Los Angeles awards monument status to the 1920s Tabor bungalows in Venice

By Gary Walker

Laddie Williams protests outside the Tabor Bungalows in March
Photo by Ted Soqui

A cluster of 1920s bungalows built by one of the founding fathers of Venice’s dwindling African-American community will enter 2018 under the protection of city Historic-Cultural Monument status.

Irving Tabor, who built the residences at 607 Westminster Ave., was an employee and later a friend and confidante of Venice of America builder Abbot Kinney. The two became so close that Kinney bequeathed his own home to Tabor, whose relatives and descendants became a preeminent family of Venice’s historically black Oakwood neighborhood.

The Los Angeles City Council approved historic preservation protections for the bungalows in October, halting planned renovations and requiring that any alterations to the property undergo review by the city’s Cultural Heritage Commission for adherence to federal historic rehabilitation guidelines.

A descendant of Tabor sold the bungalows in the late 1970s, when Oakwood was a primarily African-American working class neighborhood due to racially restrictive housing covenants. Lisa Henson, daughter of “Muppets” creator Jim Henson, purchased the property for $5.4 million last year.

Even before skyrocketing property values sparked a post-recession real estate frenzy in Oakwood, Venice’s black population had declined from 9.6% of residents in 1980 to 5.3% in 2010, according to Census records.

Jataun Valentine, a grandniece of Irving Tabor, helped lead the grassroots campaign for historical protections after Henson, who declined to be interviewed for this story, planned to renovate a few bungalows that had fallen into disrepair.

“I was kind of in a spell,” she said of campaign’s success. “I couldn’t believe that it went through.”

Venice community activist Sue Kaplan helped lobby planning officials, organize community members for meetings and spread information about the property’s historical importance.

“I was really taken by the history of the Tabor family,” Kaplan said. “Without the Tabors and the Reeses [the descendants of Arthur Reese, Kinney’s head decorator], Venice would have been a very different place.”

Venice Historical Society President Jill Prestup credits Valentine, Kaplan and others who pushed the city Historic Resources Commission to consider the bungalows’ cultural significance and recommend historic monument status.

“We think this is wonderful. They fought really hard for this,” Prestup said. “This is an example of how to preserve history.”

Kaplan hopes it is not too late to save other homes in Oakwood.

“I fear that we’re going to be losing so many buildings that have so much historic relevance, and that’s a real shame. I hope people who buy homes in Oakwood look at their homes and think about the history of those who lived there,” she said.

Valentine, who turns 81 in February, said her 12-year-old great-nephew Tyler has shown an interest in preserving the family’s history.

“He was beaming after we got the designation. It’s really nice to know that the younger generation is ready to take the baton,” she said.