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.