Wave Staff Report
VENICE — City Councilman Mike Bonin is asking the city Department of Recreation and Parks to consider renaming the Oakwood Recreation Center after two of the Black founders of Venice — Arthur Reese and Irving Tabor.
In a recent letter to department General Manager Jimmy Kim, Bonin asked that the name of the recreation center be changed to the Reese-Tabor Oakwood Park and Recreation Center.
According to the letter, Bonin said the request was being done “in recognition of the deep, rich and diverse history of the neighborhood.”
“The contributions of Arthur Reese and Irving Tabor to Venice and to the Oakwood neighborhood in particular are enormous, but largely unrecognized and subject to historical erasure as the community has gentrified and drastically changed,” Bonin said in the letter. “It is imperative that Los Angeles emphasize and magnify its history — which is why the city is supporting installation of the Traqueros Monument at Venice’s Windward Circle and officially designated part of West Los Angeles as ‘Sawtelle Japantown.’”
According to Bonin, Reese and Tabor helped shape Venice’s character by creating the unique, diverse, and lively environment now recognized by the world.
During the era of Jim Crow and racially restrictive covenants, they helped establish a vibrant Black community in Oakwood. Over the next several decades, Bonin said, a “great migration” followed Reese and Tabor to Venice and populated Oakwood, one of the few places where Blacks were allowed to own property near the beach.
In his letter to Kim, Bonin said the investment in the neighborhood’s recreation center humbly began when the Playground and Recreation Commission established a “ball-playing” playground in 1929 and later allocated money for a “community clubhouse” in 1931.
“In the 1950s, construction of the [Santa Monica] Freeway displaced entire Mexican-American and Black neighborhoods in Santa Monica, and many of those families relocated to and made their home in Oakwood,” Bonin said in his letter. “For generations, Oakwood remained a predominantly Black and Latino community and the Oakwood playground and clubhouse were the few amenities available to residents for several decades.
“Families, young people, seniors, Black and Latino alike, gathered at the park for picnics, athletic activities, family reunions, special occasions and every day leisure. It was the heart of the neighborhood, proudly called Oakwood by all who lived there,” the letter continued.
Bonin said that by the 1980s, real estate speculators had begun a relentless effort to purchase property and displace the long-time residents of the neighborhood, particularly residents of color. Property in Oakwood is now some of the most expensive in Los Angeles, he noted.
Newer residents who build mini-mansions surrounded by tall walls have replaced multi-generational families that waved to each other from front porches and swapped stories over the fence with next-door neighbors, Bonin told Kim.
“Despite these dramatic changes, the Oakwood Recreation Center remained as a consistent anchor of support and healing for the local community,” Bonin said. “Today, regular events such as Neighborhood Day (“Hood Day”), Day of Remembrance, Cinco de Mayo Festival, Juneteenth, food distributions, and volunteer days of service bring people together at the park.
“Though this community is no longer tied to one geography, the name Oakwood has come to resonate with a broader, intentional community built upon years of peace, pride and unity,” the letter continued.
Given the rich history of the community, it is vitally important to properly recognize the contributions of Mr. Reese and Mr. Tabor and their descendants. It is equally important to appreciate how deeply attached people are to the name Oakwood, and how it conjures a sense of a special community.”