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Stalled construction and a missing work of art: Why Venice neighbors are angry at Joel Silver

Joel Silver arrives to attend the UK premiere of the film
Joel Silver arrives to attend the UK premiere of the film "The Nice Guys" in Leicester Square in central London on May 19, 2016.
Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

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A big shot movie producer. Venice Beach. An old United States Post Office Building. The location of a famous work of art. 

It all sounds like the pitch for a cheesy Hollywood mystery.

A battle is being waged in real-world L.A. over a famous mural and a delayed construction project owned by producer Joel Silver. Now a U.S. Congressman has jumped into the fray.

Peter Kiefer joined Take Two's A Martinez to break down the story's twists and turns. Kiefer is Real Estate and City Editor with the Hollywood Reporter who has written about the situation.

Q: In case listeners don't follow Hollywood closely, who is Joel Silver?

[Silver] has been around for a number of decades. He's been responsible for some of the most famous movie franchises in recent Hollywood history, including The Matrix and Lethal Weapon, among many others.

He's sort of this kind of old-school producer that you don't see around much anymore. Kind of freewheeling, has a bit of a volcanic temper, reportedly and is considered to be pretty brilliant in many ways. In 2012, he purchases this historic USPS building on the Windward Circle with the intent of turning it into his new state-of-the-art production facility. And pretty much almost immediately ran into a number of problems. 

Q: Is the building being restored? What was his plan?

The plan was to basically gut it and renovate it from the interior. And [Silver] pledged that he was going to not only bring jobs but he was going to maintain the historic integrity of the building. And I think that still is his intention. But the construction has been stalled for a while now.

...Initially it was some engineering snafus that he and his team ran into. There was some flooding in the basement of the building because of its proximity to the ocean. But then later [Silver] ran into some financial problems. 

Q: All right, now to the piece of art. It's a mural called"Abbot Kinney and the Story of Venice," which was in that post office for 70 years. What's going on with it?  

Part of the deal when Joel Silver bought the building was that he was going to remove this very famous and historic mural that hung in the lobby of the post office for more than 70 years... He pledged that he was going to get it restored because it was in disrepair. He did do that, at pretty substantial cost. Then the mural hung at LACMA in a display room for almost 7 months. But then, because the post office building was not in a position to have the mural re-installed, the piece of art is now sitting in a storage facility in Compton. 

... People [in Venice] are sort of fed up with looking at this blighted construction site. and in addition to that, they're wondering what happened to this historic mural that was considered a masterpiece at the time. If nothing else, they want that mural back. They have floated the idea of putting it up in another location. 

As your listeners probably know, Venice is famed for its feisty artistic community. I think their goal is first and foremost that Mr. Silver fulfill his pledge to finish this development project. In lieu of that, they want to see this mural taken out of storage, and they want to see it hung somewhere else so the public can have access to it. 

Congressman Ted Lieu (D-33)... initiated an inquiry last month and sent a number of letters first to the U.S. Postal Service and then to Mr. Silver's team to inquire about what the heck is going on with the mural. He asked that Mr. Silver consider taking the mural out of storage and putting it elsewhere, possibly hanging it in the Venice Public Library on Venice Boulevard. As far as I can tell, those requests have been denied.

This interview has been edited for time & clarity. Please click on the blue media player at the top of the page to listen to the conversation.