Edward Biberman Mural

February 1, 2013

By Delores Hanney

Since the recent slipping into private hands of the 1939 WPA-built post office in Venice, there has been much anguish and gnashing of teeth mainly due to the loss of an almost constant availability of the pleasure afforded by an offhand gaze at its iconic mural, The Story of Venice, tucked up inside the building. The 6’6” by 15’10” oil-emulsion tribute to the town’s past is the work of one Edward Biberman done in 1941.

The Work Projects Administration was a New Deal agency created during the Great Depression to provide useful employment to the otherwise jobless: constructing roads and bridges, parks and public buildings. Many of those buildings were then festooned with murals capturing a topic of local significance, painted by talented artists such as Biberman who were also working under New Deal programs, The Section of Fine Arts in Biberman’s case.

Not being painted directly onto its host wall, The Story of Venice is separated by process – if not purpose – from those pictographs of the cave painting sort harking back to times of antiquity. By contrast, the Venice post office version of visual life recordation is an oil on canvas that Biberman created in his studio on Vine Street in Hollywood. Actually, the oil was mixed with a wax preparation following a recipe he was given by Hilarie Hiler, a WPA mural-maker working out of San Francisco. It imbued the surface with a lovely eggshell quality and a gentle sheen as opposed to a shine. In completion, the painting was affixed to the wall through a technique called “marouflage,” a kinky kind of name for a procedure not that far removed from a do-it-yourselfer hanging wallpaper in the dining room.

He was way jazzed to receive the commission for this, his second mural. “It’s a painter’s dream to run into that kind of rich material, which also happens to be true,” he told an interviewer for the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian twenty-three years later. “Everything about the place is something which one would imagine to have been created from a figment of some very rosy imagination.”

Biberman’s approach, to this pictorial – and picturesque – historytelling project of his, is delicious, as all who ever saw it can readily testify. Following the ersatz triptych model employed on his first mural painted for the Federal Post Office Building in downtown Los Angeles, Venice founder Abbot Kinney is the central image in The Story of Venice, behind him the visionary rendition of his cultural Shangri-La. To the left Biberman depicted its honky-tonk manifestation; to the right in its industrialized form. In this manner, he captured not only Kinney’s fancy but also how it evolved upon making contact with real life. “It’s a wry commentary on what can happen to a man’s dream,” the artist observed. Venetians promptly claimed it as their own.

Stylistically influenced by the work of important Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clements Orozco, all of whom he knew from his days back in New York, it’s not just a sentimental reminder of things past. The piece exudes a certain romantic muscularity that embraces both the idealistic and the pragmatic in a sideways kind of optimism for the future. It offers, however, no hint of the somber social advocacy that later would become the primary focus of his fervor.

For more than seven decades, Edward Biberman’s awesome mural was there to welcome Venice post office patrons who bustled about, task oriented, towards a swift completion of business. The government retains ownership of the treasure but the covenant signed by the building’s new owner, movie producer Joel Silver – of Die Hard, The Matrix and, Lethal Weapon famewould have him restore it for public viewing at his new digs, by appointment on a bi-monthly basis. That eventuality would have the effect of lifting said mural-viewing from an incidental part of an ordinary day’s errands to the status of a special event. But as Greta Cobar reported in the Free Venice Beachhead, a law suit was filed in Washington D.C. for reconsideration hopefully resulting in re-emplacement in the Abbot Kinney library: the best possible outcome for Venice homies.

In his moody and mystical and impassioned poem, “Sacred Places,” Jim Smith evokes that old post office to enshrine it as a temple, the mural image of Abbot Kinney inside as its resident deity. With it, a piercing howl of pain breaks from Smith’s soul.

Primeval articulation of a community’s grief for things as they stand now.


Mural Illustrating Abbot Kinney Should Be Moved to Abbot Kinney Library

January 1, 2013

By Greta Cobar

We as Venetians are upholding our reputation of not giving up. So here’s the latest on our up-and-going, not-nearly-over fight with the United States Postal Service (USPS) and the new owner of our former, historic post office, Joel Silver.

The Story of Venice mural by renowned artist Edward Biberman, formerly housed in our historic post office, remains the property of the USPS even though the building has been sold into private ownership. Ever since the sale of the building, which closed on August 2, we have tirelessly tried to obtain a copy of the covenant concerning the mural between Silver and the USPS. Both Bill Rosendahl’s and Janice Hahn’s offices made vain promises of obtaining the document and making it public. It took a Freedom of Information Act request filed by a Mark Ryavek to finally view the document four months after the sale of the building.

The document, dated August 2, starts out by optimistically stating that “USPS agrees to loan the Mural to the Borrower, and the Borrower agrees to borrow the Mural from the USPS, for the purpose of exhibiting the Mural for a term of fifty (50) years.” However, through undisclosed maneuvering with the USPS, Silver managed to add a “First Amendment to Loan Agreement” on August 21, which states that “Borrower agrees to provide public access to the Mural six days per calendar year during the hours of 10 am and 6pm Pacific Time by appointment.”

There goes the request by the Coalition to Save the Post Office, representing virtually all Venice organizations and a wide spectrum of citizens, to maintain access to the mural during the same hours as the USPS had back when it owned the building.

In addition, although the initial loan agreement states that “prior to any such restoration (of the Mural), the Borrower shall send notice to the USPS of the proposed restoration for USPS review and approval,” the August 21 amendment negates any such responsibility by stating that “Borrower shall not be obligated, prior to any Mural restoration, to obtain the approval by the USPS of the proposed restoration provided.”

No wonder Silver was able to remove the mural from the wall in spite of expert and community opposition.

I personally filed an official request with the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) to introduce a motion to move the mural depicting Abbot Kinney from Silver’s property, which does not allow public viewing, to a public space, such as the Abbot Kinney Library. Let’s hope that the VNC will represent the wishes of the community on this issue, and let’s hope that their recommendation will actually have the power to make a difference.

The battle against the USPS is still being fought on more than one front. A new brief was filed on December 19 in Washington DC in our lawsuit against the USPS. The Circuit Court has combined our case with two others, involving Pimmit Branch Post Office in Northern Virginia and the Spring Dale, West Virginia Post Office, all represented by Elaine Mittleman.

The current brief submitted by Mittleman quotes the USPS as stating, in its own document, that “to maintain the spirit of the section in placing artwork in Post Offices, postal policy provides for the relocation of these works into the new facility when a Post Office moves so the art can continue to enrich people during the normal course of their lives” (http://1.usa.gov/12RK0kW).

Although our new mini, hole-in-the-wall post office at the mail sorting annex does not currently have enough space to exhibit the Biberman artwork, the original building has a very high ceiling. With minor modifications the current ceiling could be raised to accommodate the mural. However, after our one-way communications with the USPS over the past two years, we might choose to avoid dealing with them and move the mural to the Library instead.

“The Postal Service will include measures to ensure the mural will remain available for public viewing in any plan for reuse or disposal of the Post Office property” is a commitment that the Final Decision about the Venice Post Office included, according to the latest brief filed by Mittleman in Washington DC.

The Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC), whose mission is to represent the public in dealing with the USPS, “failed to consider the commitment by the Postal Service that the mural will remain available for public viewing. In addition, the PRC did not address the historic preservation issues concerning the Venice Post Office and the mural,” according to the brief submitted by Mittleman.

Yes, we are taking on a big, federal institution whose mission seems to be self-destruction in favor of private shipping companies behind the excuse of a manufactured crisis. And yes, we are taking on Silver, the multi-millionaire Hollywood producer who was recently kicked out of Burbank and decided that Venice is hipper. It doesn’t make sense for Silver to keep the mural after removing it from the wall, without provisions for public access. Could we get the building back? If through our current lawsuit we can prove that the USPS or the PRC failed to follow procedures when disposing of our historic post office, the USPS would have to buy the building back from Silver and re-instate postal services.

Please contact the VNC at secretary@venicenc.org and urge that the motion to move the Biberman mural to the Library be placed on the January VNC Agenda. Then get involved by attending the VNC meeting on January 15 at 7pm at Westminster Elementary School, 1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd.


Joel Silver Holds Secret Press Conference Excluding the Press

November 1, 2012

By Greta Cobar

The worst-case scenario option came true at our historic post office once its doors closed, to be re-opened by invitation only for a press conference that seemed to include only those willing to smile and grin in Joel Silver’s face, without questioning his actions or intent.

Although Silver bought the building, he does not own the Edward Biberman “Story of Venice” mural. The Coalition to Save the Post Office, which represents a wide spectrum of citizens and virtually all Venice organizations, has repeatedly asked for a copy of the covenant between Silver and the USPS concerning the mural. The document was never provided. Cecilia Castillo, from Bill Rosendahl’s office, and Natalie Rogers, from Janice Hahn’s office, have also officially requested the covenant, without avail.

It seems odd that although the community has been working tirelessly since August to obtain a copy of the covenant concerning the mural, nobody at the press conference bothered to ask Silver himself for a copy. It goes to show that the community was not represented, proven by the fact that the Coalition to Save the Post Office, formed over a year ago and backed by thousands of citizens, was not invited. The Beachhead wasn’t invited either, even though it is the only publication strictly dedicated to Venice and the only publication that has been covering the fight to save the building and the mural in almost every issue over the past 20 months.

“There’s always many issues in Venice, and there’s always sometimes division on how we solve problems in Venice, but when it comes to this post office, this historic structure with the incredible mural inside, everybody is united to want to save it,” Bill Rosendahl said at the November 5, 2011 rally to save our post office (bit.ly/rUnWxk). He could not attend Silver’s press conference due to his fighting the cancer that he was recently diagnosed with, but was represented by his chief of staff, Mike Bonin.

“In the sale and the development of this building we saw something that has never before happened in Venice: we saw everybody in Venice agree on something,” said Bonin, speaking on Rosendahl’s behalf, at Silver’s press conference.

Yes, Bonin is not only stating the exact opposite of the person he is representing, but is also not stating the facts. It seems that one had to be willing to display that type of behavior to be invited to Silver’s conference.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was conveniently among the attendees, as Silver will need City permits for his demolition projects. Presently he does not have any permits for interior demolition. Regardless, the interior looks significantly different than it did just three months ago.

It was most likely Villaraigosa’s first time in our historic post office, and he proved to be unfamiliar with anything Venice. When reading about Venice history, Villaraigosa proved to be unfamiliar with Abbot Kinney, mis-read his name and had to re-read it. He went on to stumble reading what someone else probably wrote and what looked like he was reading for the first time. “In 18 months it’s gonna look a lot different than this,” he said, proving our worst nightmares coming true.

Thanks to Tony Vera’s video (http://bit.ly/Wvkoax), even those of us that were not qualified to be invited to the press conference can see the BS that transpired inside our beloved historic post office that morning. At 13:20 into the video, Bonin is heard saying “We have in Joel someone who has a history of loving the community.” The camera turns to Silver, who smirks and laughs in gestures that show his surprise with Bonin’s statement and his admittance of it not being true.

“We inherited this mural, which was one of the reasons that I love this building,” Silver said about the Biberman mural when in fact he did not inherit the mural, which remains the property of the USPS. Nevertheless, Silver’s behavior would make anyone think that he does own it, as he proceeded to clean it against the recommendations of Suzanne W. Zada, Executive Director of the Edward Biberman Estate, Deborah Padilla, Executive Director, Social and Public Art Resource Center, and Emily Winters, Venice muralist and Chair of the Venice Arts Council.

In spite of conflicting community and expert suggestions, Silver plans to remove the mural from the wall. The Coalition to Save the Post Office and the Venice community as a whole need to arrange for the mural depicting Abbot Kinney to be moved to another Venice location that the public frequently visits, and what better place than the Abbot Kinney public library?

“There has to be some reason Silver’s group is not turning over the paperwork,” Amanda Seward, a Venice attorney and Venice Neighborhood Council board member who has been an integral part of the Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office suggested regarding the mural covenant. “It looks like the mayor pushed this through for Silver and unfortunately the Los Angeles Conservancy resolved the public access issue for him and allowed him to work around the coalition,” she went on to say.

Silver had this to say about Linda Dishman of the LA Conservancy, who attended the press conference: “Even though she said not to say anything, I still love her very much, I hope she’s not mad at me, and it’s been remarkable that she got involved with us because  she really, really made this possible.”

As the big Hollywood movie producer that he is, Silver took advantage of every opportunity to pitch his movies. Providing for Silver film screenings in the lobby, he disguised his self-advertising as community access to the building and the mural in what he described as Biberman and Works Projects Administration (WPA) lecture series.

Silver described the WPA as a program that FDR created in a “time similar to now.” Yes, FDR did create jobs and beautiful public buildings through the WPA in a time similar to this. It would have been, however, his worst-case scenario to have those buildings move into private ownership in similar times under a manufactured crisis. The USPS is the only business in the country required to pre-fund the health benefits of its retirees for the next 75 years in a 10-year period. USPS also over-paid $75 billion into its employee’s pension fund. If it weren’t purposefully murdered in favor of private shipping companies paying lower wages and lacking labor unions, the USPS would generate a profit.

In yet another effort to fake concern for the Venice community, Silver bragged about creating an educational program involving students attending Animo Charter High School, located in Venice. Charter schools are truly private institutions operating for profit while their labor unions lack bargaining power. It makes total sense for Silver to favor such an institution as opposed to, say, Venice High School, which is a public institution with a labor union much like the USPS.

“The mural is going to come down in about 10 days … and we probably won’t put it up again until the building is complete, so in the interim, when the is mural is finished restoration … we will have to determine a place where it can be exhibited, whether that’s locally or with the LACMA, but that’s a question we have to ask the USPS, because I don’t own the mural, the USPS owns the mural, so that would be a question for them. And access to the people, I am mean, we will work out a very reasonable way of seeing the mural, of calling, making an appointment to come and see it, it’s not going to be a complex system and it is going to be access that the LA Conservancy will have special access, but it is going to be a pretty simple system that we will put in place when the building is up and we’re gonna know how we’ll be able to do it,” Silver said when asked how the public will have access to the mural.

The Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office requested that Silver continue to provide public access to the mural during the same time intervals that the USPS did. Needing an appointment from Silver to see a public artwork that does not belong to him is unacceptable. It makes the case stronger for moving it to the library.

The community continues to stand united on not allowing another multi-millionaire to move in and claim ownership of our valued resources. Suzanne W. Zada, Executive Director of the Edward Biberman Estate, was just another one of many who was not invited to the press conference, according to her, “because he knew that I do not agree with what he is doing to the mural and he knew that I would say something unpleasant.” She went on to say that she felt somewhat flattered that Silver was too afraid to invite her and other members of the Coalition to Save the Post Office to his so-called press conference.


Joel Silver Announces His Immortality at VNC Meeting

November 1, 2012

By Anne Alvarez

The October Venice Neighborhood Council meeting was held at Westminster Elementary on October 23, and was attended by politicians, Hollywood moguls and neighborhood council hopefuls.

Congressional candidates for the newly formed 33rd district Representative Henry Waxman (D) and Manhattan Beach businessman Mike Bloomfield (I) took the opportunity to address the audience and lay out their policies.

Bloomfield acknowledged it will be difficult to unseat Waxman, who has been in office for over 38 years. However, he feels he just might win because voters are fed up with the hyper partisanship taking place in Washington D.C   . He also emphasized his independence from the two-party system, choosing to break away from the Republican Party to run as an Independent.

Henry Waxman addressed the crowd, pointing out that his opponent left the Republican Party, and proceeded to donate as much money as he possibly could to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.  He then went on to discuss his opposition of the Santa Monica airport and how he intends to do something about it in 2015, when its current agreement with the city expires. Waxman also mentioned his disappointment that the Venice Post Office was sold; however, he is pleased with the buildings new owner, Joel Silver. He briefly addressed the thousands of homeless veterans that roam the streets while 400 acres of land at the Brentwood Veterans’ Administration are being privately leased out, insisting he has fought to keep the V.A. from being altogether sold.

No questions from the audience or board members were permitted, and as soon as both candidates finished campaigning, they immediately left the building.

The audience was then introduced to over 50 Venice Council hopefuls including former Venice High school principal J.Loyd (Bud) Jacobs, who wants to improve the quality of Venice neighborhood schools and align community support for programs and schools that serve the local community

Through it all Joel Silver, the new owner of our historic postal building sat quietly in a back row of the auditorium  before being asked to address the crowd. He proceeded by saying how much he has always loved Venice and how he was “happy to have been voted off the island,” meaning the Warner Brothers Burbank lot. “It is going to be an incredible time for us to experience what Venice is, it is a dream come true,” he said.

“We want to change the paradigm of Venice, the paradigm of Hollywood,” Silver said. He discussed his plans for the community, and opened himself up for questions from the audience and board members; only 2 people asked questions: one woman wanted to know if he would hire her, the other sang his praises.

No one asked about the Biberman mural. I had a chance to privately ask Silver about the covenant between him and the Postal service and his willingness to release it to the public. He replied that “it is not out of the question and that it would ultimately be up to the Postal service.”

When asked whether he has ever said that the Biberman mural will be view-able 7 days out of the year, as has been rumored, his reply was “never, that is ridiculous.”

Silver also said that temporarily displaying the painting at a public Venice space like the Venice library is something he is willing to look into as long as he gets the okay from the owners of the mural, the U.S.P.S.

Board member Ivonne Guzman asked Silver if upon his death he would consider willing his new office space to the community, garnering a quick “I don’t plan on dying anytime soon” from Silver, and laughter from the board members and the audience.


Venice to Silver: It’s Not Your Mural

September 1, 2012

By Greta Cobar

The heart of our community was hurt this past month as bulldozers tore down the stairs leading to what used to be our historic post office.

New owner Joel Silver, big-time Hollywood producer behind movies like Lethal Weapon, Die Hard, The Matrix and Predator, started work both outside and inside the building without permits from the city.

“Our inspector stopped the job since the work done was not covered under the active permits,” wrote Bob Steinbach, Chief, Inspection Bureau, Department of Building and Safety in an email message sent out August 8. However, it took only a few days for Silver to resume the demolition.

The worst of it we don’t even know about, as it is taking place inside. And we won’t know for two years, because that’s how long Silver said it will take to finish the renovations and re-open the building.

The Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office, which includes a wide spectrum of citizens and virtually all Venice organizations, found that an early start permit to demolish non-bearing walls at basement and ground floor was issued August 3. According to Michael King, an architect living in Venice, “early permits are the curse of historic preservation. The developers demolish stuff under these early permits before they submit plans for the real construction permit to avoid addressing a multitude of clearance issues with the demolished elements.”

Silver also applied for a permit to demolish the interior, but has not received approval yet. Those of us that were able to secretly peek into the building can attest to the fact that things are being demolished. All historical postal furniture was secretly disposed of by the USPS before escrow closed.

Overall business with the United Stated Postal Service representatives has been shady, but one thing we have been told is that the 1941 Story of Venice mural by Edward Biberman will remain the property of the USPS.

Meanwhile Silver took it upon himself to remove the mural and restore it against the advice of Suzanne Zada, Executive Director of the Biberman estate, Deborah Padilla, Executive Director, Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC), and Emily Winters, Venice muralist and Chair of the Venice Arts Council.

If the mural does not belong to Silver, why does he have the authority to decide that it needs to be restored, when Zada, Padilla, Winters and others do not think so at all. And why is he to decide who restores it in spite of experts’ conflicting suggestions?

With the building expected to be closed for two years, Silver plans to move the mural to an undisclosed location. The mural can be damaged if not stored properly. It is also likely to be damaged when removed from the wall.

Although renowned mural experts have remarked that the mural is in excellent shape and that it is dangerous to move it, Silver has been unresponsive to community and expert input.

The Venice community would like to keep the artwork available for public viewing. Although David Williams, Vice President of Network Operations with the USPS, stated that “the Postal Service will include measures to ensure the mural will remain available for public viewing in any plan for reuse or disposal of the Post Office property,” such measures have not been made public.

“The purchaser and the Postal Service entered into a loan agreement in which the purchaser has agreed to allow access by the public to view the mural,” Williams wrote in an August 13 letter to the Coalition. Although the original covenant for the building mentioned the mural and public access to it, the current covenant does not mention either one.

Cecilia Castillo, from Bill Rosendahl’s office, told the Coalition that USPS attorney Maria Infanger mentioned that there is a lease agreement regarding the mural. However, when Castillo asked for a copy, there was no reply. The Coalition then asked Natalie Rogers, in Janice Hahn’s office, to request a copy, which she did on August 17. With no reply from the USPS, the Coalition might have to get the document through a Freedom of Information Act request. Currently we do not know if the loan agreement enables removal of the mural from its intended location.

The City of Los Angeles decided to accept being the beneficiary of the covenant protecting our historic post office even though it has never assumed such a role in the past. Furthermore, the city does not require public access to its cultural monuments, and would not normally make this a requirement.

At the August meeting of the Venice Neighborhood Council a motion was approved requesting that the public continue to have access to the mural and the historic foyer “for the same hours and days that the historic post office was open to the public before the sale of the property.”

Because the public is not likely to have a presence in Silver’s production company as much as it did in the post office, and because Silver is planning to remove the mural, an obvious question is: why not move the mural to another public space? Although the “Story of Venice” mural was made specifically for the southern wall of our historic post office, we might choose not to lose the mural with the building. Especially since at the present time there is no provision for public access to view the mural. Moving it to the library is something that the community might wish to consider.

Another important factor to remember is the bargain that Silver got with this purchase. Not only is the building huge and it includes a large basement, but it is also in the heart of Venice, it is a historical building, and it sits on a large parcel of land. All of that for $7.3 million? What a steal! And then he gets a mural by a world-renowned artist as a bonus? WOW! It shows that the USPS is not all that interested in making money.

Although the mass media has not covered the killing of a service provided for in the Constitution, the Beachhead has covered it in almost every issue for the past 18 months. Under a prerogative of losing revenue is actually a manufactured crisis caused by the demand that the USPS be the only business in the country to pre-fund the health benefits of its retirees for the next 75 years in a 10 year period. USPS also over-paid $75 billion into its employee’s pension fund. And with the planned sale of historical buildings, most of which happen to be in California, the USPS has been a cash cow for the government.

The Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office has contacted and asked for help from every politician with jurisdiction. Aside from Bill Rosendahl and Janice Hahn, who wrote letters sympathizing with our efforts, there was a lot of silence and lack of responses. Senator Diane Feinstein’s husband, Richard Blum, happens to be the chair of the Board of Directors of USPS property consultant CB Richard Ellis, which might explain why she chose not to speak against the USPS’s plan to sell our historic post office.

“We really have a government that’s just going to the highest bidder, which is all these private interest groups that are hovering around like vultures trying to pick the Postal Service, which actually is one of the strongest services that our government provides,” said Dennis Kucinich (Dem-OH) in an August 1 interview with Nermeen Shaikh. He went on to say that “every time you privatize something, the cost goes up to the public. It may profit the private sector, but it certainly doesn’t benefit the public.”

Here in Venice, we should “let the fate of the post office be a warning of what can happen to the rest of Venice,” said Jim Smith, who suggested that we create an oversight committee that will keep tabs on our post office and other historic buildings.

“Some of the best buildings from the Abbot Kinney era were demolished by the city, including St. Mark’s Hotel, the block-long colonnade on Windward, not to mention the Pier and the Canals. In Venice, we seem to have organizations for everything except protection of our common heritage,” Smith said.

It is the opinion of many that it is a violation of intent to change the purpose of a Works Project Administration building, such as our historic post office, and allow it to move into private ownership.

“There would be a distinct loss to the spiritual and patriotic relation between the citizen and the government if its activities were carried on in bare warehouses without architectural significance or dignity and constructed as cheaply and as shoddily as the average speculative structure” – Southwest Builder & Contractor, 9/13/1935.

 

The Fight to Save Our Post Office Continues

August 1, 2012

By Greta Cobar

Escrow is ready to close on our historical post office building in disregard to the United States Post Offices’s failure to protect the building from being modified or torn down by its new owner.

Historical protection is just one of several procedures that the USPS failed to follow when disposing of our post office and hundreds of others nationwide.

The battle is not over. As a matter of fact, the Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office is getting ready to file an injunction to stop the sale before escrow with Joel Silver closes.

Without a beneficiary in charge of enforcing a covenant, any such covenant would provide no historical preservation or protection. The USPS’s initial covenant appointed the California State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) as beneficiary of the Venice post office.

“The SHPO is not authorized by California state law to accept covenants or easements,” stated Reid Nelson, of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), in a letter to Dallan Wordekemper, Federal Preservation Officer of the USPS.

Although the City of L.A. has never acted as a covenant enforcer, Ken Bernstein, Principal City Planner and Manager for the Office of Historic Resources, writes: “City staff have reviewed the draft preservation covenant originally prepared for the SHPO, and have inserted the City in place of the SHPO” in a July 20 letter to Wordekemper.

The sale of our post office cannot be completed without Section 106 compliance, which involves a covenant ensuring historical protection and a beneficiary responsible for enforcing that covenant, according to Caroline Hall, of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, in a letter addressed to Wordekemper.

As Jim Smith pointed out in a letter to Bernstein on behalf of the Coalition, the “historic preservation covenant has been found severely deficient by individuals, preservation groups and at least one State Preservation Office, so far.”

Besides being unenforceable because of its lack of a beneficiary, it does not provide for public access to the lobby and the 1941 Story of Venice mural by noted artist Edward Biberman. As Mark Ryavek, of the Coalition pointed out, “the covenant is still hopelessly deficient and does not include the right of any public access, so preserving the foyer and mural is for naught from the public’s perspective.”

“The Postal Service will initiate the Section 106 consultation process when it develops plans for the reuse or disposal of the property, and the City of Venice will be a consulting party. The Postal Service will include measures to ensure the mural will remain available for public viewing in any plan for reuse or disposal of the Post Office property,” wrote David Williams, Vice President of Network Operations with the USPS, in the Final Decision to sell our post office. The current covenant, however, does not allow public access to the mural.

Another procedural failure on the part of the USPS involves its negligence in providing adequate community notification and input consideration during the process. For example, the USPS held a public meeting at Hama Sushi on a Monday, at 1 pm, which was attended by five residents. If the meeting would have been scheduled outside of work hours and publicly announced, attendance would have been higher.

The other two public meetings claimed to have been held by the USPS were actually Venice Neighborhood Council meetings attended by USPS representatives. The hundreds of residents attending those meetings were unanimously and loudly against the closure of our post office.

Which brings up another procedural failure on the part of the USPS: input consideration. Shouldn’t the public have a say when it comes to a public institution?

Yet another procedural failure in a row: not disclosing plans to reduce retail service at the new location, specifically the elimination of Saturday window services. Originally the USPS had planned for only two service windows at the new facility, and increased the number to four only after the public and Congressperson Janice Hahn pointed out the long waiting lines, which were in clear violation of the   USPS’s own mission statement.

For a post office to be sold, the USPS has to determine and declare the building as “excess property,” which requires paperwork specific to each property. The USPS has not provided such paperwork for Venice, and they might just not have it. There is no proof that the building was ever established as excess property.

It is also important to note that Works Project Administration (WPA) buildings, such as our post office, were created with the intent of merging universal access to mail, art and architecture. By changing the purpose of the building and denying the public access to the foyer and mural, the USPS is violating the intent of the WPA.

Interestingly enough, the WPA was a depression-era effort on the part of the government to decrease unemployment while creating public buildings and services. It goes to show how much our government has changed since, as we are selling these WPA buildings and eliminating a service provided for in the constitution in favor of private businesses that will cost more and deliver to less. Once again the big corporations win while negatively affecting mostly the rural, elderly, poor and disabled members of our society. What a perfect example of the one percent further increasing its share of the wealth, while the rest of us are put at a further disadvantage.

Venice is joining hands with efforts throughout the country, from Berkeley to Northfield, from La Jolla to Santa Monica, to stop the USPS’s efforts to cash in on our historical post offices. If you would like to become involved with the Coalition’s efforts to save our post office, please contact the Beachhead. We currently have the grounds to file an injunction to stop the sale.


Post Office Goes Private?

July 1, 2012

By Jim Smith

What sort of a country do we live in that allows the government to take an important historic building that is part of the public’s accumulated wealth and turn it over to the super-rich 1 percent for private use?

That is exactly what is happening with the building that has been Venice’s Main Post Office since 1939. And, it is being virtually given away over the loud protests of the organizations and people of Venice.

Our battered but beautiful post office has been closed since June 15. No one has seen Abbot Kinney gazing down on us since then.

I visited the mini-post office that has been carved out of the old Safeway building that is now used to sort mail. The Postal Service must be ashamed of the place since they have given it a fake address, 313 Grand Avenue. Anyone going to 313 Grand will be confronted with a cul-de-sac that does not give access to the mini. Instead, by auto or bike it can only be reached from Riviera Avenue in Central Venice. Walkers can climb over a curb along Windward Avenue and walk through a small parking lot to reach it.

Once inside, I was struck by the contrast with our old post office. In the mini, there is no artwork on the walls, no soaring ceilings, deep varnished wood or expensive tile floors. Instead, we see painted plywood, cheap tiles on the floor and a low ceiling with ugly acoustic tiles. The overall appearance is that of a low-income commercial business in a mini-mall. This is what the Postal Service thinks is good enough for the people of Venice!

Movie mogul Joel Silver, who is now in escrow to buy the Venice Post Office, is reputed to have a net worth of approximately $350,000,000. The Post Office was for sale for $7,500,000. This represents a little more than 2 percent of his wealth. For a person with an annual income of $35,000, 2 percent would be $750. Even if you have an income of $100,000 per year, 2 percent would be just $2,000.

This exercise is to show how skewed income distribution has become and to show that a member of the top 1 percent can buy a major asset with petty cash. Is anything called a public building or public space safe if the government (also owned by the 1 percent) can so willingly bestow our national treasures on them?

If and when Silver moves in, the public will move out. The operation will be private. Visitors who want to look at the historic mural and lobby will be allowed in according to his whim. We will have no recourse if the Edward Biberman mural is visible only once every two weeks. Nor will we be able to object if the lobby is substantially altered. As in the Middle Ages, it’s all up to the good will of the Lord in his castle, in this case Silver.

The Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office is scrambling to get an injunction to stop the sale. At this point, a legal action is about the only thing that can save the post office. But going into court places a severe financial burden on even a group of average income people.

We are forced to resort to legal action because of the failure of our(?) representatives to intervene. Here is the rundown: City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl – supportive but powerless at the federal level; Member of Congress Janice Hahn – supportive, but now campaigning for a seat in Congress from the L.A. Harbor area; Senator Dianne Feinstein – aides were friendly and sympathetic, but no action from the Senator; Senator Barbara Boxer – aides were friendly and sympathetic, but no action from the Senator; Member of Congress Henry Waxman – unwilling to get involved while campaigning to represent us. Waxman was also one of the sponsors of the 2006 bill that forced the USPS to make huge advance payments for future retiree health care, thereby forcing retrenchment by the Postal Service.

The plight of the Venice Post Office is being repeated thousands of times across the country as more and more historic buildings are put on the sell list. There is currently a moratorium for many of these, but not Venice, while Congress deliberates a new postal bill. However, it is unlikely that anything Congress passes will help people across the country to save their post offices. If anything, it will probably make the situation worse, as Congress bows to 1 percents who want to snatch up prime real estate at bargain prices throughout the country.

Only a handful of Democrats and no Republicans seem interested in saving our historic legacy that stems mostly from New Deal days. One of the most vocal supporters of public post offices, Dennis Kucinich, was defeated in his primary election.

In addition, the mass media, also owned by the 1 percent, seems not interested in covering what has become a large movement to save the post offices. If it had not been for our necessary effort in Venice to save our post office, most of us would not have become aware of the extent of government’s actions to unload post offices and lay off hundreds of thousands of postal workers in the middle of a recession/depression. Since our struggle began, we’ve been in contact with people in other parts of the country who are also trying to figure out how to stop this juggernaut. We now have our own information resources, such as www.savethepostoffice.com and http://www.savethevenicepostoffice.facebook.com

What do we need to do about it:

1. We need a good lawyer versed in federal regulations to join our fight at bargain basement rates.

2. We need to spread the word to everyone about the massive looting of public resources now taking place.

3. We need a new Congress that is responsive to protecting the public from the vultures in Wall Street and elsewhere. Our local problems have merged with national issues.

4. We need millions to take to the streets, and stay in the streets, until we have a revolution that turns government priorities right side up.


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