Reese Davidson Community would replace the parking lot at Venice and Pacific with retail shops, a community arts center and 136 units of affordable housing

By Gary Walker

The terminus of Grand Canal between North Venice and South Venice boulevards, immediately northwest of the Venice Canals, would run through an interior courtyard of the Reese Davidson Community
Rendering Courtesy of Venice Community Housing Corp

With 68 apartments for the homeless, 34 apartments for low-income artists, 34 apartments for low-income earners, four apartments for on-site supervisors, a neighborhood arts center, 4,000 square feet of retail or restaurant space and on-site parking, the proposed Reese Davidson Community would transform the 2.65-acre beach parking lot where Venice Boulevard meets Pacific Avenue into Venice’s largest affordable housing complex to date.

It is also expected to face heavy push-
back from neighborhood groups who object to the project’s size, scope and design, and from others who oppose a broader push by city officials to expand affordable housing and homeless services throughout Venice.

Residents will be able to view initial plans and speak with city planning staff during an open house format scoping meeting at 5 p.m. Monday inthe Oakwood Recreation Center. Nonprofit organizations the Venice Community Housing Corporation (VCHC) and Hollywood Community Housing would jointly develop the city-owned parcel.

A stone’s throw from the Venice Canals, where homes have sold for as much as $2,000 per square foot, the two residential buildings in the project’s footprint would stand at about 35 feet tall — the established height limit of the Venice Specific Plan — but a freestanding tower at the northwest edge of the project is envisioned at 67 feet, which would require an exemption from city planners.

VCHC Executive Director Becky Dennison said she understands that some people will worry about the environmental impacts and the height exemptions that the project will require.

“This is a very complicated land use issue. I definitely think people are always concerned about changes to land use,” she acknowledged. “There will be issues that we’ll be able to study and mitigate, for sure.”

Meanwhile, the neighborhood advocacy group Fight Back Venice has already petitioned the Venice Neighborhood Council to call for an exhaustive study
of the project and its potential impacts. In a Jan. 8 letter to the VNC, organizer Christian Wrede writes that the Reese Davidson Community is “part of a much broader effort to strip power from taxpayers and promote oversized housing projects … that benefit politicians, developers and doyennes of Los Angeles’ mutating social services sector.”

Fight Back Venice has also been organizing local opposition to the city’s plans for temporary homeless housing in the former Metro bus yard on Main Street and VCHC’s plans for a 35-unit, 45-foot-tall affordable housing apartment complex on Rose Avenue.

Supporters argue that new affordable housing construction in Venice is necessary to address the neighborhood’s homelessness crisis and help preserve
a socioeconomic balance intrinsic to Venice’s eclectic community identity and history of inclusiveness.

In a nod to that history, the Reese Davidson Community gets its name from both VCHC co-founder Rick Davidson and Arthur Reese, a patriarch of Venice’s black community who was the lead decorator for and a personal confidante of Venice founding father Abbot Kinney. The community arts center would be named after the late actor and dancer Gregory Hines, who lived in Venice and frequented the original Hal’s Bar & Grill.

“This is such a unique, city-owned property, and so we wanted to honor the historic diversity of Venice and the role that arts have played in Venice,” Dennison said of the internal voting process for naming the project.

Community activist Zelda Lambrecht, one of the project’s more vocal opponents, takes personal issue to the project’s design. In an email to The Argonaut, she compared the interior courtyard rendering that appears with this story to the blocky prison barracks of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“As a Los Angeles native and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I am haunted by the placement, the design, and the apathetic disregard for community that our city officials are supporting of this ‘Monster in the Median,’” asserted Lambrecht, a costume supervisor for television productions. “It is designed to alienate a cause from a real community, encamp people and tear the rest of the Venice community apart.”

The Reese Davidson Community is designed by celebrated Culver City-based architect Eric Owen Moss, whose work includes Vespertine, Pterodactyl and several other cutting-edge Hayden Tract buildings. He said the project’s design was inspired by Venice’s tradition of social activism and diverse artistic expression.

“It was crafted very carefully and intentionally to address the community’s history and the arts,” Moss said. “I think it’s important to recognize that this topic [homelessness] is a major social and political issue in America’s big cities. The premise of this project is that the city has expressed the responsibility that this kind of social issue should be investigated and solved as part of making Los Angeles a safer place to live.”