The Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) and the Venice Land Use Planning Committee (LUPC) have rejected the proposed Reese-Davidson Project.
The project would include 140 units of permanent supportive housing project, located on 2.6 acres and listed at four different addresses: 2102-2120 S Pacific Ave., 116-302 E North Venice Blvd., 2016-2116 S Canal St. and 319 E South Venice Blvd., and would be built on the last undeveloped portion of Venice’s Historic Grand Canal.
Although it lacks community support, the project will now go to the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) committee on Tuesday, November 2.
Arthur Reese’s granddaughter, Sonya Reese Greenland, wrote an October 26 cease-and-desist letter to developers:
“I demand that you remove my grandfather, Arthur Reese’s name in any connection with this ill-conceived project.[Reese was one of the most prominent Black forefathers of Venice.] It is shameful that the City of Los Angeles has allowed this historic and tourist destination to be in disrepair. It should be a beautiful welcoming entrance to Venice Beach and the Historic Venice Canals. That’s what my grandfather and Abbot Kinney built. These plans would make the site much worse.
“My grandfather would oppose this project for numerous reasons: this project is far too large to occupy our last large open space by the beach in Venice – nothing on this scale exists in Venice and certainly not by the beach, combining 40 lots – spanning the Historic Venice Canals and Historic Red Car Bridge – making it more congested and less accessible for all who visit,” Greenland wrote.
The developers, two nonprofit corporations, Venice Community Housing Corporation and the Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, in addition to using Reese’s name, added in the prospectus: “Additionally, we will honor longtime Venice resident and artist Gregory Hines by establishing the Gregory Hines Art Studio.”
This week, developers received a request from Evan Lawless Hines, son of Gregory, to take his father’s name off the project because they were “using my father’s name as a way to sell it. I know for a fact he would not be for this, given the effect it would have on the community. … It just seems someone is going to go home with a lot of money. I don’t want my father’s name being used like this.”
The Reese Davidson Project is five times larger than the typical supportive housing development and will take up about 40 lots on nearly three acres of land. The current space is used as a parking lot for Venice Beach visitors and sits adjacent to the historic Venice Canals.
In an interview in 2014, Gregory Hines spoke of his love for the beach and the open space in Venice. He compared his life in New York to Venice saying, “When I lived in New York, I never looked up. In Venice I look up and see cloud formations. When I’m looking out into the water, I’m never bored. It has a powerful effect on me.”
“It seems like the wrong kind of thing to go in this space just because where it is located, geographically, it’s so close to the beach,” Evan Hines said. “I just know for a fact that [my father] would not be for this project given what the effect on the community is going to be.”
Developers have requested multiple waivers, and noted that per State Assembly Bill 1197, the project doesn’t require a full California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, despite the LUPC’s previous decision to require one and the fact that the project is located within the National Register of Historic Places, in a Tsunami/Flood Zone and in the dual Coastal Zone.
Developers are also asking for a change of zoning from Open space and Commercial space, asking the City to create a new sub-area of Venice.
The project will be funded by the City and County, plus grants and donations.
The Venice Land Use Committee voted against the project for several reasons: 1) the location – a historic site and in a tsunami zone, 2) the cost of the project (the land is valued at $90 million according to public documents), 3) the waivers and zoning changes, 4) the structure is out-of-scale and character with it’s surroundings and that if it were not a “Pet project of Councilman Mike Bonin” it would have been rejected long ago, and 5) Venice has become a containment zone for the homeless population and the construction of this massive project at its gateway would — like the construction of A Bridge Home — attract more of the unhoused population.
Circling the News reached out to Councilman Bonin’s public information officer and asked for his views on the project. We also asked if Bonin’s views had changed, since Greenland and Hines asked not to be associated with the project. CTN had not yet heard back from Bonin’s office. If we do, we’ll update the story.
Greenland agreed with Venice’s Land Use Committee and in her letter to the developers, concluded: “Your project is far too large to occupy the last large open space by the beach in Venice. No matter what you are building, or for whom, it is unconscionable that you would combine forty lots to build massive structures that occupy the full site with three stories plus a seven-story tower, from North to South Venice Boulevards and from Pacific Avenue to Dell, spanning the Historic Venice Canals and Historic Red Car Bridge.
“The project is disrespectful to my grandfather, my family, the Black community and all who have seen your false and misleading project descriptions,” Greenland said.
(Editor’s note: Many people may remember the Jack in the Box project on western Sunset in Pacific Palisades. Even though the Community Council, the PPCC’s Land Use Committee and other neighborhood groups opposed the project because of size, lack of setbacks and traffic issues, the PLUM committee, ignoring the community, unanimously approved the project in December 2020.)
Arthur Reese, an Early Venice Developer
Arthur L. Reese (1883-1963) was a Venice-based businessperson, inventor, decorator and generous civic minded pioneer of the early 1900s. Born in 1883 in Louisiana, he worked as a Pullman porter with the railroad and often traveled to Los Angeles. In 1904, he read about Abbot Kinney’s “Venice of America,” and thought it would be a good location to start his own business.
Reese began with a shoeshine business, and rapidly expanded with a janitorial business for the Kinney properties, a towel concession on the beach, a boat concession on the canals, and later became Venice Head Decorator. Reese brought creative ideas to Venice such as holding a Mardi Gras Parade and making fantastic costumes, floats, the first gondolas and decorations for the Kinney ballrooms, various Pier venues and festivities.
Reese brought numerous family members from Louisiana to live in Venice and to join in the businesses. He is the African American Forefather of Venice.
In the early years, Reese lived in Downtown L.A. and traveled daily on the Red Car Trolley to Venice, because Blacks were not permitted to live in Venice. That Red Car Bridge across the Grand Canal – whose function would be destroyed by the proposed Reese Davidson Project – was where Reese arrived and departed each day. It is the first bridge built in Los Angeles. Both the bridge and the canal are Nationally Registered Historic Landmarks.
Once he was able to purchase land, Reese built a home for his family and for relatives. He was the first African-American homeowner in Venice.
Reese was active in the community, working to improve it in every way. Among his many philanthropic and community activities, he was a Grand Master of the Masons, a member of the Elks and the Shriners. He was the first African-American to serve on the election board of the City of Venice, was elected a member of the Republican County Central Committee of the 61st Assembly District, and was a member of the Venice Chamber of Commerce.
It was Arthur Reese who donated the land and launched the First Baptist Church in Venice. This is the same church that has recently been awarded Historic Preservation Status by the Los Angeles City Council, recognizing its significance as an important cultural landmark of Los Angeles.
To watch a KCET story about Arthur Reese, please see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XMPf7hjvikM