Irvin Tabor, an African American from Louisiana, was the chauffeur and confidant of developer Abbot Kinney, an eccentric cigar magnate who founded the community of Venice.
For years, Tabor and his family lived in a cluster of Craftsman-style bungalows he built in the 600 block of Westminster Avenue in the Oakwood section of town.
On Saturday, about 40 people, including a handful of Tabor's descendants, gathered outside the fenced compound to voice concerns that gentrification was destroying the history and character of the ethnically diverse beach community.
They asserted that the property should be granted landmark status and questioned whether past and present owners had acquired the proper permits from the city and California Coastal Commission to conduct remodels of the bungalows.
"I'd like to see the property made into a historic monument so the next generations can know the history," said Jataun Valentine of Venice, whose great-great-uncle was Irvin Tabor.
Valentine was surrounded by relatives and other people carrying signs that said, "Our history is not for sale," "Save our bungalows," "Save Tabor's first residence" and "Public trust betrayed."
Tabor bought the property in 1916 with the help of Kinney. Using salvaged materials from the Venice pier boathouse and amusement park, Tabor built the bungalows for his extended family — members of which also went to work for Kinney.
The eight cottages eventually changed hands and were remodeled. With an asking price of $5.8 million, they were sold again recently and are now undergoing extensive renovations of their interiors, roofs, windows and framing.
Robin Rudisill, a community activist and former candidate for Los Angeles City Council, questioned whether the owners of the property had obtained the proper approvals for the remodeling project. She said there were more than 30 permits issued for small jobs, involving foundations, electrical systems, framing and plumbing.
Rudisill contended that the current and previous owners were "piecemealing" the work instead of securing a construction permit for the entire property, which would have required a public hearing and evaluations of the project by the city.
"When the neighbors call to ask the city what is going on, they say that everything is being done correctly," Rudisill said. "They know that is wrong."
Coastal Commission officials said Saturday they investigated the situation, and the city agreed that the owner should apply for a local coastal development permit that would be issued by Los Angeles. If approved, the project can be appealed to the commission.
Sue Kaplan, one of the event organizers, said she and others have requested that the city grant historic-cultural monument status to the Tabor property. The designation would provide incentives for preservation, signify the property's historic importance, reduce taxes, prevent demolition and protect against environmental impacts.
"We would like to stop construction and get some answers about what is being done to the property," Kaplan said. "The neighborhood has a rich and long history. The city should honor that."
Saturday's gathering at the Tabor property reflects the ongoing concerns of Venice residents that gentrification is threatening the eclectic character of the community by replacing vintage cottages and apartments with larger condo projects and three-story homes.
Rising rents and home prices have resulted, often making it unaffordable for lower-income people to continue to live in the area.
"It's been an ongoing battle for some of the residents. They are really concerned about this," said Noaki Schwartz, a Coastal Commission spokeswoman. "We've seen a lot of development in Venice get appealed to the commission because Los Angeles does not have a local coastal program yet."
Local coastal programs are detailed land use plans that city and county governments along the coast must prepare in compliance with the California Coastal Act, which sets the requirements for development, environmental protection, land uses and public access to beaches.
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