Attorney has led some key preservation efforts in Venice
By Vince Echavaria
Amanda Seward has been at the forefront on the issue of preservation in Venice.
Whether it’s with trying to protect a post World War II-era apartment complex from demolition or a post office building from losing its historical characteristics, Seward has made sure to take on the cause and seen positive results.
The attorney was successful in getting Lincoln Place, a 38-acre garden style apartment complex that was home to many senior or disabled tenants, listed on the state Register of Historic Resources. Tenants were locked out of their apartments in 2005 as the landlord planned for redevelopment, but after a settlement with the Los Angeles City Council in 2010, many of those former tenants have either moved back or plan to return and nearly 700 apartments will be restored, most as rent-controlled units.
Seward’s latest preservation endeavor has been working with many community members to ensure that the historic features of the Venice Post Office, a Works Project Administration era building, are maintained along with a 1941 mural, “The Story of Venice” by Edward Biberman. As part of the effort, Seward applied to have the post office listed on the state and national Register of Historic Places.
The U.S. Postal Service has proceeded with its relocation of postal retail services into a nearby annex facility, but Seward and other community members remain steadfast in seeing that the post office and mural are preserved for future generations.
A Mar Vista resident, Seward was also active in the preservation of her neighborhood, known as the Gregory Ain Mar Vista Tract. Though she specializes in film and entertainment law, Seward has always had an interest in preservation, which led to her work with the tenants of Lincoln Place.
Seward has also been active with the local neighborhood council system. She served on the inaugural board of the Mar Vista Community Council and currently sits on the Venice Neighborhood Council.
She recently sat down with The Argonaut to reflect on her work with preservation causes and service in the Venice community.
Q: With your involvement in halting the development at Lincoln Place what are your feelings seeing the former tenants able to move back to their homes and what do you think it means to them?
It’s very, very rewarding. For me it’s a way of ensuring for Venice’s history that it will continue to provide decent for-rent housing to the market. It’s very seldom in life that we get a chance to fight for what we believe in and see it work and I think this could have only happened in Venice.
I think it’s rewarding for all of us because it was basically a community effort and no one turned us down – everyone wanted to be a part of making it work. It was very rewarding and wonderful to see.
Q: What do you think were the key factors to the success in stopping that development?
Certainly, I think it was the tenants who had the desire to fight and would just not leave easily. And then the architects and the design ideas, because their idea was to create a strong community, and boy did they ever do that at Lincoln Place. It’s all those efforts coming together in Venice.
Then you have a community that Lincoln Place has served all that time where people know about it and care about it. There was the preservation community and political community, where all the politicians got together and wrote letters of support. There was just so many people involved.
Q: What did it require to be successful from the legal standpoint?
There were a lot of different lawyers working on this for a number of years from a lot of different angles. For me, that was the reason I went to law school. I didn’t go to law school because I wanted to be a lawyer, I went because I believe in justice and thought it would be something I might need. Really, it was just a way of learning that part of our society and being able to go to a library at any time to look up the law even if I might not practice in that area. It meant going to the law libraries and stepping out of my comfort zone in the entertainment area that I had been focused on for many years.
Q: You were successful in getting state historic preservation status for Lincoln Place. What were the challenges in getting that designation?
The hard part was convincing people that this everyday architecture had a meaning that was worthy of preservation in our society. It’s not just architecture for the rich and the famous. It’s convincing people that something that isn’t from the 1800s or from a previous century is historic, and to let them understand and appreciate the historic part of a more modern design was a challenge.
Q: What do you think it takes for people in other communities to prove that certain properties they believe are worthy should be preserved?
The challenges are that you really have to fight this idea that it’s my property and I can do whatever I want with it. But your ally is that it really is almost non-political in a sense in that both Republicans and Democrats have a sense of history. It’s not about rich or poor, or Democrat or Republican. It’s really sharing a sense of history and making sure people understand that, and how that sense of history has shaped our communities and shapes the way we live and how we live.
Q: Do you see any similarities in the effort to preserve the Venice Post Office and what are the main differences?
It’s similar in the sense that you have people in the community who want to keep it as a post office and want to keep the preservation. The problem we had with the post office is that the Postal Service just didn’t have to listen to anybody. There wasn’t a separate body that you could appeal to like with the historic commission. They just didn’t have to go through that process.
Q: What were the challenges in getting historic preservation for the post office?
We’re going to win that in some ways because the building is going to be preserved, and no one is talking about destroying the building. Really what we lost on, which was always the challenge, is how to keep it a post office. (Film producer) Joel Silver is reportedly in escrow on the property now. He has a very good track record in terms of preservation and he wants to have some community presence so we’re going to have the building saved.
I’m just sorry that we don’t have the building saved as a post office because there’s something majestic about post offices that were built as post offices.
Q: How would you describe this fight against the federal government and how does it compare with Lincoln Place?
This is so much easier in some ways because everybody agrees that the building stays – in that sense it’s easier. But if we were to lose, all we lost is a post office, which is important, but it’s not the same thing as people losing where they live. When you go to court it’s not like I lose sleep over it, whereas with Lincoln Place I actually would lose sleep. There’s no comparison in terms of what’s at stake.
Q: Why do you think people in Venice, who tend to have differing views on many issues, came together on this fight?
What I’ve learned about historic preservation is that it really is a sense of history and if people understand the history they appreciate it. A lot of us know it when we see it. We experience it every time we go to the post office – you’re on the square, you understand the importance of walking up those stairs and looking at that mural that tells the history of Venice. To go to the post office in your community that has the history of your community right there in the lobby, we can all appreciate that.
Q: Do you think the unity of residents on an issue could be used as a model for future efforts?
I think so. Certainly, I know people now in a different light than I’ve known them before so now when we’re challenging each other it can be done more out of respect and trying to see a mutual view. I can talk to them on something else, and because we’ve been through a battle together, I can respect them in a different way.