A new book by Venice resident Dennis Hathaway, The Battle of Lincoln Place: An Epic Fight by Tenants to Save Their Homes, tells the history of that long, difficult struggle.
By Sheila Bernard
Imagine loving an apartment where you have lived for many years. Then imagine being told to leave, not because of late rent or any kind of nuisance, but because the new owner of the property wants to double the rent, or else demolish the whole rental complex and build something more lucrative.
Hundreds of tenants at Lincoln Place in Venice did not have to imagine this scenario, because that is what actually happened to us in the late 1980’s.
The tenants didn’t go quietly. We formed a tenants’ association, and with the leadership of a number of people, especially four women, we fought the first developer and that developer’s successor to a draw after a battle that lasted 20 years. Full disclosure: I was one of those four women, along with Laura Burns and Jan Book, and also Amanda Seward, who wrote an excellent summary of the Lincoln Place effort in the pages of the Beachhead a decade ago.
The threat of eviction was frightening. As a renter most of my life, I was one of the lucky ones. I had a steady teaching job with LA Unified. But moving my three kids to other schools, losing friends and neighbors of many years, and finding as good an apartment elsewhere in Los Angeles was daunting. The prospect of moving was much worse for our seniors on fixed incomes and other working people who were struggling to make ends meet.
Our people fought hard. Enduring wave after wave of demolitions and evictions, they attended meeting after meeting, went to hearing after hearing at City Hall, distributed flyers and petitions both at Lincoln Place and in the surrounding community, and refused to lose hope, even after the Planning Department and Planning Commission approved the developer’s plan to demolish Lincoln Place and the matter needed to be appealed to the City Council.
Besides the tenants fighting hard, an intrepid group of lawyers worked either pro bono or for deferred compensation against long odds. I developed a deep respect for the legal profession as a result of this experience.
And as I witnessed Dennis Hathaway assembling this story into the thorough account that it deserved, I understood in a way I hadn’t before what it takes to chronicle the day-to-day struggles of people fighting for their own economic lives and the life of their community.
Dennis Hathaway recounts this David-and-Goliath story in compelling prose and in dire detail. If you are a person who likes a good read, you will enjoy this book for its drama, but if you are an activist, or a housing advocate, or a planner, or a lawyer or law student, you will also find it informative professionally. After all, this battle resulted in three appellate court decisions that have serious implications for housing and community development.
In addition, this battle resulted in the preservation of 795 units of rental housing, of which 60 were allocated to returning evicted tenants at their previous affordable rents for a period of 25 years. Other tenants received financial settlements as compensation for the hardship the battle caused them. As for the buildings themselves, the very design of which contributed to the tenants’ deep sense of community, Lincoln Place is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
There is a reason Dennis was able to tell this story with such accuracy, and with intimate details of the effort. He and his wife live a block away from Lincoln Place, and were right there, watching and even filming, during the events of the book, including the largest single day lockout of tenants in Los Angeles history. Dennis watched the legal and political maneuvering over the years, and he read thousands of pages of newsletters, resolutions, newspaper stories, petitions, decisions, and personal recollections.
If you want to share this chapter of Venice history and the history of Los Angeles, pick up this excellent book and relive the story with those of us who successfully fought against big money with only our grit, our tenacity, and the help of true friends. I predict that one day it’s going to make a great movie.
The book is available through all bookstores and online booksellers.