Venice history began with developer Abbot Kinney, born November 16, 1850 at Brookside Farm in New Brunswick, New Jersey, who was a Renaissance man of his time. He was educated in Europe and spoke six languages. He enjoyed cultural activities and was a patron of the arts. He was a proponent of reading, supported the library system and wrote numerous books. He had a lifelong interest in horticulture and other such refined hobbies.
Traveling the world was one of Kinney’s favorite pastimes for business and pleasure. It was toward the end of a trip in 1880 that, while in San Francisco, he heard about Sierra Madre Villa Hotel, a health spa noted for its therapeutic qualities in the foothills east of Los Angeles and decided to try it hoping to find a cure for his asthma. Although he had amassed a fortune in his family’s tobacco business (the Kinney Brothers Tobacco Co. produced the first pre-rolled cigarettes), he was plagued by constant sickness. There were no rooms available at the spa and Kinney, tiring after playing billiards, fell asleep on the game table. In the morning, he awoke to proclaim his night’s sleep the best he ever had.
The good air quality kept Kinney in Southern California. He built a home called Kinneloa, meaning Kinney’s Hill in Hawaiian, on 550 acres near what is now Pasadena. After his marriage in 1884, Kinney and his wife, Margaret, moved to a new home in Santa Monica overlooking the Pacific Ocean. While living on the Eastside, Kinney became quite active in local politics and business. He continued these interests in his new community. With partner Francis Ryan, Kinney purchased sand dune and marshland acreage south of Santa Monica. The first development was on the northernmost part of this land and became a resort known as Ocean Park. After his partner died in 1889, the widow’s new husband, Thomas Dudley, had the holdings in the partnership transferred to him. The two men did not get along nor did subsequent partners work out.
In the end, the final partnership was dissolved by a coin toss – for the developed Ocean Park northern part or the underdeveloped sand dunes and marshland in the southernmost part. Kinney won the toss and unexpectedly selected the undeveloped section. He felt he received the better part of the deal.
The land that Kinney now owned was thought to be inhospitable and no one had considered it worthy of attention. Kinney’s announcement that he was going to build a Venice-of-America on this waste land came as a shock. His dream was to have the social and cultural heritage of Venice, Italy available to the many people who he thought would share his interest in a cultural renaissance. People started calling the proposed development “Kinney’s Folly”.
July 4, 1905 proved his detractors wrong. Venice opened to a crowd of 40,000 people and the crowds have continued coming ever since. Windward Avenue was lined with three-story hotels connected by an arcade designed to recapture the flavor of the Italian Venice and featured an ornate mix of Byzantine and Renaissance influence. There was the Pleasure Pier with the Auditorium, Ship Cafe, theatre and Pavilion; a yacht club and surf bath house; a country club with tennis and croquet; an aquarium; a chariot track with grandstand; a miniature railroad with roundhouse and depot; boat house and boat club on the lagoon; and post office. Seven canal waterways radiating from the swimming lagoon featured a flotilla of gondolas imported from Italy navigated by Italian gondoliers serenading the passengers with boating songs.
Kinney had envisioned his Venice-of-America to be a cultural showplace and the site of an American renaissance. To this end he created activities dedicated to learning and experiencing art and culture.
However, within six months, he realized that gondola excursions, camel rides and the miniature railroad were what the visitors wanted. He was determined to get people interested in culture. He arranged to have educational exhibits brought in. He had a special midway built for these exhibitions that turned out to include freak shows, dancing girls and occult shows that were popular and profitable. Although Kinney was frustrated by the lack of acceptance of his cultural renaissance, he was smart enough as a businessman to realize that the honky-tonk atmosphere of the carnival exhibits was what the public wanted. Thus was born the carnival atmosphere that has continued through the decades.
Venice prospered through the early years. Hotels and apartments were built on Ocean Front Walk. Trams transported tourists between the Venice Pier and Ocean Park. The miniature railroad, with a three mile loop crossing over canal bridges, consisted of 10 eight wheel passenger cars with each seating 12 comfortably. Five were painted cherry red and five were royal blue with Venetian lion heads in relief on the sides and at the end of each row of seats. Its initial purpose was to show “back country” lots to potential real estate buyers, but the little trains were so popular and became a main attraction.
For swimming, people had a choice of the beach, an outdoor plunge or an indoor plunge with a heated salt water pool that had 500 dressing rooms and could accommodate 2000 bathers.
The first lifeguards were waiters at the Mecca Buffet facing the ocean. The 1908 Life Saving Corps were the only lifeguards on the beach until Captain George Freeth daringly rescued fishermen on five Japanese fishing ships who were trapped in a storm. He was credited with saving six people and recieved a Congressional Medal of Honor. Kinney thought that professional lifeguarding was needed and it began with Freeth founding the Venice Volunteer Lifeguards. When Freeth arrived in 1907, he brought a surfboard from his native Hawaii and started what would become the cultural phenomenon of surfing to Southern California.
Because Abbot Kinney was an avid exercise enthusiast, sports were encouraged. The proximity of the ocean made aquatic contests the most popular. Venice produced local champions in swimming and water polo. Other sports, such as professional boxing and baseball and car racing, for different reasons, were discontinued after a season or two. There was a Venice roller skating rink in 1906. It was the largest skating arena in Southern California. Champion and professional skaters in fancy costumes regularly provided exhibitions. In 1913, a new roller skate rink opened that featured ball-bearing skates.
Beauty contests were an integral part of the beach spectacle and were always the most popular event. There were many types … for babies and men and, of course, for young girls and women, including Hollywood starlets. The first pageant was presented in 1912 under the sponsorship of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner as a promotional stunt. It was followed by a series of competitions for the Beautiful Back, Red Headed Girls, Ford Model T parade, Spectacular Decoration Day, National Beauty Contest and more. The Miss Surf Festival Competitions continued into the early 1950s as well as the Miss California Contest. The events reached a peak in the 30s and 40s when Miss California contests were held in the Pier Auditorium. During the years, swimwear transitioned from covered shoulder to toe, then pantaloon and stockings to more revealing styles.
The Dance Pavilion was a huge 190 feet by 210 feet. It could double as a convention hall when needed. Ten thousand people could fill the structure and 800 couples had enough room to dance at one time. Marathons were popular and attracted large crowds. There were balls marking special occasions … fancy dress Officer’s Ball, Ghost Dance tranforming the pavilion into caves of the witches with floating material and a Charity Masque Ball to name of few.
Modern amusement rides were added to the Pier. “Race Thru The Clouds”, designed by Thomas Pryor, opened in 1911 and was the first roller coaster on the West Coast. It carried 25,000 people on the first day. It had steep rises and breathtaking descents, towering over the swimming lagoon. Pryor, with his partner, Fred Church, debuted the “Big Dipper”, with the biggest dips of any coaster in the world at that time.
Venice played an important part in the fledgling motion picture industry which was quick to take advantage of the unique architecture, picturesque waterways and colorful amusement area. Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford acted out their roles with Venice as a backdrop. Movie companies became so numerous and disruptive that, for a time in 1915, there was talk of banning them. The movie industry continues to take advantage of Venice as a favorite filming locale.
An airport built on the southwest corner of what is now Venice Boulevard and Abbot Kinney Boulevard was the first airfield on the West Coast to be officially designated as an airport in 1914. OttoMeyerhoffer, the first aerial policeman, was inducted into the Venice Police Department in 1919. At that time he was the only flying policeman in the country. His main job was to chase speeders and scan the ocean to report swimmers in distress. The airport was closed in 1923.
Kinney passed away on November 14, 1920. He would have celebrated his 70th birthday in two days. The flags of Venice were flown at half mast. Businesses and amusements closed in mourning. Four truck loads of flowers were delivered to his grave at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica.
Controlling interest in the Abbot Kinney Company was inherited by his second wife, Winifred. The management of the company, in reality the City of Venice, was left to his son Thornton.
A month after Kinney’s death, a fire completely destroyed the Pier along with the rides, concessions and several buildings vital to the profitability of the city. Thornton immediately announced that the pier would be rebuilt … which it was, six months later, at the cost of three million dollars.
The reopening of the pier on July 4, 1921, was a cause for celebration. However, Venice didn’t really need any reason to celebrate because celebrations were almost an everyday occurrence. Since its beginning, any event or holiday was cause for celebration. Venice never failed to publicize them, for its economic base and well being was primarily tourism and amusements. Special days were declared for any group or fraternal order that could attract a crowd.
There has always been rocky politics in Venice history. The early political arena of Venice was a stormy battleground for diverse interest groups. During the developmental years, Kinney continually faced opposition from his former partners who tried to thwart his plans. In the early 1920s another opposition group campaigned against alcohol, girlie parades, cafe dancing and boxing matches. The Venice elections were hard and bitterly fought political exercises that divided the city into two warring camps … the amusement supporters vs. the local clergy and a more staid growing residential population. The heritage of diverse interest groups is seen in modern Venice politics.
Venice politics also became over burdened with other problems. Alleged corruption, although not always proven, led to stories of some officials accepting bribes, misappropriating public property and failing to enforce laws. Gambling dens and brothels became part of the local scene. The city’s tax rate reached the maximum allowed by state law and the municipal debt was staggering. Embezzlement by the City Treasurer was the last straw in holding Venice together.
An annexation proposal of Venice to Santa Monica was defeated by the voters February 20, 1923. Five months later, Venice voters chose to remain independent. Then, instead of trying to work from within to resolve Venice’s problems, the city leaders looked to the City of Los Angeles to bail them out. The official transfer took place on November 25, 1925. The City of Venice became part of Los Angeles. It was probably the most unfortunate event in Venice history. City officials did not have the vision of Abbot Kinney and they were not concerned at all in protecting what he had created.
The late 20s produced several changes for Venice. The most monumental was the filling in of the Venice-of-America canals. Their construction started in 1904 by using teams of mules and draft horses, steam engines, pnematic machinery and an electric dredge.They were taken care of by the Abbot Kinney Company until 1912 when, beset by high maintenance costs, the system was dedicated to the City of Venice. By the late 20s the automobile had become more popular and the narrow alleys and steep bridges were not conducive to driving. Businessmen felt that the canals hindered progress in commerce. The formerly picturesque waterways were filled in in 1929. Today’s traffic circle was a swimming lagoon and Kinney’s canals radiated from that point and formed a grid. Today when we travel on Altair Pl. (Altair Canal), Main Street (Coral Canal), Cabrillo Avenue (Cabrillo Canal), Grand Boulevard (Grand Canal), Market Street (Aldabaran Canal), San Juan Avenue (Venus Canal) and Windward Avenue (Lion Canal) we are actually on the filled in canals.
The canals that we know today (Carroll, Howland, Linnie, Sherman, Eastern and Grand) are the Short Line Canals. They were built on land owned by the Los Angeles Pacific Railroad. When this canal district was constructed in 1905, it was assumed that it was to be made as attractive as the Venice-of-America canals, but no such improvements were forthcoming. Purchasers of lots waited in vain for landscaping and even safety measures to be introduced. Material and workmanship were inferior. Lots sold poorly because the area was an eyesore and gas, electric and sewer lines were not available. In 1929, the canals were only partially developed and the residents could not afford the city assessment for fill-in costs. (Thank goodness!). As Venice declined in the 30s and 40s, this neighborhood became neglected. In the 1940s it was removed from public access due to crumbling banks, sewage pollution and a backup of oil brine from drilling operations. By the late 60s, the canals had deteriorated into stagnant, murky pools. But because of its location, uniqueness and cheap rent, the area became a haven for hippies and other counterculture enthusiasts. It took five decades for Los Angeles to finally rehabilitate the deteriorating conditions. The Venice Canals are now a joy to behold and famous world wide … a unique rememberance of Venice history.
Despite its attractions for the public, Venice was affected by the Depression. The amusements were still and Ocean Front Walk empty. The only activity was in the bingo parlors. Bingo was illegal in Los Angeles, but some games used variations where customers theoretically used “skill” to determine what numbers were selected. Bill Harrah got his start in Venice working in his father’s bingo parlor in the 1930s. The games were not legal, but they continued into the 40s when they were shut down for good. Bill subsequently moved to Reno, Nevada where he started what was to grow into his huge gaming empire.
War time prejudice was directed at the large Japanese-American population who lived in Venice. Venice High School teacher Phyllis Hayashibara advocated a Japanese internment memorial on the northwest corner of Venice Boulevard and Lincoln Boulevard, the location where local Japanese families were gathered in 1942 for internment camps. The memorial is dedicated to hardships of Japanese-Americans who were forced into “War Relocation Camps” by President Franklin D. Roosevelt under Executive Order 9066 during World War II in the wake of attacks on Pearl Harbor. During this era, many Americans feared that Japanese citizens could possibly hold loyalties to Japan and be conducting subversive activities.
The fortunes of early Venice were controlled by the amusement pier along with the Red Car. Kinney convinced Henry Huntington of the Los Angeles Pacific Railroad to build a direct line to Venice even before he started to construct Venice-of-America. The pier had an up and down history. It was damaged before the opening in 1905 by a severe storm and then repaired. The first man-made breakwater east of the Mississippi River was built to prevent this from happening again. In 1920, the pier and all its amusements were destroyed by fire and rebuilt. The fate of Venice was sealed when, in 1946, the City of Los Angeles refused to renew the Kinney Company’s 25 year lease for the amusement pier. City officials felt that the beachfront needed to be expanded. Work began on dismantling the pier and its destruction was completed by fire in 1947. At the same time, the Pacific Railroad removed the Red Cars from their route to Venice. With the reason for coming to Venice and the way to get there now gone, the final curtain came down on a lifestyle that had put Venice on the map and a part of Venice history was erased.
In 1951, the manager of the once grand Aragon Ballroom asked a bandleader who had performed there with success years earlier to help him turn around the low attendance on the dance floor. Lawrence Welk agreed and local television station KTLA was persuaded to do a telecast of the program. The first televised show of “champagne music” was May 2, 1951. It became very popular despite a late time slot.
When Welk later was featured at the Hollywood Palladium, he introduced the country to the young Lennon Sisters who were natives of Venice and members of a musically talented family. After Welk’s departure, the ballroom again fell into disrepair. It was reopened in the late 60s as a music hall called the Cheetah. The house band, The Gnads, later gained fame as Alice Cooper. Jim Morrison was another of the many musicians who played in the psychedelically decorated rock music hall. Morrison’s surviving band members still tell the story of how their group, the Doors, started after an accidental meeting on Venice Beach. Morrison can be seen today on a mural on Ocean Front Walk south of Windward Ave.
Before the hippies of the 60s, Venice was home to the Beats of the 50s. It was a lifestyle that rejected the bland contemporary values of success and enterprise in favor of a Bohemian life with a background of poetry, art and jazz. Lawrence Lipton wrote about the poets of “Venice West” at 7 Dudley Avenue in his book “The Holy Barbarians”. Publicity caused by the book resulted in a hostile anti-beat reaction from local civic groups that spelled the end of “Venice West”. The Gas House, originally on the corner of Market Street and Ocean Front Walk, was another popular gathering place of the Beat Generation. It, also, came under attack from local civic groups. The Beat’s philosophy of individualism prevented them from organizing for combat. The Gas House closed its doors in 1960 and the building was demolished in 1962.
The Temple of Man at 1439 Cabrillo Avenue, established by Bob Alexander in 1959 as an alternative to organized religion, presented and preserved the works of the group’s creativity. It also served as temporary living quarters for those passing through and those without a home.
The Beats were replaced by a new generation of flower children, hippies and counter-culturists. The canals were a popular place for them to live because the rent was cheap and there were a lot of small cottages that gave a commune environment. The 60s brought love-ins and canal festivities.
Also during that time, the beach area of Venice was taken over by winos , drug addicts and motorcycle gangs. Pawn shops and liquor stores were now the attractions. It looked so bad that Orson Welles used Windward Avenue and nearby locations as the seedy part of Tijuana in the movie “Touch Of Evil” filmed in 1958. In 1961, a Venice Planning Committee was formed in order to control the blight.
Older structures were targeted for building inspection and code enforcement. City officials claimed it was for earthquake safety, but many residents felt it was just political. The St. Marks Hotel, at the corner of Windward Avenue and Ocean Front Walk was demolished in 1964. The Venice Hotel on the opposite corner was torn down in 1965. The two top stories were ordered to be removed from the remainder of the hotels on Windward Avenue. With this destruction went the arcades. The beautifully designed architectural masterpieces of Abbot Kinney’s Venice-of- America became just another memory of Venice history.
Muscle Beach originated in Santa Monica in the mid-1930s and due mainly to indiscretions on the part of several of the bodybuilders, it moved to The Pit on Ocean Front Walk in Venice in the 1960s. Bodybuilder Joe Gold opened Gold’s Gym on Pacific Avenue that put Venice on the map as a bodybuilding mecca. In 1987, the City of Los Angeles designated the age-worn facility on Ocean Front Walk with the official name of Muscle Beach Venice. With the new name came a facelift that was completed in 1991.
The 70s brought about the establishment of social service agencies to help combat the social problems created by the 60s. Both St. Joseph Center and the Venice Family Clinic started at that time to assist the homeless and low income of Venice and the surrounding areas.
SPARC (Social and Public Art Resources Center) was founded in 1976 to develop art that could create change in a community. It is the largest respository of information about murals and other forms of public art. Venice residents and visitors are lucky to have art available 24/7 on our streetscapes. In many cases, the murals change dingy walls on highly trafficked locations into a pride of the neighborhood. The first mural painted in Venice cannot be seen at any hour because it graces the lobby of our post office. It was commissioned by the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and painted by Edward Biberman in 1941 to depict Venice’s past and present at that time.
There was a return to spirited and spontaneous amusements on Ocean Front Walk. Performers played their music primarily for their own enjoyment … not to earn a living nor to audition for the Late Night show. Boom boxes and amplified music for the most part were not found. Merchandise for sale was from artists who handmade their wares … the glut of tee shirts and sun glasses had not yet arrived.
The roller skating craze made Venice the roller skating capital of the world. The development of the polyurethane wheels allowed skaters to glide easily over rough concrete and asphalt surfaces. The first outdoor roller skating shop opened in Venice in 1977 and the amusement spirit of early Venice returned. There were disco, recreational and free-style skaters. There was fancy dancing and aerobic skating. skaters danced alone, in pairs or as a group. They swerved through obstacle courses and jumped over barricades. The Venice skating scene on Ocean Front Walk was featured on television and in magazines. Venice, once again, was known for its carnival atmosphere, reflecting back on past Venice history.
In the 80s, the Venice Family Clinic capitalized on the strength of Venice’s artistic community to highlight their talents in the Venice Art Walk which has been an annual major fundraiser. Initially, the artists were drawn to Venice by the good light and cheap rents. Today, Venice’s artists are internationally recognized. Lita Albuquerque, Charles Arnoldi, Billy Al Benston, Guy Dill, Laddie John Dill and Robert Graham are among those who have opened up their studios to the public.
Although prices started to rise, Venice was still the most affordable Los Angeles area beach community in terms of home purchases and rentals. There was, however, a brewing backlash against the elderly and homeless … both long time denizens of Venice Beach.
Several old hotels on Ocean Front Walk had been the home of the elderly for decades, especially the Jews who had immigrated to the United States during and after World War II. Anthropologist Dr. Barbara Myerhoff wrote a book in 1979, “Number Our Days”, that is a sensitive and compassionate portrayal of these individuals whose heritage of hardship is paired with their ability to rebound while, at the same time, living among poverty and isolation in their new homeland. The subject matter was taken from interviews with people at the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center on Ocean Front Walk. The interviews were also used for a short documentary of the same name that won an Academy Award in 1977. The Cadillac Hotel on Ocean Front Walk and Dudley Avenue had a new owner in 1983 who wanted to evict all the tenants for a renovation. The tenants filed suit and the cramped apartments and single rooms of the run-down 1906 building remained a refuge for their dwindling numbers. It is now a youth hostel. A 1912 hotel, on Ocean Front Walk and Rose Avenue, was specifically for senior housing until it was purchased in 2007 for $10,800,000. It consists of sixty 400 square feet singles that are now renting for up to $1500 a month and this is without parking.
Homelessness has always been a major problem in Venice history and it still is. If one has to live without walls and a roof, having nice views and cool ocean breezes is better than smog, heat and asphalt. In the late 80s, the situation came to a head with an encampment on the beach led by homeless advocate Ted Hayes. It was newsworthy enough to have a blurb in Time magazine and tents donated by Yoko Ono. Today, people are losing their jobs and losing their homes. Many are living in vehicles. This is a problem in our residential neighborhoods, not only at the beach.
With the upscale trend came more restaurants, art galleries and boutique shops. An increased interest in Venice also brought more artistic endeavors such as architectural and advertising firms and entertainment companies.
With this shift in demographics, it is fitting that the Venice Historic Society was founded in 1986 to both educate on the past and preserve for the future. For a community with such a unique history, there are few traces left of its heritage. The first listing on the National Register of Historic Places was the Venice Canal Historic District (Short Line Canals) in 1982. Since then, the Warren Wilson Beach House (15 Ave 30, now the Venice Beach Bed & Breakfast) in 1986, the Venice Branch Library (610 California Avenue, now the Vera Davis McClendon Family Center) in 1987, the Venice-of-America House (1223 Cabrillo Avenue) in 2000 and Lincoln Place Apartments (between Lincoln Boulevard and Penmar Avenue south of Lake Street) in 2003 have been approved for inclusion on the National Register.
At the local level is the Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. The first Venice monument, approved in 1991, no longer exists. Out of concern that sculptor Robert Graham would demolish the arcade with capital and column in front of the property he was building on Windward Avenue, the Venice Historical Society submitted it to the Cultural Heritage Commission. Approval or not, it didn’t make any difference to Graham. We lost one of the few remaining arcade sections on Windward Avenue.
Two adaptive use buildings recognized as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monuments are the Venice Division Police Station at 685 Venice Boulevard (now SPARC) in 1994 and Venice City Hall at 681 Venice Boulevard (now Beyond Baroque) in 2003. Not necessarily historic in the old sense but certainly cultural is the “Binoculars” building at 340 Main Street designated in 1998.
Two private residences, both designated in 2008, are the Sturdevant Bungalow at 721 Amoroso Place and the Kinney-Tabor House at 1310 6th Avenue. The latest Historic-Cultural Monument is the Former Site of Venice West at 321 Ocean Front Walk (7 Dudley Avenue) that was approved in 2010.
The lineage of the Kinney-Tabor House is well documented. Perhaps interest grew from one of the most popular vintage postcards showing the Cosmos Club on a canal. The structure was originally built at the tip of Grand Canal, the current site of the Post Office Annex, to house canal workers during the building of Venice in 1904. In 1908, it was leased to an all female group called the Cosmos Club. In 1912, the Grammar School Board of Education took a one year lease but left because the building was too small. In 1913, it became a meeting place for the Owls Club, a civic organization. Then, in 1916, it was remodeled into a two-story villa-like dwelling for the permanent residence of Kinney and his second wife, Winifred.
Kinney orally willed his home at One Grand Canal to Irving Tabor, his black chaffeur and confidante. However, Jim Crow, the discrimination against or segregation of blacks, was alive in Venice. White neighbors would not allow blacks to live near them. Discrimination was seen in other ways too. Banks would not loan money to blacks to buy property. They had their own beach in the southern part of Venice where the sand was covered with shells and rocks which meant they had to wear shoes and could not go barefoot. Blacks were only allowed in baby class beauty contests. Navalette Bailey, niece of Irving Tabor, was the first black female to graduate from Venice High School. She was not allowed to attend her graduation party at a skating rink in Culver City.
So, Tabor and his brothers split the house in three parts and moved it to its current location in Oakwood. Tabor died at the age of 93 in 1987. The house was then owned by his stepdaughter, Thelma Brawley. Upon her death, it went to her three children. In a fight for control, ownership was given to adopted daughter Beth Watkins and the property was left unattended and in disrepair for a long period of time. It was then sold to the current owners who restored it. However, we can’t tell you what it looks like because they have not opened the house to the public. It is truly a shame that such an important piece of Venice history will not be shared.
At this point, it would be remiss not to mention the gang problems in Oakwood. Gang wars over turf and drugs started decades ago and escalated in the 90s. At its most vicious, there were drive-by shootings nearly every day.
The 90s were good to other neighborhoods in Venice. The canals were rehabilitated making it possible to actually walk around clean canals on sidewalks and to take in the pleasant foliage growing on the banks. Venice Boulevard was repaved and with landscaping in the median to make the street a true ceremonial entrance to Venice Beach. The new Venice library is more than twice the size of the original one. It is a wonderful place for residents, especially children, to go. In keeping with the beliefs of founder Abbot Kinney, who was an early advocate of libraries and learning, the library was renamed the Venice – Abbot Kinney Memorial Branch Library.
The Venice Pier, used for fishing and walking, was renovated to make it safe. The Marvin Braude Bikeway, as it is formally called, was dedicated in 1992 and runs approximately 20 miles along the beach, starting at Will Rogers Beach and ending in Torrance. Last, but certainly not least, Ocean Front Walk received a complete facelift with new pavement, outdoor furniture, restrooms, bike path, skating path and children’s area. The cleanup included trimming the palm trees that line Ocean Front Walk. That, in itself, was a vast improvement and is indicative how removing brown fronds overwhelmingly improves the appearance of a streetscape.
The new millennium brought new changes to Venice. Real estate prices skyrocketed. Was it because Oscar winning actress Julia Roberts bought a house here? Not really, but it did help to turn Venice into a bona fide trendy place to live, work and play. The real estate boom of the early 2000s created an overlay of redevelopment and remodeling and attracted families with young children. For the first time, infants and toddlers out numbered the dogs seen being walked through the neighborhoods.
A phenomenon happened June 5, 2009 on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. For decades, business owners have tried everything to attract more business. In 1984, the first annual street festival, then called the Venice Arts and Crafts Summer Festival, was held to draw attention to this business district virtually unknown outside of the Venice community. In 1992, the name of the street was officially changed from West Washington Boulevard to Abbot Kinney Boulevard in order to make it easier to find. After all, it could be confused with Washington Boulevard, Washington Street and Washington Way only blocks away. Around the same time, 74 palms trees were planted on the approximately 1.5 mile stretch between Venice Boulevard and Main Street to improve the appearance of the funky streetscape. Through the years, shopping guides with maps were produced. In 2005, one was even called “Conscious Consumer of Venice.”
Two years previously, on June 1, 2007, the Abbot Kinney District Association decided to add a new merchandising event and that was “First Fridays” when participating businesses would stay open until 10pm and offer drinks, snacks, entertainment and discounts … again to attract more customers. The effort was sort of ho-hum except for the Christmas extravaganzas. Was it the free and flowing alcohol, the loud music, the following of the upscale food trucks on Twitter or maybe a combination of all three that brought the humongous crowd of young people to Venice that “First Fridays” in June of 2009? Crowd control was needed and the LAPD Pacific Division officers were called in. Since then, free alcohol and amplified music are no longer allowed, but the people keep coming in droves. The big question is – how much money are they spending or are they just here to party that night?
The boulevard has gone from bohemian to casual cosmopolitan to ultra trendy. Hip boutiques, eclectic antique shops, first class restaurants and coffeehouses are interspersed among artist lofts and 1920s brick buildings. Casting studios and production companies have become so prevalent that the Venice Media District was formed for networking. In 2009, Oscar winning actor Robert Downey Jr. purchased a 7456 square feet property for $5,600,000 for his production office. Many celebrities now call Venice home and others frequently stroll or eat in the restaurants making Abbot Kinney Boulevard a place to be seen.
Venice could never be called a “cookie cutter” community. Another characteristic of the diversity is the difference of opinions among the residents. It has often been said that if you have 15 people in a room to discuss an issue, you will get 15 different opinions. The diversity actually works in a positive way to enhance a community spirit which is unique among most places in the world. Abbot Kinney’s vision to go beyond the ordinary is alive today. Venetians are proud of that heritage and want to see it continued into the future as a reminder of our Venice history.