets that criteria,” Burns said. “We’ve filed with the court for reconsideration.”

Schwayder said a Lincoln Place tenants group spurned an offer in June to preserve 144 units for current residents, guaranteeing them rent-controlled rates for 25 years. She said it had not been determined whether apartments, condos or single-family housing will be built on the site, about a mile east of Venice Beach.

Burns described the June offer as “bogus” because it would have allowed the rental agreements to be terminated “if anybody opposed any aspect” of AIMCO’s development. About 170 Lincoln Place units are still occupied.

“We’re quite confident,” Burns said. “We believe those evictions will be thrown out. We feel very strongly we’ll prevail.”


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